Study Tip 1 – Keep organized. Medicine is a high-volume course that progresses and builds on complex concepts. However, many areas of study can be broken down and grouped to help you organize and easily recall the steps. Take one general topic, and list all its subtopics underneath it. Keep diagrams concise so that you can review them for quick reference and comparison.
Study Tip 2 – Start with the big picture. Sift through the assigned chapter or unit in the beginning of your studies and get a rough idea of what you will be covering. While you are skimming through, decide which material must be thoroughly understood versus the minor details that can be memorized closer to the exam date. Take your time and think through the steps of the major concepts while you have plenty of time. More than likely, the mundane facts will only reside in your short-term memory and will only frustrate you if you first attempt to memorize words and diseases you don’t understand.
Study Tip 3 – Know the terminology and nomenclature well. Most of the time this can be accomplished by paying attention to the stem of the word. Take hypertrophy for example, which describes an increase in cell size. The stem -trophy often refers to cellular growth and dimensions. If hyper- is added to any term, it usually means an increase, or greater than normal levels. So it is easy to see how the pathologic process of increased cell size is described by its term hypertrophy.
Study Tip 4 – Compare and contrast. Every time you are studying something, ask yourself “How is this different from . . . and how is this similar to . . . ?” Medicine is full of dichotomies and many disease processes overlap each other, thus making it easy to confuse them with each other. Some common examples are Benign vs. Malignant, Transudate vs. Exudate, Reversible Injury vs. Irreversible.
Study Tip 5 – Study every single day — being a good student requires developing good study habits. As cliched as this is, it is really, really important as a med student. There is a huge volume of material being presented, and it is very easy to fall behind. Even if you can’t study every single day, try to read at least a little bit whenever you can.
Study Tip 6 – Study in a group — again, somewhat cliched advice, but the key here is to choose your friends wisely and to strictly limit how much time you study with them. Ideally, you should do all your studying on your own, and use group studying time as a review or to clarify confusing points. The sessions should be rapid fire and limited to no more than an hour or two a week. The ideal study group is one with similar views on studying and work ethic that complements your knowledge base well.
Study Tip 7 – When in doubt, ask — simple advice, but sometimes, we are all averse to asking questions for fear of looking dumb. However, in this age of email, it never hurts to shoot off an email with well-phrased questions than you have already tried to answer. This not only helps academically, but it helps to also develop relationships with people in fields you may be interested in in the future when you have to choose a specialty.
Study Tip 8 – Translate the notes you receive into your own condensed, easy-to-read version This helps you internalize the knowledge in a way you can easily access. If you find yourself having trouble doing this, it is usually a good sign that either the material was not presented well or you are not fully understanding it (or both).
Study Tip 9 – Although some people find it a good idea, drinking absurd amounts of coffee/tea/any other caffeine source is not always a good move, especially on the day before an exam. You’ll crash eventually and may end up feeling groggy.
Study Tip 10 – Enjoy what you are doing — if you find yourself getting bored while you study, stop. Take a break, and think of a way to make what you are studying interesting, whether that is by turning it into a game, making it interactive, more visual, or even reading interesting case reports online of a related disease. Sometimes, pegging the knowledge onto a case report or vignette can make the information much more “sticky” in your mind, which is all that matters.