Category: Study Hacks

7 Hacks for Pre-Med Success

7 Hacks for Pre-Med Success

Hello nerds and nerdettes, I’m here today to give you 7 lifehacks that will make your years and a pre-med infinitely easier. To be perfectly honest, these aren’t the sorts of lifehacks that you might learn from mentalfloss or /r/lifehack, but simple, little tricks I believe saved me time, money, and a whole-lot of stress during my years as a pre-med. To be honest, these first hacks aren’t particularly specific to pre-meds, but in the future, I promise that I’ll have a stronger focus on those specific needs.

1. Live with People Who Will Help Move You Forward

Let’s face it, pre-med life has a set of unique challenges few understand (except maybe our friends in the engineering and physics departments). Compound this with the fact that you are likely living on your own for the first time ever and “learning to adult” at this same time is a recipe for endless stress. In order to minimize these struggles, I encourage you NOT to live with your best friend(s) unless they too are pursuing a career in medicine. I made the mistake of living in a house with 13 other guys my 3rd and 4th year, and while more good than I can share came of it, the fear of having clean dishes, or enough hot water for a shower, or my non-medical friends wanting to grab a beer or play video games or have people over when I needed to study was a source of endless anxiety. Instead, find other similarly studious people who you might not be best friends with, but can get along with just fine, and set ground rules right away.


It’s witchcraft I tell ya. After being an idiot and buying my textbooks from the school bookstore first semester, I never looked back. Abebooks is arguably the best website I’ve ever used to find textbooks I’ve needed or wanted at reasonable prices, including all of those expensive science textbooks. And what’s more is that a lot of what they sell are the international editions (which, despite what your professors say, are exactly the same as their American counterparts), which are already cheaper. In fact, I managed to make money off selling my textbooks back to students and/or the bookstore once I was done with them. Also, don’t trust your professor about needing the textbook or not-ask other students instead.

3. Social Media is the Enemy

Okay, yes, digital natives, blah, blah, blah. I understand that we all have social media at this point, but the reality is that you will spend way too much time on it if you aren’t careful. It is easy to try to justify it by saying “That’s how I stay connected or hear about school stuff/events on campus,” but at the end of the day, social media sucks up more time than we realize. I love it too, but I had to come to terms with my passive use of social media to fill my brain (I could talk about the negative health and intellectual impact of this for days), and so these days, I only use social media, and even check email, and very specific times during the day. That way, I control it, and it does not control me.

4. Pack Heavy

I cannot tell you how much time I’ve wasted going to my apartment in the middle of the day to go get my books for afternoon class, or to make lunch, or even to take a nap. I end up just wasting time screwing around-cleaning, or talking to a roommate, or what have you. When you set out in the morning, go out with the intent of not returning until the evening once classes are over. This has the dual purpose of forcing you to stay in “class mode” as long as you are on campus, with no excuse not to sit down and get some work done when you have an odd 15-20 minutes between class.

5. Amazon Prime is your Friend

Amazon Prime is only $50 for students, and it is worth every penny. Whether it’s a charger for your computer, new ear buds, goggles for class, pens and notebooks, or even toiletries, Amazon Prime has saved me more time than I can even begin to imagine. This is especially true if you’re like me and didn’t have a care during your undergraduate years, and couldn’t just pop off to the store every time you needed something. You can even set up regular shipments of things like razors, shampoo, toothpaste, or certain foods (Amazon Pantry) that will free up more time for you to work hard and enjoy undergraduate life.

6. Take Advantage of Free

Whether this is free Friday screenings of movies on campus, or the kindness of your friend with a meal plan, take every opportunity to cash in on the free opportunities in undergrad. Let’s face it, your tuition is really paying for these “free opportunities” anyway. And more than simply freeing up cash for a Kaplan Class or the MCAT (two major expenses not to be overlooked), these free experiences are often opportunities to exposure yourself to new ideas and chances. For example, had I never attended a free physics symposium, I never would have heard of the new biophysics class being offered, and I would’ve missed out on an excellent opportunity.

7. Meal Prep

This is my biggest regret in undergrad-I simply did not eat healthily, and it bit me in the butt on many occasions. The trick was that I didn’t believe I had time to cook-which is entirely true when you’re a pre-med. My advice- take an afternoon-3 hours or so- once a week and make meals for the rest of the week, especially breakfast. Even if it’s just sandwiches or mac and cheese, or maybe something fancier like a casserole, make yourself something healthy and nutritious that will last you throughout the week.

Bonus: Have a Daily Schedule

I’ll talk about this more in a later installment, but suffice it to say that learning to plan out a single day is the number one skill a pre-med can develop. Lay out the gameplan the night before, and if you’re anal like me, even prep for the next day that night by laying out your clothes and packing lunch ahead of time.

By Matthew Wright
Medical College of Wisconsin
Motivate MD

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The 80/20 Rule – from Peas to USMLEs

The 80/20 Rule – from Peas to USMLEs

The Pareto Principle originated in 1896, when the esteemed Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto demonstrated how 80% of his peas were derived from 20% of his peapods.  This since has been widely investigated; with mathematicians proving that this principle follows a power law distribution applicable to many natural phenomena.  Currently, the most prevalent and proven applications of this principle take place in the business world, following the rule of thumb that, “80% of a company’s sales, come from 20% of their clients”.  So how would a doctor or medical student use this natural principle to their benefit? To answer this question, one needs to re-evaluate their effectiveness on a daily basis….

During undergrad, my main method for studying material was to re-write the content several times, so that by the end of my studying, I could recall and write down most of the testable content.  This technique carried over into to medical school, and surprisingly enough, got me through a successful first year.  That being said, I was fed up with hand cramps, fear of the infamous “2nd year”, and the monotony of arduous writing, I explored more efficient methods outside of the realm of typical studying techniques.  This led me to the 80/20 rule, which I thought I could steal from the business world and use to my advantage.

First, I had to ask myself, what aspects of my studying contribute the most to retaining the material I was attempting to master?  Upon self-reflection, I concluded that most of my recall came from simple, made-up mnemonics (mostly converting acronyms into visual representations), which I only utilized during my later rounds of re-writing the material. The light bulb went off; this is my 20%!  Now focusing on the 20% of studying that contributes to 80% of my retention (and cutting out the rest), I have saved countless hours of study time (and healthcare costs by avoiding my inevitable treatment of focal dystonia from handwriting), ultimately creating more time to live a happy and balanced life.

This principle can be applied to any aspect of your life, including relationships. For example, try to identify the 20% of meaningful conversations/activities that contribute the most to building a successful relationship and work towards increasing the frequency of those moments.  So whether it be growing peas in your backyard or studying for the USMLE steps, applying the 80/20 rule can dramatically increase your effectiveness; leaving you more time to devote to things that matter the most.


Drew Porter

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health – Class of 2019