Gaining acceptance to an MD program is a huge accomplishment. While it’s certainly a celebration-worthy event, it’s also important to start thinking about how you can prepare yourself for clinical rotations, licensing exams, and matching for residency.
Take a look at what some practicing physicians have to say about how to study in medical school.
10 Doctor-prescribed tips for studying in medical school
Use the list below to find not only some of the most efficient ways to study in medical school but also the methods that help you best retain material.
1. Review material regularly
The need to study regularly is one piece of advice just about every doctor recommends. Dr. Inna Husain, laryngologist and assistant residency program director for simulation education at Rush University Medical Center. She recommends developing diligent study habits and a daily study practice as soon as possible.
"I quickly learned that daily review was necessary to keep up with the volume of information."
“I quickly learned that daily review was necessary to keep up with the volume of information,” Dr. Husain says. Trying to play catch-up or cramming at the last minute simply won’t cut it.
2. Write it down
While reading all of your assigned text is essential, you probably shouldn’t expect to remember all of it. For Dr. Malini Reddy, an internist at Reddy Medical Group, writing things down was a must.
“I did a lot of note taking as well,” she reflects. Her other insight was that it was helpful to jot down anything that stood out and create flashcards while studying.
3. Test yourself
Regularly testing yourself is essential to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, sometimes referred to as “the boards.” You can quiz yourself from your own notes or as part of a group, but you should also contemplate question banks. Dr. Husain says question banks help you get used to the USMLE format. Consider that there are multiple ways to test yourself with the same list of questions.
“When I was studying, especially for boards, I would go ahead and see what the answer was before I went on to the next question,” Dr. Reddy says. “It just helped it stick a little bit more for me.”
4. Create an effective learning environment
Identifying a good learning environment is a key component of figuring out how to study in medical school—perhaps just as important as the study methods themselves.
“I found private study cubicles in the library the most helpful since ambient noise was reduced and distractions were minimized,” Dr. Husain offers.
Dr. Reddy did a mix of reviewing material at home and in the library. While both worked, she liked how efficiently she could study in the latter location.
“I think the library’s a good place to go so you’re not distracted by the TV or whatever,” she offers.
5. Improve memorization with mnemonics
Elementary students rely on the acronym mnemonic “Roy G. Biv” to remember the order of colors in a rainbow, and that same strategy can work just as well in medical school. In fact, some medical residency programs use a mnemonic approach to help trainees retain critical knowledge.
Both Drs. Husain and Reddy relied on mnemonics for recalling information. “Especially when you’re trying to remember all the nerves and things like that, it’s really a good way to keep them straight,” Dr. Reddy offers.
6. Use visuals
If you’re a visual learner, take advantage of opportunities to use imagery by creating sketches that make it easier to digest complex medical material.
“Diagrams were helpful for organ systems, such as renal, or reviewing drug metabolism,” Dr. Husain says. “Creating the diagram also reinforced the information.”
7. Incorporate auditory methods
Some individuals find they’re able to recall information better if they hear it. For example, Goljan Audio is a popular lecture series Dr. Reddy and many others recommend. It contains more than thirty lectures.
“I would listen to those if I was working out or if I was in the car,” she says. “It’s a different way to get the information.” It’s also one of the most efficient ways to study in medical school.
8. Consider forming a study group
While reviewing material with others doesn’t work for everyone, study groups are a great option for those who do learn well when collaborating with fellow students. Dr. Husain says study groups can be particularly helpful for reviewing clinical scenarios and answering practice quiz questions.
She has several recommendations for forming a group of your own:
• Keep study groups to a maximum of four students
• Form a group with students who have similar goals
• Share the work equally
• Avoid studying with your regular social group to minimize distractions
You may even be able to utilize your school to form a group. Some institutions, like St. George’s University (SGU), build collaborative review sessions right into the program along with other support services.
9. Ask for help
Because there’s so much material to get through in medical school, it’s essential to be proactive about seeking help when you need it.
“You can quickly fall behind,” Dr. Husain warns, “so it is better to ask for help earlier rather than later in the semester.” She adds you can seek assistance from instructors as well as classmates.
10. Take care of yourself
While good study habits are important, make sure to incorporate regularly timed breaks to allow yourself some time to recharge.
“Pencil in some free time or gym time as well so you have something to look forward to,” Dr. Husain advises.
Create your strategy for successful studying in medical school
Now that you have a better idea of how to study in medical school, you can feel confident about gearing up for the USMLE series later on in your education.
For some pointers on how to prepare specifically for the first licensing exam, read our article, “How to Study for Step 1: Tips for USMLE Success.”
*This article was originally published in June 2019. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.
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