Developing high yield study techniques for medical school is essential if you want to survive as a medical student. If you are aware of how hard medical school is, you must have a pretty clear idea of what to expect in terms of the volume and complexity of your study materials. Acing medical school is about having solid study strategies and a dedication. This article will provide you with the most effective study techniques for medical school, plus some expert tips to make your study routine easier and more effective.


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What Makes Medical School So Hard to Study for?

Medical school is inarguably hard, and if you consider how long it takes to become a doctor it seems even harder. Even for the most gifted of students, it is a challenging and exhausting journey that requires discipline, passion, and a lot of hard work. But what exactly is it that makes it so hard? Let’s go over what you will be facing as a medical student:

  1. High volume of information and detail
  2. Extremely complex subjects
  3. Sky-high standards
  4. Goals that seem unattainable
  5. A lot of pressure
  6. Fierce competition

It is no wonder that medical school is not for everyone. At some point you might even wonder “is medical school worth it?” However, if you do things right and stick to a well-developed study system, you will not just survive medical school but even exceed your own academic expectations. The use of high-yield study techniques will play a big role in your exam performance, so try to find the ones that suit you best!

Check out this infographic for more details on how long it takes to become a doctor:

List of High Yield Study Techniques for Medical School

1. Pomodoro Technique

Preparing for finals can be extremely stressful. It often involves sleepless nights and feeling like you are not going to be able to review all your study material in time. If you struggle with time management and productivity, the Pomodoro technique will be a game-changer for you. It is a system that will help you work with the time you have, rather than against it.

This technique consists of dividing your study time into 25-minute intervals, followed by 5-minute breaks. Every 4 cycles, you get a longer break. If you feel like you have endless time to complete a study session, you will end up wasting precious time on distractions, whereas if you only get 25 minutes to complete a task you will feel the urge to make use of every second. Breaks are also important. After 4 cycles, take 15 to 20 minute breaks and take your mind off studying. These breaks serve as a sort of reward, and help you stay fresh and focused. If your breaks are too long, you will lose your study rhythm and have to start over.

If you are getting ready for MCCQE Part 1 or USMLE Step 1 exams using the Pomodoro technique, you can break down your study time into diagnoses, maneuvers, or cases. For example, dedicate 25 minutes to review how to elicit clinical information in a case and make a diagnosis.

2. Mnemonics

Memorizing facts and information is a huge part of medical school. There’s the misconception that some people are simply gifted with a privileged memory, while in fact, you can actually train your ability to recall information. The most common kind of mnemonics used in all areas of medicine are acronyms. For example, the ABCDE assessment when a patient is acutely unwell:

Another common type of mnemonics is finding one letter in common among related diagnoses or concepts, such as the 6 F’s that may be the cause of abdominal distension: Fat, Fluid, Flatus, Feces, Fetus, and Fulminant mass.

You can even come up with your own mnemonics to memorize groups of concepts more efficiently. Following the same principle, some students like to invent songs and rhymes, or create a story connecting keywords, which are easier to remember than plain text. The best part is that you can be creative and have fun with it. The more you enjoy coming up with your own mnemonics, the better you are going to incorporate them.

3. Flashcards

Have you ever read a passage over and over and still felt like nothing has entered your brain? Believe it or not, this is an extremely common struggle among medical students, and flashcards can be a great resource to solve this problem.

Flashcards are ideal for those students who like to distribute information in small chunks, to make it easier to digest, focusing on each single concept or piece of information. They prompt you to think of an answer, which is an example of active learning. Passive learning techniques, such as reading and highlighting concepts, have been proven to be less effective.

If you are going to use this study technique, you have to do it properly. Making too many flashcards can be counterproductive, since it is likely that you won’t have time to study them all, and making just a few flashcards with too much information is not much different from reading a text. Ideal flashcards should cover only high yield topics. The number of flashcards required will depend on the complexity of the exam and the amount of time you have to prepare for it. Students usually aim at creating 20 flashcards per exam.

4. Study Groups

Even if you are one of those people who prefer studying alone, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of sharing study sessions with fellow medical students. Studying with others can be highly beneficial, as it is another example of active learning. Forming study groups will allow you to gain different perspectives and help each other incorporate concepts more effectively. This will be especially important if you have any OSCE exams, so you can test each other and perform diagnosis on each other.

Here are some tips to make the most of a study session as a group:

5. Active Recall

When you read a text full of important information, instead of highlighting sentences or whole passages, try extracting keywords. Choose a few keywords per paragraph and then try to remember the connection between them. By filling in these gaps, you are making an effort to remember what you learned from the text. In other words, you are training your memory by actively recalling facts. This is not only more effective than trying to memorize full sentences, but also way easier.

More Study Tips for Medical School 

Find a Comfortable Environment

The perfect study environment is often something that you have to create yourself. Every student has different preferences when it comes to focusing on your study material. Some need extreme peace and quiet to focus, others like to listen to stimulating music, and some like studying in environments with some kind of noise in the background, like a café.

Make sure to find a place where you can sit comfortably. Even if it is a public place or somewhere relatively noisy, make sure to have no interruptions whatsoever. A wide table for you to spread out your study materials and adequate lightning are a must. Being in an uncomfortable position for many hours can result in cervical pain and headaches, which are a student’s worst enemy.

