A solid medical school study schedule is the ideal ally for any medical student. You have already overcome the obstacle of figuring out how to get into medical school, so now it is time to get to work. Sometimes mastering high yield study techniques for medical school won’t help you without good organizational and time management skills. Having your days, weeks, and months carefully organized will allow you to improve your overall academic performance and get to the end of the semester in one piece. Most importantly, having a solid medical school study schedule will help you prepare for exams such as USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2, or MCCQE Part 1. But designing your own study schedule is not easy, so if you don’t know where to start, check out our expert tips on how to create the perfect one!
>>Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here.<<
Why Do I Need a Medical School Study Schedule?
It is no secret that medical school is hard. Not only because the subjects are complex, but also because of the high volume of study materials and the standards that medical students are expected to reach. There will be times when you will even ask yourself questions like “is medical school right for you?” The truth is that there are no shortcuts to becoming a skilled health professional. A few years ago when you pictured your path from high school to med school, you probably knew the latter would require skills that previous stages of your education didn’t provide you with. But if the reasons why you want to become a doctor are strong enough, you most certainly have the determination required to complete your medical training. The challenge of medical school involves building long-term study habits, mastering study techniques, and organizing your routine in the most effective way possible.
Creating the perfect study schedule for medical school will highly improve your time management and your productivity. It will allow you to cover all your study materials and still have enough time to review them once or twice, meaning less stress for you and more time to focus on other aspects of your life, such as your hobbies, family, and overall wellbeing. In fact, assigning specific time slots to self-care activities will make you more likely to engage in such behaviors, thus decreasing burnout and improving productivity. You must aim at knowing exactly what to do each day and how much time it is going to take, and trying to stick to it as much as possible.
Remember that your study schedule won’t be written in stone, so make sure to give yourself the freedom to modify it as you go. Your priorities might change unexpectedly, or you might realize that you need to dedicate a little extra time to a specific task. You will even need to design schedules to prepare for specific events, such as shelf exams, board exams, finals, quizzes, etc. These things are normal and you shouldn’t stress over them, that’s what your study schedule is for!
How Do I Create the Perfect Medical School Study Schedule?
Every student is different. They all have different learning styles, rhythms, routines, and priorities. There’s no such thing as a standard schedule or template that will work for everyone, so you will have to come up with your own plan. Throughout your medical training, you will even need to craft study schedules for specific exams, such as the USMLE Step 1, or the MCCQE Part 1.
Analyze your needs. Maybe you struggle a lot with procrastination and having each minute of your day assigned to a specific task could help you stay on track, or you never get to cover 100% of your notes before a quiz, so you could benefit from focusing on smaller chunks of information at a time. Whatever your case may be, tailor your study schedule accordingly.
Do you need to prep for the USMLE? Check on this infographic with details on step 1:
These tips for creating the perfect medical school study schedule might help you out:
Tip #1: Use Online Tools
Technology is a medical student’s best friend. You’d be surprised at how many 21st century tools you can use completely for free to study for medical school. Apps can help you boost your productivity, save time, learn more, and organize your routine.
When it comes to designing your weekly or monthly schedule, online planners and calendars will help you visualize, complete, and edit tasks much more quickly than if you have to do it by hand on paper. While it is true that some people prefer the old reliable bullet journal, notebooks are often not very compatible with our busy modern lives. Let’s face it: smartphones are always there for us and they offer quick solutions for essentially anything, whereas if you have to take out pen and paper and find a flat surface to write on, you’ll waste precious minutes of your day. But it is really up to you – If you prefer a journal, feel free to use it to organize your schedule.
But our smartphones can help us with more than just organization. There are numerous apps that aim at helping you learn better and faster. A good example of this is an app called Anki, which helps you exercise your memory through customizable flashcards. This system has proven to be much more effective than sitting down for hours in front of a book, as you can practice whenever and wherever you want, decreasing your actual study time, and increasing the number of concepts that you can learn at once. Another interesting flashcard app is Firecracker, which is oriented towards medicine specifically but serves a similar purpose. Lastly, if you are more of a visual learner, Sketchy is the ideal app for you. It was designed by medical students and will help you effortlessly learn and recall information through art and the Loci method: a memory technique that consists of imagining yourself placing objects around a room.
Find the apps that suit your needs and assign time slots in your week to use them. Take advantage of the fact that you can use them anywhere, and at any time. For example, if you have a 20-minute break between classes, you can use that time to do a quick review of whatever topic you need to work on. Don’t underestimate those little gaps between your activities, as they have the potential to be the most productive moments!
