Med School Study Strategies

Studying for classes in the first year of medical school is not an easy task. Most medical schools have it set up so that first year is lecture-based, study-intense material that you absolutely cannot cram for. Many first year medical students find themselves caught in a dilemma; they are used to saving the bulk of their studying for right before an exam and then cramming and getting that “hard-earned” A. Unfortunately, in medical school, material taught needs to stick.

In order to convert the short-term memory material into long-term physician knowledge and skills, professors load us with drugs, disorders, concepts, and biochemical pathways that we cannot handle without proper preparation. My classmates and I relax after an exam and enjoy a evening out on the weekends, but literally every other day is study day.

It seems as though a large portion of students who preform well on exams in medical use the same method I do. We sit down with a lecture we’ve attended, and we make an outline with pictures and decorated with many different colored highlighters. By the time two or three weeks have passed and it’s time for an exam, we have a stack of colorful, artistic (ok not artistic in my case) outlines we can review rather than flip through 75-slide powerpoint presentations. Here is an example of two of my favorite outlines from my last exam, which was today:

Apoptosis and Complement Activation

Apoptosis and Complement Activation

It’s not easy to tell anyone what the best way to study is. This applies to me as well. These highlighted outline-style summaries are relatively recent for me but have worked well; however, not all classes are tested with written exams. Some exams are practicals, where a professor or clinician grades your technique or skill. I often find myself frustrated with these exams as they can be partial and biased. If the grader sees you are confident, he or she is generally inclined to believe you and grades you based on the inkling that you know what you’re doing. Many students unfortunately don’t know what they’re doing and score well anyway. Other students may be skilled and practiced but humble or shy and get discriminated against, consciously or not. I’ve found myself in both situations and find it unfair and bizarre how we can get an 85% on one exam and 100% on another similar exam when both were equally prepared for.


Whatever exams come your way, I hope you find the best study strategies that work for you. If you want to be a good doctor, make sure you know what and why you are doing something, then do it with confidence. Best of luck!