First I want to apologize for being MIA for well over a month! I had fallen into a false sense of “I’ve got this whole med school thing down” and then BAM we switched into a new block of courses which dumped clinical and laboratory work on top of our lectures. and my studying habits had to change yet again. With that being said, I thought I’d make this post about studying and what resources I have found over the past few months. Some of these I use, some I don’t. It’s all about finding what works best for you! So here’s a in-no-way comprehensive list of study tips! Just a note, some of these are med-school specific, in terms of question banks and board-prep materials, but I’ll try to keep it general too!Find a good note-taking program. This is #1 for a reason. The heaviest part of school (no matter your field of study) is going to be lectures and taking notes. And what worked for you in college will most likely not work for you in professional school. For instance, I used to print out PPT slides and directly take notes on those print-outs. But in med school, there are just too many lectures to validate killing that many trees. Additionally, professional schools in general are increasingly incorporating more and more technology into how they teach (as well as in clinical practice), so it’s a good idea to get used to using a computer all the time. Instead, I highly suggest finding a computer program where you can take notes. Some kids go very basic and take notes on Word or directly annotate through PowerPoint or Adobe Reader. I personally use OneNote, especially since I have a Surface where I can type and/or use a stylus to highlight and it lets you easily organize your lectures into “notebooks”. Similarly, many iPad or Mac users have found the app Notability to be a great tool as well. At the very least, by using a computer program, you will get really, really good at typing quickly and if professional school doesn’t work out, you could always become a stenographer.
- Anki. If you like flashcards, this is the program for you! Similarly to the whole “wasting paper-embrace tech” notion, you would have a slew of flashcards for all the info you’re learning, so you might as well computerize it! The very simple and easy program is completely free as an app on your computer or android phone (sorry iPhone people, you have to pay for the phone app). But it’s more than just a back and front card. You can easily format the card (or “notes” in Anki language) with different fonts, copy paste images onto the cards, tag the cards with keywords, etc. The “decks” of cards are searchable and the program also creates a study-plan for you. But maybe the best part is that each deck is a file that you can share with your classmates. That way, if you are too lazy to make cards on your own (like me) you can just wait for your altruistic friends to share them with the class!
- Take breaks. This is probably not a new study tip for anyone, but it’s always worth repeating. I’m sure most of us have looked up from our notes after studying for an hour and realized that nothing is sinking in anymore and you have to re-read the same bullet-point a few times before you think you got the concept. Many studies have shown that taking short breaks between studying helps you retain the information better because your brain has time to process and store more of the information you just reviewed. For me, I usually spend about an hour studying then take a half-hour or so break and watch a TV show, cook a meal or basically anything that will get my mind off studying.
- Outside Review Material. Ok so here is where it’s gonna get a bit more med school specific, so if you’re not interested in med school, go ahead and skip over this, I won’t be upset! I have only recently started using more outside resources for reviewing, mainly because I was nervous that the stuff my school was teaching me would not be the same as other sources. In reality, they are really similar since the main goal of my school as well as these resources are to prepare kids to do the best on Step 1 at the end of 2nd year. First Aid is a must as it will be the book you will use (at the very least) to prep for Step 1. Pathoma is a set of videos that go hand-in-hand with a book that wonderfully explains pathology and histology topics. Netter’s Flashcards and the app Essential Anatomy are beyond great for learning anatomy and quizzing yourself on structures. For physiology, many kids use BRS Physiology and say it really helps explain some difficult concepts (I haven’t used it yet, but I should try it). One of my favorite resources is called Sketchy Micro which is a series of videos that teach you all of the important concepts microbiology and pharmacology. it’s very thorough as well since each bacteria, virus and drug has their own video. Basically, the Sketchy writers make up these ridiculous stories that they draw out throughout the video that are wonderful memory devices. For instance, the video on ß-lactam antibiotics was centered around a Star Wars theme with Penicillin G represented as “Princess Ella” with “G” shaped hair buns along with ivy around her neck to signify it’s given intravenously (IV). It’s so dumb, but no joke, it works. If it wasn’t for the sketchy videos, I probably would not have passed our virus/fungi/bacteria unit. As for question banks, the best one’s I have found so far are UWorld and PreTest. The NBME also puts out old questions that are very useful when studying for Shelf exams. And if you want to shell out a few hundred dollars, there are some more comprehensive review programs/websites like Firecracker or Picmonic. Most of the subscription resources, however, have free trial periods so if you try it and realize it doesn’t work for you, you didn’t waste the money (especially since we’re all poor students in a lot of debt).
- Write it out. Writing things out and transferring things in your mind to something physical by writing it out does wonders for helping me remember something. Adding different colors and drawing pictures/tables really helps with memorization as well. I would suggest using a whiteboard or chalkboard, since they you have such a wide space to write on and it’s (obviously) reusable. I love my school for the fact that there are a number of small classrooms that are rarely ever being used, so it’s very easy to commandeer one the day before an exam.
- Teach it out. If you have the opportunity to teach someone about a concept, it immensely helps you both learn and understand the concept. Think about it: when you teach someone something, you have to fully understand the material and then figure out a way to convey it clearly to your audience. Even if it’s just another student or a family member, teaching makes it stick!
Those are the big hitters for me! What about you guys? Have any study tips that have worked really well for you or resources that have helped you master material? Share them below! Just remember that what works for me or someone else, may not work for you. Half the battle is figuring out how you learn and which methods help you remember the best.
Until next time!