How I Studied in Medical School for Preclinicals

This topic is WAY overdue, but I received this question from a follower on Instagram.

Hey doc! I just visited your blog site and was searching for how you studied for med school. If you can let me know your study skills?? I found out that undergrad studying is way different. 🙁

Having gone through medical school, I feel like some of my classmates studied exactly like they did in undergrad, others exactly opposite, and some never really found a consistent way. I fell into the last category. Consistency is hard to establish when topics are extremely variable in complexity, extracurricular activities demand more time during certain blocks, and the roller coaster of burnout pokes its head in at inopportune times. Here’s the gist of how I studied in medical school.

Before Lecture

The night before, I quickly perused the next day’s lecture PowerPoints to become familiar with the topics, terms, and goals of each lesson. This would only take 5-10 minutes per PowerPoint, but it gave me a great idea of what to expect the next day.

During Lectures

I found that sitting in a lecture hall was filled with distractions, especially from texting / instant messaging / talking to my classmates instead of focusing on the material. Consequently, I tried to stay home and stream lectures (up to 2.5 times the normal speed) whenever I could!

Beautiful MS1 lecture hall

I hand wrote the important points discussed by the lecturer. This was invaluable since PowerPoints often contained superfluous amounts of information, whereas the lecturer verbally emphasized what he/she considered important (and usually information that was tested). These hand-written notes forced me to engage myself during lecture and made learning a more active process than simply reading the PowerPoint presentation. Outside of the lecture material, I used other sources only as a supplement – any syllabi or PowerPoints were way more important to master.

Truth be told, I also wrote the aforementioned notes in tiny handwriting to minimize the number of pages I had to carry. This gave me the false impression that I had less to study when exam time rolled around. 😀

After Lecture

Our lectures finished around noon, so many of my classmates would grab lunch and study together; however, I found this to be far less efficient than going home and studying on my own. My limited experience with “group studying” has shown that people tend to go off on random tangents and waste a lot of time. That being said, reviewing information in groups is always nice to bounce questions off each other.

I went through each lecture PowerPoint in the context of the notes I took earlier in the day. I found repetition to be more important than highlighting or bolding texts, so I’d try to review each lecture one more time before going to sleep. It’s remarkable how useful studying right before sleeping can really be – I found myself recalling things that I struggled with the day before. Overall, I studied lectures anywhere from 1-3 hours per day depending on the complexity of the material. Staying on top of this significantly helped me when exam time rolled around.

Medical students want to know everything, and while this is important for patient care, it’s impractical for exams. If you’re spending 50% of your time studying for an anatomy or histology practical which counts for only 10% of the overall exam grade… consider reallocating your time more efficiently. I spent ~8 hours per week studying anatomy (usually in the gross anatomy lab on the weekend) and another 6-8 hours studying histology with my digital slidebox. In contrast to what I wrote earlier, studying anatomy in groups was incredibly helpful since we dissected and identified structures together.

Finally, for exams, I designated the last 20% of a given block towards “exam mode.” For a six week block, this amounted to roughly ten days of hardcore studying with minimal interruption. If I was diligent earlier in the block, than most of this time was truly a review of big concepts and cramming small details. I minimized most of my extracurricular activities are focused on the task of doing well on test day.

Now if I haven’t already scared you, I forgot to mention the most important aspect of studying in medical school – balance. It’s a “work hard, play hard” mentality which got me through med school with minimal stress. Friday afternoons were for pick-up basketball games. Most of the weekend was for recreation. I found myself pursuing extracurricular activities, entertainment, and other hobbies after studying many evenings.

Ah, *nostalgia.* Med school really was a remarkable four years! 🙂

If you have any tips you’d like to share (or questions about how I studied), leave a comment below!

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