Tip #2: Review First Thing in the Morning
Every single day of your life as a medical student should start with a quick review of what you learned the day before. While it is true that not everyone has the privilege of being a morning person naturally, the morning is inarguably the most productive and stress-free moment of the day. There’s a simple reason for this: nothing happens at 6 AM. Most people are still asleep, or lazily stirring a cup of coffee while trying to keep their eyes open. At 6 AM nobody has had time to stress over anything yet. You still haven’t made any decisions, and the activity you choose to start your day with is going to lead the way for the rest of the day, which is why some people like to meditate or exercise as soon as they wake up.
A quick revision of what you studied the day before is the best way to set your brain in motion. It will help you retain the information in the long term and it will also serve as a warm-up before you start working on new topics. What’s more, dedicating some time to study in the morning will contribute to distributing your daily activities more smartly. Think of it this way: if you had rocks, pebbles, and sand, and you had to put it all inside a jar, pouring the sand in first will leave little space for the rocks, whereas putting the rocks in first, will leave enough gaps for the pebbles and the sand to fill in every little space remaining. The rocks represent your duties and responsibilities, while the pebbles could be less important or secondary aspects of your daily life, such as hobbies or leisure activities, and the sand represents those activities that could be considered a waste of time, such as navigating social media apps. The moral of the story is that there is always time for the things you consider to be your priorities.
Need advice on how to navigate all this studying while balancing self-care? Here's a key tip we like to remind students about:
Tip #3: Schedule Breaks
Never underestimate the power of taking breaks. You might be thinking “how can spending less time studying help me study better?” As it turns out, study breaks are essential to keep your mind fresh and prevent burnout. But be careful, your study breaks should be thoughtful and measured. Studying for 40 minutes and then watching a whole episode of your favorite Netflix show doesn’t count as a proper study break, as you will completely lose your concentration and study rhythm and you will have to start all over again. Instead, go for a walk, or listen to some classic music.
Remember that your attention span is limited. You can only keep 100% of your focus on a task for about 40 minutes, so studying for longer periods of time without taking a short break in the middle can be pointless because your brain is probably not absorbing the information anyways. Study breaks are inarguably necessary and have nothing to do with laziness or a lack of productivity.
However, breaks can be a double-edged sword if not planned properly. Remember Newton’s laws of inertia and motion: an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by a force, and when this happens, the second object will exert an equally strong and opposite force at first. This means that starting your study session from scratch will require stronger willpower than when you’ve already been studying for a while. Going to the bathroom, getting yourself something to eat or drink, or meditating are good ways of spending your study break without completely getting out of your study zone while scrolling on your phone will only cause you to end up taking longer breaks and not being able to get back on track.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t schedule your breaks and decide to take them whenever you want, you’re likely to stop studying whenever a task is too challenging. By the time you decide to get back to your study session, starting over will be twice as hard because you will be facing the same frustrating task. Plan your study breaks smartly and stick to them religiously.
Tip #4: Keep Your Study Goals Attainable
At first, you might be tempted to make your days as productive as possible without taking into account your energy level, things that might come up, or commuting time. Planning a whole bunch of tasks for a single day is not necessarily equivalent to being productive, but quite the opposite. You will most likely end up completing only 40% of what you had planned for the day and feeling extremely frustrated and demotivated.
Achieving a realistic study schedule is usually a matter of trial and error, and it will take time. Start by planning simple tasks and giving yourself more time to complete them. Little by little, start adding more and more complex tasks to your schedule, as long as you can complete 100% of them. If you are preparing for a final exam, divide your study materials into smaller sections and cover one section at a time. You should also set aside time enough to review what you learned the day before. Feeling satisfied with the progress you made in a day will boost your motivation to challenge yourself a bit more each day.
Tip #5: Be Specific
Make your study goals as detailed as possible, and split them into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, if your goal is to study for the anatomy quiz, you can assign one topic of the test to each day of the week, so that you can focus on one at a time while making sure you will get to cover everything. If your study goal is to “study for the exam”, every day is going to feel unproductive, because you will only be able to cover a small percentage of your materials. Instead, establish how many pages or lecture slides you will need to review each day, and approximately how long it will take, and assign a specific moment of the day to devote yourself entirely to that.
Slides can often be quite busy, so make sure to stay focused on your learning objective of the day. Taking notes using your own words will help you memorize things more effectively and improve your long-term retention. An additional tip to keep in mind is creating bullet lists of specific subtopics to cover in each study session. Crossing off items of a list will give you a sense of achievement and allow you to manage your time more effectively.
Tip #6: Exercise, Plan Your Meals, and Get Enough Sleep
Research has shown over and over that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Keeping healthy habits will make a huge difference in your overall academic performance. Doing at least 20 or 30 minutes of physical exercise daily and having healthy eating habits are essential to keep your energy levels high. In addition to eating clean and working out regularly, your brain needs to get enough rest.
Are you nearing the end of medical school and wondering how the residency match will work? This video covers everything you need to know about this next step:
Incorporating these habits into your busy routine is never easy, but planning them just like any other task in your day can help. Establish a fixed time to wake up and go to bed, set aside 20 minutes for a home workout before you leave home in the morning, and plan your meals weekly. Keep your habits consistent! You will get so used to them after a while that you won’t feel comfortable going back to the old ones.
Tip #7: Batch Your Time
See how many hours you will have in a day to complete all of your tasks and establish time slots for each activity. If you have 3 hours and 2 topics to review that day, dedicate 1 hour and 20 minutes to each, and take a 20-minute break in the middle. Make sure that the amount of time you choose to dedicate to each task makes sense. If it is a simple revision, half an hour might be enough, while if you have to cover a new topic you will probably need at least 1 or 2 hours. Focusing entirely on one specific task at a time will prevent you from getting distracted, whereas if you randomly jump from one text to the other whenever a topic is too challenging, your mind will be all over the place and you won’t be able to make progress.
Tip #8: Learn to Prioritize
One of the most common mistakes medical students make is organizing topics by their default order instead of covering the most important ones first. If there’s a topic that you find particularly difficult, it will likely require more time and dedication than the other topics. Establishing priorities will be the key to creating a study schedule that you can actually stick to. If you get the hard or important tasks done first, you are more likely to finish on time, whereas if you leave them for the end, you won’t have enough time to cover them properly and you will get to the exam day feeling much more stressed.
Example of a Medical School Study Schedule
Below is an example of a weekly schedule for medical school. Keep in mind that it will probably look very different from your ideal schedule, but it will help you get the gist. Your schedule will always vary slightly from week to week, but the overall structure should remain more or less consistent over time.
Following an efficient medical school study schedule is the key to surviving medical school while preserving your physical and mental health, especially considering how long it takes to become a doctor. Using online tools such as calendars, planners, and flashcard apps can help you save time and incorporate information more easily. Make sure to keep your goals attainable and detailed, by listing the specific topics, pages or slides that you are supposed to cover each day. Taking good care of your physical and mental wellbeing is as important as getting work done, so make sure to take breaks and get enough rest between study sessions and at night. Maintaining a productive and effective daily routine seems unattainable, but trust us, you won’t regret it!
1. Do I need a medical school study schedule?
Every medical student needs their own study schedule. Organizing your weekly activities is the key to completing them all effectively and boosting your productivity. Without a personalized study schedule, it will be very difficult for you to review your lectures in time for your finals and you will thus suffer from the stress of not being able to cope with the challenge of medical school.
2. Which online tools will I find useful as a medical student?
Any online calendars, planners and organization tools will be essential to design your study schedule and follow it religiously. There are also numerous apps available that are aimed at helping you study better, such as Anki or Firecracker, which are programs that use flashcards to help you memorize things more efficiently, or Sketchy, which is ideal for more visual learners since it uses the Loci method to teach complex topics through art and animations.
3. When is the best time of the day to study?
Early in the morning is the perfect time to study, since no one is awake yet, and there are very few distractions. No people around you means no notifications, no conversations, and no commitments. Using the same principle, some people enjoy studying late at night, when everyone is already asleep. The negative side of this, is that you might be tired from doing things all day, and you might have a lot in your mind, whereas if you start your study routine early in the morning, your brain will still be fresh and full of energy.
4. What should I do during my study breaks?
Grab a snack or a coffee, go for a short walk, stretch, or clean up your workspace. Whatever you do, don’t get too distracted. Grabbing your phone and scrolling on social media or binge-watching a Netflix show is strictly discouraged, as it will make you lose your study rhythm.
5. What happens if I can’t reach my daily goals?
This might be an indicator that you are assigning too many or too complex tasks to a single day. Don’t worry, failing to fulfill your goals is normal at first, and all you have to do is adjust your schedule so that it suits your needs.
6. What can I do to boost my concentration?
Make sure to study in a comfortable environment and get rid of distractions such as your phone. Take short breaks every 40 minutes or so, but be careful not to get too detached from your study session. Meditating before studying or listening to certain music can help you relax your mind and focus on a single task at a time.
7. What can I do to improve my eating habits?
Plan your meals. Choose one day of the week, ideally Sunday, and plan exactly what you are going to eat each day. You can prepare your meals beforehand and leave them in containers in the fridge, or make sure to have the ingredients you will need each day. This will not only help you eat healthier, but it will also save you a considerable amount of time per day. Additionally, make sure not to have ultra-processed food in your pantry at all. If it is there, you will end up eating it sooner or later.
8. What does physical exercise have to do with studying?
You might have heard the phrase “healthy body, healthy mind”. Following the right diet and exercising regularly will have a direct impact on your mental and physical energy, your mood, and your overall daily performance. In a few words, doing exercise and eating clean will make you feel much more energetic and motivated in all aspects of your life.
Like our blog? Write for us! >>
Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!