Category: Study Strategies

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons Why You Need A Daily Task List

Medical school is chaotic. You are balancing school itself, the extracurriculars helping to propel you towards a residency, maintaining the relationships that comprise your support network, and not to mention basic human necessities like eating, exercising, and showering. Just reading this sentence can cause your mind to swirl. So, here are three reasons you need to make a daily task list and start your own medical school organization.


1. It Reduces Anxiety

As I alluded to above, medical school is anxiety provoking. I would argue that daily task lists actually reduce this anxiety and should be utilized by everyone for optimal medical school organization and performance. You take a mess of tasks and neatly organize them into discrete, digestible components. Moreover, once your list is made, there is nothing to worry about. It is time to buckle down and start crossing things off.

Side Note-A Running List Furthers Anxiety Reduction

Continuing on the above thoughts, additional tasks will undoubtedly come to mind while diligently working through your list. No problem, have a running to do list next to your daily tasks. This is simply a place to write down thoughts as they organically present themselves. For instance, if you suddenly remember that you need to call your mom or complete a pre-class quiz, just jot that down on your running list. Now your mind is not distracted with thoughts of that and you are able to better focus on whatever task may be at hand. Note, this is to be utilized for short-term things you intend to complete that day!


2. It Increases Productivity

I honestly believe organization increases productivity. You have complete control over your daily task list. Therefore, you can set your priorities and create a roadmap for the day reflecting this. In our Finding Your Focal Point piece, we discussed the value of goal setting. This holds true here as well. You are essentially setting goals for the day, rather than haphazardly accomplishing tasks. While the later may seem just as efficient, I assure you that long-term, meticulously charting out your path to success is more optimizing.

3. It Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

Unlike undergrad, which is generally filled with endless tasks, such as assignments and papers, medical school is just the opposite. Most semesters consist of a few rounds of tests or a mid-term and a final. That only equates to a few boxes to check off. In the interim, you are persevering through vast amounts of material with no defined starting or stopping points (other than the exams of course). This can weight on your psyche. To combat this, I started creating more boxes to check. For instance, my daily task list includes things like watch Microbiome lecture or review sexually transmitted infections lecture. I don’t know why it is so satisfying, but I absolutely love crossing things a to do list!

Your turn:

Daily Task List

  1. Read: How To Do Well In Medical School – 3 Reasons You Need A Daily Task List
  2. Starting making Daily Task Lists


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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9 MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

9 MCAT Study Tips – How I went from the 50th to the 90th percentile

Just like any other premed, I dreaded the MCAT. Dreaded is not strong enough of a word to describe my angst though. Dread is something you face when doing an unpleasant task, such as shopping for myself. Simply thinking about the MCAT elevated my blood pressure. Although not as effortlessly as I had hoped, I did survive the MCAT and eventually matriculated at the Medical College of Wisconsin. What follows are my tips for doing so yourself.

Tip #1: Assess your strengths and weaknesses

The new, 2015 MCAT is broken down into 4 sections. Everyone taking the test has a unique background. Someone with a PhD in biochemistry likely has the luxury of not studying for that section, while an English major has an advantage in the critical analysis and reasoning section. Critically evaluate your strengths and weakness with regard to the respective MCAT sections (fortunately most MCAT prep programs begin with a diagnostic test). Then, incorporate this into your study schedule, spending more time on your weaknesses and less on your strengths.

Tip #2: Pick your content overview resources appropriately

The MCAT tests you on an overwhelming amount of material. Therefore, you are going to need a solid content overview. MCAT test prep courses differ greatly, from a comprehension in person class to online delivery where you go through at your own pace. These are pricey (I paid more than I would like to admit for one during my first attempt) and in my opinion, not necessary unless you lack the discipline to push yourself (in which case I worry about you in medical school haha). Like I said, I paid a lot for the online course my first attempt and regretted it. The content overview I got from that was no different than what I got from simply buying the books (for only a few hundred dollars) for my second attempt. Moreover, I was then able to obey Tip #1 (Access your Strengths and Weaknesses), glossing over the sections I viewed as strengths. This is harder to do if the delivery of the material is outside of your control, as it is in classroom courses.

