I bet that you aren’t studying anywhere nearly as effectively as you could be. Why should you care? Well, if you study more effectively, you can learn more and retain more in less time. This translates to less time studying, better grades, and more time doing the things you actually enjoy. In this video, we’ll cover all of the study hacks I learned in medical school, and what I wish I knew back in college.
This post is an updated version of my first ever: “Premed Study Strategies – What I Wish I Knew in College”. By following the tips in this post, you’ll be studying less and earning better grades immediately. I just wish I was studying like this sooner.
1 | Active vs. Passive Learning
Next, organize the information in a way that you understand. Again, as an active process, you won’t just be copying and regurgitating information, but rather doing the difficult task of synthesizing the information in your own words, diagrams, and other study aids.
For example, I loved creating tables and charts. Let’s say I was comparing macro-minerals, such as sodium (Na), potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) in the GI system. I would take the extra time and effort to extract the relevant information and organize it in a chart format. The process of creating this chart was enough to improve my understanding, and I had an excellent study tool to review at a later date.
2 | Environment
2) Group vs. Solo
Are you studying by yourself or studying with other people? My split varied, but on average it was close to 50-50. In group study, the rate of reviewing material is slower, but its main benefit is working through and reinforcing difficult concepts while also keeping you motivated and sane. That being said, groups should be small. Study with only 1 or 2 other people. Larger groups have rapidly diminishing returns in that you will more than likely get distracted and your productivity will plummet.
One of the biggest advantages to group study sessions is the ability to teach what you’ve learned. This teaching reinforces the material for yourself and helps out your fellow classmates. This is called the Feynman technique and is incredibly powerful. If you don’t already use it, I suggest you start.
3) Routine vs. Novel Stimuli
There’s a trade-off between novel stimuli and maintaining discipline. Novel stimuli, such as varying your study location, has been demonstrated to improve recall and retention. However, for some this works directly against the benefits of routine.
The routine of waking up at the same time, studying in the same place, etc. may facilitate productivity and fight off procrastination. The novel stimuli of studying in new locations and with new people may impede your ability to get into the groove and maintain productivity long-term. Again, I found myself studying in the same spaces – either in empty classrooms within my medical school, which is when I usually did group study, or at home with my optimal setup.
3 | Obtaining Information
1) Writing vs. Typing Notes
2) Lecture vs. Podcast
Your school may offer audio or video recordings of your lectures, and for me this worked best. However, there are distinct advantages to attending lectures in person.
Lecture: You have a set routine and you’re surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. It helps reduce distraction and encourages you to be engaged in the lecture, at least more so than listening to a lecture podcast. You’re also able to ask questions in real time.
Podcast: On the other hand, a podcast gives you the flexibility to watch whenever you want to, meaning you can watch the lecture when you’re fresh and well rested. You can also watch it at increased speeds (1.5x or 2x playback speed). That benefits you in two ways: First, the lecture is now only 30 or 45 minutes rather than 60 minutes. The increased pace also may help you focus, particularly if the lecturer speaks slowly. Zoning out with slow speaking lecturers was a big issue for me. That being said, be careful of the temptation of podcasting, as it requires a great deal of discipline to stay on track and not fall behind. If you’re the type of student who would procrastinate with podcasting, stick to attending lectures instead.
3) Rewatching Lectures
4 | Memorization
1) Summary Sheets (Condensed Notes)
2 ) Spaced Repetition
One of the most powerful ways to memorize information is spaced repetition. We know that repetition is key to memorization. The idea here is that after each review, you can increase the interval between reviews. For example, you learn information on day zero, then see it again after 24 hours, then see it after 72 hours, etc. Instead of reviewing it every day, you only review it right when you’re about to forget.
To perform spaced repetition on your own requires a lot of scheduling and is not feasible. That’s why I suggest using spaced repetition software such as Anki. I have a playlist of tutorials that go over exactly how to use it. I recommend that you make your own flashcards within Anki and review them daily. By making your own cards (versus taking someone else’s), you’re again taking advantage of the active learning process. Reviewing your cards daily is also key, because otherwise you won’t be taking advantage of the space repetition.
The beautiful thing about flashcards is you don’t have to sit down and spend 30 or 60 minutes at once. To get through all my cards each day, I would open the Anki app on my phone at any brief moment of downtime. I would go through cards when I was waiting in line at a restaurant, or getting groceries, or waiting for a friend. In those few minutes of downtime, I was able to perform a handful of cards, but this adds up throughout the day. Sitting down to review a lecture can take 20+ minutes. However, you just need a few minutes to do a few flashcards.