Part 1: Developing good studying habits

By: Dr. Radbeh Torabi

Starting medical school is a major change for all incoming medical students. Classes cover plenty of information, which is likely not comparable to any classes taken prior to this point. As students, you’re required to know this information for your exams. You must have a realistic strategy to cover the information in the most efficient way possible. Most students have different approaches, varying from student to student. However, every student will have to cover the information more than once to be able to get a good grasp on the fundamentals of medical education.

An approach I highly recommend is to try to first understand, then review and finally memorize the study material. You will not be able to memorize information in a way that can help you do well on your exams, unless you understand the information. Consider your favorite movie. You may have watched it multiple times, and you can now quote multiple lines from it. When you first watch it, you don’t pick up all the lines, just the theme and plot. Then each time you watch the movie, you pick up more lines, and notice aspects of the film you may have missed the first time around.

An effective way to apply this to your education is to read ahead. I suggest students should at least read a day ahead. Try to get the bigger picture and write down questions you have, especially ask about difficult concepts or things you have difficulty understanding. Then you go into class with a basic understanding of this information. This will be required when you start residency and is a good habit to develop early in your medical education. In class, you will review the information, and your teachers will emphasize the main points of each section. You will have ample opportunity to ask questions. Following your classes, when you sit down to start studying, you can start with reviewing the information you went over that day, prior to starting the next day’s preparation. This will be a much faster process, since you have already gone over the information twice. Even if you did not review the information the night before, it is good to go over everything you learned in class that day. This works best if you prepared for class properly the night before. Repeat this process until the week of the exam, reviewing all information.

There is difficulty in building stamina to be able to study multiple hours every day. If you cannot study four to six hours a day when you first start, do not be discourage as its no easy task. Be realistic and start by trying to study one to two hours a day. Gradually increase this until you can regularly study four to six hours a day. You shouldn’t take more than two weeks to reach your daily studying goals. This will be similar at the start of every semester. Every time you get out of this habit, you will need to restart the process of developing this stamina.

Developing good habits, especially early, will pay off more and more, as you continue through your basic sciences curriculum. There is a positive snowball effect and classes in your second year will become more manageable because of your developed study skills. It’s never too late to develop good habits, just remember you must be able to maintain them.