Tip #3: Reduce, reduce, reduce

While going through the content, it is imperative you reduce it (in terms of volume), in your own fashion. There is simply too much information to know. Therefore, you need to condense it, which will require educated guesses, and commit that bit to memory. There are several ways to accomplish this. Some people like to handwrite outlines, others like to type them. Some people are fans of notecards. Personally, I am in love with the online flashcard system Anki (stay tuned for a future post on this). This skillset will pay dividends in medical school, where once again, the amount of material is overwhelming and you must reduce, reduce, reduce.

Tip #4: Practice questions are your best friend

While diligently going through my online MCAT prep course the first go around, I got bogged down in content. This distracted me from doing the invaluable practice questions. Unlike any test you have been exposed to, you need to know more than content to succeed on the MCAT. You need to be comfortable with the style in which it tests you and recognize the myriad of traps it sets. Failing to do this, I scored in the 50th percentile initially. In my second attempt, I made sure not to overlook practice questions. These can come in a variety of forms. Since taking entire tests is draining, I bought books that had sample sections, such as the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems section. In addition to this, I would do whole tests. Going back to tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses), these were an opportunity to do just that. I analyzed which topics I got wrong and directed my studying appropriately. Ultimately, these tactics allowed me to score in the 90th percentile my second time.

Tip #5: Studying too long is a recipe for burnout 

Your length of study depends on the starting point I alluded to in tip #1 (Assessing Your Strengths and Weaknesses). Some of you will have this mapped out for you, thanks to your MCAT test prep courses. I would caution you not to study longer than 8 weeks. By that point, you have more than likely reached saturation and will only negatively impact your score. A sample study schedule may look something like this: up to a month of content related studying where you follow tip #3 (Reduce, Reduce, Reduce), followed by up to a month of following tip #4 (Practice Questions Are Your Friend). The second month may look something like this: devoting one day each week to a particular topic (remember there are four). This is amenable to personalization based on tip #1 (Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses). On these days, you do sample practice sections. For instance, Monday may consist of 3-4 sample chemical and physical foundations of biological systems sections. While reviewing each section, tally the topics you struggled with. You then have your blueprint for what topics to study the rest of that day. Somewhere during the week you need to fit in a full length practice test in, as well as a separate day to review it (the length of the new test makes it hard to do both tasks in the same day). Again, utilize this as a roadmap for your studies. Note, this sample schedule is for someone with two months set aside for studying. If you plan on studying amidst other activities, the content overview can be spread out over more weeks. Lastly, take one day off each week! It will allow for some rejuvenation and prevent burnout!

Tip #6: Break your day up

Unfortunately, the very nature of MCAT studying can be isolating and depressing. It is important you continue to do the things you love to lessen this. For me, that was working out and spending time with friends and family. Although I was studying 10 plus hours a day, I made sure to work these things in to keep me sane. I can guarantee that if you cut everything, but studying out, you will be miserable. This will translate to quickly burning out and ultimately performing worse.

Tip #7: To study with others or not to study with others 

This is a difficult one. Studying with others can do one of two things, either stress you out or provide some solidarity. Answering this question could best be answered by assessing how you do studying with others for college courses. Ultimately though, you are going to have to be the one to learn the material, so you will need to spend a lot of time with it personally.

Tip #8: Believe in yourself

No one is going to be able to do this one for you. The MCAT is intimidating, along with all the other elements of getting into medical school, but you have to believe that you are capable. This will give you the willpower to get up every morning and push through the material. More importantly, this will allow you to keep fighting when practice exams beat you down. My sisters made fun of me, but I taped a piece of paper that said “Believe” above my bed while studying. This was the first thing I looked at every morning and the last thing I thought about each night. It helped me fake it when there was not an organic sense of belief. Whatever your own spin on this may be, do it!

Tip #9: Retaking the MCAT

This is a gray area that could have its own blog post entirely. What I want to touch on is the fact that retaking the MCAT should be looked at as an opportunity. I definitely did not feel this way when I got my first test result back, but in retrospect it forced me to critically evaluate my first attempt and also tested just how bad I wanted to get into medical school. It motivated me to what I felt was my true potential. As I said, I went from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile. Retaking the MCAT was a blessing in disguise for me and there is no reason you can’t make it one too!

By Bryan Miles – Medical College of Wisconsin