As of yesterday, I am officially done with my first year of medical school! I already feel overwhelmed by the amount of free time that lies in front of me. Looking back, it seems like the year flew by. I can remember orientation week like it was yesterday. 26 exams, a few stressful breakdowns, and countless ounces of coffee later, I can say I have learned SO much about school and about myself.
The subjects that were covered during my first year include biochemistry, genetics, physiology, anatomy, and neurobiology. I also took public health, physical diagnosis and clinical integration, and a problem-based learning course. I quickly found out that my exams were based mostly off of what was covered in the lecture’s PowerPoints so this shaped my studying habits.
At the beginning of the school year, I would attend all of that days lectures and then review them at my apartment. When I reviewed them, I thought that I should just continue to use study methods that worked for me in undergrad. I used to rewrite all of the lecture notes onto my own paper with different coloring schemes. This was SO time consuming in medical school that 2 weeks in, I had to find a completely new way of reviewing.
Instead of rewriting ALL of the lecture notes, I would first read once through the material. This way, I felt more comfortable when reviewing the lecture for the 2nd time to pick out the most important information that was covered. During the 2nd time that I reviewed lecture material, I would have a pen (only one color) and paper with me to take notes of the most important material. Writing only the most important material took way less time than writing the entire lecture out. I would do this for every lecture so that at the end of the day, I had reviewed each lecture twice.
Then during the weekend, I would read through each lecture again, have a different colored pen with me, and review the notes I had written previously. I would add additional notes that I may have missed, underline very important themes that I could not stick in my head, and review that material for a 3rd time. By this time, I was getting more and more comfortable with the lecture material.
During the first semester, I would supplement my physiology and biochemistry courses with BRS books (physio here and biochem here) and First Aid (here)! I totally recommend these books, especially the BRS physio and First Aid, because they do a great job of condensing super important material that is heavily tested on Shelf exams and Step.
I had to adjust my studying methods for anatomy during the spring semester because most of the class time was spent in the lab. This semester is kind of a blur for me because I was not the biggest fan of anatomy. Our class wasn’t too clinically of functionally structured. Instead, it seemed like all we were doing were memorizing. So I had to go back to flashcards (Netter’s were extremely popular) and reading the lectures over and over. I did try using a white board during musculoskeletal when muscles and their origins, insertions, innervation, and function were a big testing topic. I also gave Quizlet a try and talked about it in a previous blog!
Neurobiology allowed me to go back to my classic 3-time review of lecture material. In the first block, we had a lab practical so I couldn’t completely ditch the straight memorizing part right away. For the majority of neuro, my time was spent reviewing lecture material while writing down only the most important topics and coming back to annotate, underline, and review. It was during this time, after almost a year of med school under my belt, I felt I had mastered how I studied best: repetition.
In summary, here are some tips for how to study in medical school:
- Be ready to adapt your studying habits.
- As you can see, I had to change how I studied a few different times. Each subject may call for a different study habit so it’s important to change accordingly.
- If something isn’t working for you, change it.
- This is basically #1 rewritten, but I believe it is extremely important for succeeding in med school.
- I was so hesitant to switch from taking notes of the entire lecture to just the important material. Why would I want to change something that I had been so successful with in undergrad? But the time was way too consuming and I was so overwhelmed by the material that I had to make a change.
- Stick to a few high yield resources.
- It is so easy to become overwhelmed by all of the of books and study materials out there. So I suggest only using a few resources to really pound in the knowledge you are learning in lecture.
- Repetition is extremely helpful.
- By the time I had reviewed material for the 3rd time, I could picture the exact slide that would answer a practice question. I felt more and more confident with each review.
- Active learning.
- My way of active learning was when I would review notes for the second time, I would underline, highlight, and annotate additional notes. This kept me engaged and not dozing off. I also highly suggest practice questions. I love, love, love practice questions. They served as a great review and solidified my understanding of the material.
Well there ya have it! My first year study techniques in a nut shell. Let me know if you have any awesome study tips you would like to share! Thank you!!