We talk a lot about productivity and study optimization to help students achieve the best results possible, but what if that’s not your goal? What if you’re not interested in a perfect 4.0 GPA or a 99th percentile MCAT score? Instead, what if you just want to do the bare minimum to achieve your desired result? Well, here’s how to do it.
1 | Define Your Goals
The first step is to define your goal.
If you don’t identify what you’re trying to accomplish, it will be very difficult to determine the “bare minimum” effort required to achieve it. For instance, the bare minimum required to get all A’s in your classes is very different from the bare minimum required to pass. Defining your goal provides direction. Without it, you’ll likely fall into one of two situations. You’ll either: one, fail to achieve your goal, or two, end up putting in far more effort than necessary to achieve it. As the late American author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar put it, “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
If you’re in college, consider what grades you’re trying to achieve this semester. Are you trying to get all A’s? Or are you just trying to pass? Alternatively, if you’re in medical school, are you trying to match into a hyper-competitive specialty like plastic surgery or ENT? Or are you more interested in a less competitive specialty?
Your goal will largely dictate the “bare minimum” effort that you have to put in.
2 | Understand How You’ll Be Graded
Next, understand how you’ll be graded.
Similar to defining your goal, understanding how you’ll be graded provides you with insight and direction into how to achieve your goal with minimal effort.
In college, how you’re assessed will depend heavily on your specific class or instructor. On the one hand, there are some classes where your grade is primarily determined by your performance on exams. On the other hand, there are some classes where your grade is a combination of exams, assignments, and participation among other factors. There are even some classes where your grade on the final exam can determine your entire grade in the class. By understanding the grading rubric up front, you can map out a plan to achieve your result with the minimum effort.
Understanding the rubric will also help you determine where to put your efforts.
For instance, if a project or assignment is worth a very small percentage of your grade, then it’s not worth putting considerable effort into it. Your time is much better spent on the aspects of your grade that will actually move the needle.
For medical students, understanding how you’ll be graded is particularly relevant during your third-year clerkships. During this time, you’ll be gaining experience in a variety of specialties and receiving a grade for each rotation. There are generally two main components to your clerkship grade: your shelf exam score and your evaluations from preceptors.
Depending on the school and the rotation, how these components are weighted with respect to each other will vary. For some schools, 80% of your grade may come from your shelf score and only 20% from your evaluations. For others, 60% of your grade may come from evaluations and only 40% from your shelf score. Understanding how you’ll be graded is key to knowing how you should prioritize your time. If your grade is dependent primarily on your exam score, then your time is better spent studying for shelves than it is trying to impress your preceptors.
3 | Figure Out Your Priorities
Once you’ve defined your goal and understand how you’ll be assessed, figure out your priorities.
According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of your results come from just 20% of your actions. Your job is to find out what those 20% of actions are and to make them a priority. If your grade is predominantly determined by your exams, for instance, then you need to make studying for exams a priority. If it’s determined by projects, then you need to make projects a priority. Knowing where to put your efforts will help you minimize unnecessary work.
Similarly, you should also prioritize your type of laziness. Consider how you want to be lazy. Do you want to put in fewer hours overall? Or would you prefer to put off studying completely until the last possible minute? Whatever your preference is, each one has its pros and cons and each one requires a different approach.
If you just want to study fewer hours overall, then the trick is to space out your studying so that you don’t have to spend too much time studying during each individual session. On the other hand, if you prefer to save your studying until the last minute, then you’ll need to prepare yourself for rough days and long nights leading up to the exam.
4 | Optimize Your Studying
Regardless of which approach you prioritize, however, you’ll want to optimize your studying. I know what you’re thinking, “I thought this was the lazy student’s guide to studying, why are you talking about study optimization?” But if you think about the goal of the lazy student, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Lazy students want to achieve their desired result in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort.
Top students try to increase their efficiency so they can do more, lazy students try to increase their efficiency so they can do less. Sometimes that means it’s better to be intensely focused for a short period rather than dragging it out with a half-hearted approach.
For instance, putting in 100% for 30 minutes is equivalent to putting 50% in for 1 hour. Although this requires you to put in more effort per unit of time, you’re able to accomplish more during that time, which means less time studying overall.
A lazy student that is still serious about doing well in their classes may skip their lectures and review audio or video recordings at 2x speed instead. They might also skip reading the textbook or notes and go straight to working through flashcards and practice questions. Yeah, they might miss some details, but their goal isn’t to get a 99%. Instead, it might be to get a 70% – and for that, this strategy can work incredibly well.
5 | Lean Into Your Strengths
Lastly, lean into your strengths.
If you’re good at something, it probably feels pretty easy. So if you’re lazy, don’t choose something hard for you. Try to choose a major or classes that play into your strengths.
One of my strengths has always been critical thinking over memorization, so in college, neuroscience, almost by accident, was an incredibly well-fitting major. Although this was known for being one of the most difficult premed majors, the subject matter played to my strengths. As a result, I set the curve in a lot of my classes and excelled much more easily than many of my peers.
There was even one instance where I forgot to study for the midterm and still got the second-highest grade in the class. It was a class entirely about action potentials and the exam asked me how I would approach a fabricated neuron with made-up parameters. Although I forgot to study for the test, I was able to reason my way through the question and ultimately achieve a high score.
On the flip side, psychobiology was considered the easiest premed major at my college. During my senior year, after I had already been accepted to medical school, I chose to take an “easy” psychobiology class to meet my major’s upper-division requirements. Similar to the class about action potentials, I didn’t study much for the midterm; however, this time I got a B.
The reason was that this class required a great deal of rote memorization, which is not a strength of mine. In fact, I had to study hard for the final in order to get an A in the class. Ironically, if I had chosen the “easier” psychobiology major instead of the “harder” neuroscience major, college would’ve been much more challenging for me. The more you reduce friction, the easier things will become.
If you’re a lazy student that also wants to become a doctor, then your goal should be to do the least amount of work necessary to get into medical school. But to do that, you need to start by figuring out exactly what is required of you.
The path of getting into medical school is arduous, with complexities, nuances, and roadblocks that can stop even the most ambitious of premedical students.
If your dream is to become a doctor, be sure to check out the Med School Insiders Premed Roadmap to Medical School Acceptance course. Our team of elite physicians came together and built this course from the ground up to streamline your entire college experience into a single high-yield resource. This is the guide we wish we had back as premeds ourselves, as it would have helped us avoid countless mistakes and made the process much smoother and less stressful.
This includes guidance you won’t find anywhere else. The course was created by top physicians who secured acceptances to multiple top programs, including schools that fought over us by throwing large merit-based scholarships to sway our decision. That’s right, we got paid to attend one medical school over another. It’s a great position to be in, and we’ll show you how it’s done.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Strategies of the Top 1% of Students or Why You’re Not a Straight A Student (& How to Become One).