Study Skills for Medical School Students

Hurdling medical school is a herculean task. It does not only require intellect, perseverance and hard work, but also the correct study skills. Wise strategy is needed for you to be able to conquer those mounds of notes and piles of books. If you’re to imagine one subject having numerous reference materials – sometimes several books – then multiply these with your number of subjects , then you get hundreds of books per subject to read. This of course, is not possible even for a genius. That is why you have to adapt a smart strategy to maximize your learning process. Here are some study skills that you can utilize:

1. Know the reference books recommended by your professor.

This is usually found at the end of your course syllabus. If the professor recommended a textbook, then this would be your first priority. You should buy the book. If you have enough budget, then buy at least three additional reference books listed in the syllabus. If you don’t have the means, then just use the library. As you go on, try to access all the listed books in your syllabus.

Before day 1, start reading your textbook. Don’t wait for the first meeting. Read ahead as often as you can. This would facilitate your understanding of the subject matter when the professor lectures on the topic. You may also impress him with your advance reading and would start you on a good footing with him.

2. Do not cram.

Cramming is never advisable. This is the major cause of mental block. If you really want to learn, then you have to study everyday. Medical subjects are very interesting. Imagine learning about the circulatory system; how blood is transported to the left and right auricle and ventricles and back to the body cells. Isn’t that awesome? Develop a genuine interest in your subjects and you’ll be motivated to learn more.

3. Understand what you are memorizing.

Memory recall would be easier if you understand the concept first. Never memorize verbatim. Read the subject matter and then summarize in your own words. You should be able to explain using your own terminology. Writing it in paper could help a lot in retaining information that has been read.

4. Make use of mnemonics.

This is very useful in simple recall information, like items for enumeration.Get the first letters of the data to be memorized and form a memorable word that you could easily remember. i.e.
FOG for F-flow of blood, O- oxyhemoglobin, G – globin.

5. Use actual material.

If you’re studying bones, then use a genuine skeleton. Go the library or laboratory and name them as you hold the bones in your hand; if you’re to focus on the heart then get a heart model and go through it like you’re explaining to the class.

There are also several teaching visual aids, videos and CDs you could use. Some books come with an accompanying CD.
Select these books over the plain ones.

6. Keep your notes well organized.

Make use of highlighters. Highlight the major points with a red pen and then the minor points with perhaps, a pink color. The color depends upon your preferences. This would make you remember things very easily.

Rewrite your notes into a neater and cleaner page. Use bullets and spaces in between data. Don’t write one long paragraph. This is visually discouraging. Organize your notes in such a way that it facilitates your reading process.

You could prepare an outline of each chapter. During the preparation, you would read and understand more and at the same time you are synthesizing topics for review materials during exams.

7. Prepare a time table for your study period.

All subjects should be given ample time of study, the more difficult subjects first. More time can also be devoted to those topics you find hard to understand. Allocate time for accomplishing assignments, case studies, thesis and additional workload.

8. Use the RSE method (Read, Summarize and Evaluate).

Read the topic, summarize it in a sheet of paper, and then evaluate what points you have missed. Keep doing this until you are able to summarize all the salient points needed. i.e. The Excretory Organ processes in the nephrons, to the collecting duct, to the urethra, to the ureter and then to the excretory outlet.

In summarizing, use association with everyday life. Have a picture in your mind of an event or object you’re well acquainted with and associate this with the topic.

In the case of the above topic, you could associate it with a sugar cane factory where all nutrients are segregated and taken in, and all waste materials thrown. You could create more meaningful associations based on your own experiences.

9. Mentoring by your professor or others.

If you still could not cope up with the lessons, then you can ask help from your classmates or from your professor himself.

You could also initiate a group study where you meet with your classmates and discuss one topic per session. Each of you should contribute what he knows about the subject matter. Questions are raised and answered by the group until such time that all are answered.

These skills are sometimes difficult to acquire, but don’t give up. Skills are not developed overnight. It takes time for you to turn them into your daily routine. But you can do it with persistence and determination.