Start Studying First Thing in the Morning

Time management and productivity are a big part of being a medical student. If you wonder how to balance life and family demands in medical school while still being able to do well on your exams, you might find it useful to have your study session early in the morning, so you still have the whole day ahead to dedicate to personal matters and other activities.

In fact, your study session should be the very first thing on your to-do list of the day. As the day develops, you never know what can come up, or if you are going to have the necessary mental energy to make the most of your study session. Even if you are not a morning person, your mind is never as fresh as during the first hour of your day, when you haven’t made any decisions yet, thus reducing your chances of postponing your study time.

Looking for some tips on how to be successful in med school with a family? This video will help:

Test Yourself Regularly

Putting your knowledge to the test is a great way of checking your progress. Testing yourself will allow you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and come up with more effective study strategies. To do this, create your own quizzes, run through practice questions online, and constantly try to apply your knowledge to the everyday situations.

Pay Special Attention in Class

Not everything said in class can be found within your textbooks. For instance, the professor might comment that knowing the difference between a certain pair of concepts will be essential for the upcoming exam, or perhaps one of your classmates might ask a question that makes you realize you didn’t fully understand a topic after all. Playing attention in class and rotations, as well as learning from your peers can be invaluable sources of information for you during medical school.

Focus on Mid-terms Rather than Finals

If you don’t do well on a quiz at the beginning of the term, the rest of the course will be all about catching up. If you focus on doing well from the beginning of your school year instead of relying on doing well only in the final exam, you will feel much more confident when you have to sit the final exam, since you will have absorbed all the necessary knowledge throughout the school year. Essentially, you do not want to put too much pressure on doing well only on one final exam. If you study and do well throughout the entire course, you will have an easier time doing well on the final exam.

Review in Chunks

Believe it or not, reviewing is just as important as learning. But most students make the mistake of reviewing the whole course from the beginning to end for final exams. By the time they get to the end of their study materials, they have already forgotten what they reviewed at the beginning. The solution to this is reviewing small chunks of text at a time every week or so. As you start a review of the current’s week chunk, go over the previous week’s review once again, and repeat the cycle. This will not only help you keep the knowledge intact, but it will also serve as an effective warm-up routine.

Study from the Core Out

Just like we mentioned above, reviewing your course material from beginning to end can be extremely tiring and unproductive. If you aim at covering every single detail of a topic in the exact order they appear in your notes, you might end up learning the first part in depth and neglecting the last 20% of what you were supposed to cover, including key concepts. Studying from the core out means establishing priorities. Learn the most important things first and move on to secondary aspects only once you have mastered the essentials. Focus on the smallest details only after you feel confident enough to do so.

Take Good Notes in Lectures and Rotations

Taking good notes is a skill that you have to start working on right from the start of your medical school journey. Writing full sentences will slow you down and make you lose focus.

Try these note-taking techniques instead:

Keep in mind that the notes you take during lectures and rotations will become the backbone of your USMLE and MCCQE study.

If you would like to hear some tips from our CEO & Founder on how to maintain a work/life balance, check out this video:

Conclusion

If you haven’t done so yet, developing high yield study techniques for medical school will be a game-changer. Even if you already have study habits that you adopted in previous stages of your education, medical school requires specific strategies that are not as present in other academic fields, such as the use of flashcards or mnemonics. Keep in mind that each student is different. Some prefer more visual learning methods, others like studying with other people, and others need to be in complete silence and solitude in order to fully focus. Get to know your preferences and design the perfect study routine for you!

FAQs

1. What makes medical school hard to study for?

Factors like the complexity of the subjects, the volume of study materials, the competition and the pressure of medical school make it an extremely challenging endeavor for most students. The use of high yield study techniques is essential to successfully complete your medical education.

2. What is the pomodoro technique?

The Pomodoro technique is a time management system that consists of 25-minute intervals followed by 5-minute breaks. It is highly effective to improve your productivity and make the most of your time without losing your focus.

3. What kinds of mnemonics are the most effective?

There are many different kinds of mnemonics that serve different purposes. Among the most popular, we can name acronyms, rhymes, songs, keywords, and short stories. Acronyms are the most commonly used in the field of medicine.

4. How many flashcards should I write for each exam?

The number of flashcards per exam will depend on the complexity of the subject and how many concepts you need to review. Writing too many flashcards might make it impossible for you to review them all properly, while writing just a few with too much text won’t be much different from studying from your notes.

5. How should my study group be composed?

Your study group should be composed of a maximum of 4 people who have similar study goals, and who are preferably not part of your social group outside medical school. Studying with friends, or with too many people, might be counterproductive, as there will be many distractions.

6. When is the best time of the day to study?

If possible, you should always start your day with a study session. Having a fresh mind and not having made any decisions on what to do during the day make mornings the perfect time to study. There are usually fewer distractions and therefore, fewer chances of procrastination.

7. What is the difference between active and passive learning?

Active learning requires students to think, discuss, analyze, and process information, while passive learning is teacher-centered, and it involves absorbing, listening, and assimilating information.

8. Should I take notes in class?

During your years at medical school, you should aim at becoming a note-taking expert. Your notes will be a highly valuable resource when it comes to reviewing and complementing your study materials, and they will be especially important for your USMLE and MCCQE.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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