Dr. Ali Elsaadi contributed to this post.
Are you wondering how to make the most efficient use of your time to succeed on coursework and achieve high USMLE scores in the first and second year of medical school?
One of the most challenging parts of studying is sitting for so many hours without using your phone, getting up to go to the bathroom, having a snack, or even just zoning out.
It’s close to impossible to sit in front of a computer or book for 4-6 hours straight without getting distracted. The good news is that you can use those distractions to your advantage and seamlessly incorporate them into your study plan to maximize your effective study time.
Here are 10 study tips for success during your preclinical years:
1. Plan Your Day and Your Study Hours.
After understanding when the mandatory classes will be for your current course, decide what blocks of time you will have each day to study. Often you will have several free late mornings and afternoons to study each week.
If you’re a morning person, consider getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. each day to get in some quality studying before going to class. If you’re a night owl and cherish your morning snoozes, consider studying for a block of several hours every night after dinner.
Make sure that you leave some free time each day to relax, exercise, and do whatever other personal activities you need to. Once you have blocked out your study times for each week, plan out what you will get done each day. Write out a daily “To-do List” so that you can check off each task after you complete it.
2. Conclude Conversations & Silence Your Phone Before You Sit Down!
Any conversations you are having with friends or family need to be concluded. A simple “I have to study for the biggest exam of life, I will ttyl” text goes a long way, and they will respect your dedication to your craft.
Once that’s been taken care of make sure to put your phone on silent and put it in a place far enough away that getting up to get it won’t be worth it. After you’ve gotten this major obstacle out of the way it’s time to set the mood for the next couple hours of your study date.
3. Set Yourself Up for Success by Choosing Your Study Environment Carefully
The environment you are studying in truly does make a difference. If you are in a study hall known for being a popular meet up place you are less likely to get anything done (for any of my fellow SGU classmates, I think you know which place I’m talking about).
Make sure you are in a quiet area with good lighting that prohibits talking. Set up all your books, highlighters, close any internet page not related to studying and you are ready to get started.
4. Set Goals for Long Haul Study Days
Should you study without breaks, break frequently, or just say that you studied for 6 hours because you were in the same place for 6 hours but never really did anything besides looking at hilarious cat videos? To avoid this conundrum, try setting a goal for what you want to do during that study session and then break it up into segments accordingly.
5. Employ Premack's Principle
Premack's principle states that one will do a less desirable task in order to do a more desirable one later. Use this while studying!! Study for 45 min (undesirable task) and break for 15 min (desirable task).
During your break try to actually relax. You can use your phone, have a snack and go to the bathroom. Then once you’ve finished this wonderful part of your study session go back in and repeat the process.
You can even take the Premack principle a step further. Once you’ve finished all your studying for the day try doing something to help yourself unwind. Maybe cook a nice meal, watch your favorite TV show, or go to the gym. The point of studying is not just to look at books all day but to learn. Trust me when I say that you need to be relaxed in order to learn effectively.
6. If Lecture Attendance is Optional, Should You Attend?
Do you learn best by listening to a teacher? Attending lectures is probably the way to go for you then. Alternatively, do you prefer to read and teach yourself new material on your own? Your time may be better spent foregoing lecture and learning things yourself.
Other people who should consider skipping optional class are those who tend to zone out 10 minutes into a lecture, those who have a long commute to school, and those who have trouble sitting still for 3 hours without falling asleep or getting restless. Carefully consider how you will learn best and make the most efficient use of your time when deciding whether or not to attend lectures.
7. Take Notes on Your Lectures
Just reading lectures off of powerpoint slides will require you to spend more time and energy to memorize material in the long run. Take notes from lectures in an outline format using your own abbreviations, highlighting, arrows/symbols, and whatever other tricks you like to use. Write out any pathways and charts that are important. Be sure that you aren’t just copying down the slides word for word; anything that you write down should be a fact that you must learn for your exam. Writing information down will improve your recall of it as well.
8. Quiz Yourself on Your Notes
You should first read through your notes once or twice to make sure you grasp all of the concepts. After that, start quizzing yourself on your notes by using a blank piece of paper to cover everything other than the subject heading. Try to recall everything that you wrote about the heading, then uncover your notes to see how well you did and what you missed. Continue to do this for each subject heading that you have in your notes. Active recall is the best and most time-efficient way to understand and memorize your notes.
9. Start Using First Aid Early
Don’t wait until your dedicated study period for Step 1 to open First Aid! You should use First Aid to supplement lecture material while studying for your courses first and second years. This will allow you to pick out what you need to know for Step 1 and familiarize yourself with the review book. As Step 1 starts to approach second year, start studying more heavily from First Aid for your exams so that you are “one step” ahead once you get to your dedicated study period for Step 1.
10. Get Some Rest
Please make sure not to neglect your sleep. Sleep is crucial for reorganizing everything you’ve learned in your brain and it gives you the energy to learn more. All these tips mentioned above can help you build better study habits, but if you aren’t sleeping you might as well just keep on watching cat videos because you’ll rarely be able to take on information without it.
Want to take these study tips with you? Download the infographic below: