How to study for medical exams

Study smart, tips for University exams (especially medical school), preparing and passing an exam within 12 days

DISCLAIMER: the following tips are for people who want to pass with efficient use of time and effort, not get a high distinction. Generally this method should apply to most subjects, but mainly those that require lots of memorisation (like in med school), and not a lot of technical skill (like calculus!) that requires practise. You need to have some understanding on the subject matter for this method to work.

So, got an exam coming up in about 2 weeks? I think this method should help you pass, even if you don’t know much about the topic, if you are an average to above average uni. student.

I’ve done my fair share of exams in my life and have developed this approach to tackle even the most difficult of those exams. In retrospect, I do not think that I had a very Godly attitude about study earlier, and have since repented, however, this method is still very useful and I sincerely hope it helps you to pass your exams!

What does NOT work (at least for me)

1. Rewriting my own notes to help me “remember” (unless they are condensed to point form aka the “SMALL SOURCE”)

2. Reading and re-reading a big textbook

3. Reading from more than one or two sources (unless again, it is to create the “SMALL SOURCE”.

4. Listening to audio sources of information

Basic rules:

1. You can only remember a finite amount within a certain period of time (in this case 2 weeks!)

2. Memory requires association

3. Memory gets distorted with similar bits of information, that is not quite the same! (like two textbooks on the same topic)

4. University courses generally present us with WAY more information than we will ever need or remember.

5. You learn when you have RECALLED, if you don’t RECALL, you didn’t remember.


1. CREATE Your ONE “SMALL SOURCE”- it must be brief but comprehensive

You have to decide at this late stage, WHAT you are going to memorise by (see rules #1 and #4):

a) Read previous exam papers to see what they are asking

b) What did the lecturers say?

c) Last year’s students, what did they learn from?

Possible sources :

a) Preferably a “pocket version” of the “big textbook”. (Like in pathology we had the “big robbins” and the “little robbins”. ADD little notes from lecture notes/other sources if needed, but it must all be in ONE book.

Remember memory requires association? The physical book and spatial location of information can be helpful when you are recalling data. Anything associative will help. Multiple sources give you memory INTERFERENCE amnesia and you can’t recall that fact clearly.

b) Lecture notes (+ additions from the pocket version textbook/other sources if needed). GET the lecture notes from a fellow student if you have skipped too many lectures, they are important to know what to focus on.

Big is not better. The shorter the better. READ the big one for UNDERSTANDING, but tidy up your SMALL SOURCE.


2.MAKE THAT SMALL SOURCE INTO LISTS (you can write the lists on the pages) – eg. you have a paragraph in your small version book which you make into 5 words under that heading.


Make MNEMONICS for everything you can-

This sounds ridiculous, but believe it works and I still remember stuff I had mnemonics for back in 3rd year med school (more than 11 years ago I think!)

1.Use whatever EXISTING mnemonics you know/in the book/lecturer told you to save you the hassle of creating your own

2. First letters of words created into a poem or word (eg DIGFAST for symptoms of mania), write this in your small source in the appropriate place. Draw pictures, use different coloured pens, stick sticky labels. WHATEVER helps you to remember. (your exam is now only a few days away!)

3. Visualise the word and associate with the heading (eg someone digging quickly who is manic)

4. RECALL the meaning of your mnemonic.


Now keep recalling (say it out or write it down) and correcting yourself on all the mnemonics as you go through your “Small source”

Over and over again (this is where rote learning is useful because you’ve got the associations).

Work out where you are making mistakes and target those specficially (eg. DIGFAST is for mania but I keep forgetting what ‘A’ stands for – maybe you need some extra memory jogger – like stick a “to list” with the word “activities” on it, on your SMALL SOURCE page on mania).

Notice where your mnemonics are overlapping, eg. you’ve got ‘A” standing for about 5 different words and you get them mixed up, TIDY up your mnemonic to DEAL with it OR, just ROTE learn your way through this problem.

If you do the above, you should have learned enough to pass (maybe not brilliantly, but at least give it a good go), your exam!

In later posts, I’ll give some concrete examples of the above concepts.

God bless and all the best with your upcoming exam!

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