I remember arriving at college. My parents moved me into my not so spacious new dorm room, said their goodbyes (a tearful one from my mom), and were pretty quickly on their way. I was excited to explore this foreign land, but also a bit apprehensive. I thought I wanted to go into medicine (along with seemingly three quarters of my class), but was not entirely convinced. Either way, I knew my academics were important. With the start of classes, I fell back on my high school study strategies (I thought I knew premed study strategies), most of which were not the most efficient. Throughout undergrad, I adapted these, but not as quickly as I should have. Here is how you can learn from my mistakes.
Figure Out Your Learning Style
This refers to how you prefer to interact with information. For example, you may be an auditory learning, learning best by listening to a professor’s lecture. Or perhaps it is the professor’s slides that que you in best, making you a visual learner. Most likely though, you are some combination of learning styles. There are online quizzes where you can determine this, but you can also use your own judgement. What do you seem to prefer? Once you have answered that, put it to the test. Incorporate that particular learning style more heavily into your studying and evaluate the results. Note, your preferred learning style may change over time, no worries! Ultimately, this heavily influence your premed study strategies.
Always Employ Active Learning
This is as opposed to passive learning. Passive learning is when you nonchalantly sit in a lecture hall, the professor’s sweet, silky voice washing over your ears. Or it is simply gazing at slide after slide after slide. Active learning is when you organically recall the information. Refer to my post praising the free online flashcard system Anki for the extensive data on how to best retain information. No surprise, it includes active studying. Beyond Anki, there are several ways to utilize active studying. You could do practice questions. If the professor does not provide them then crack the textbook or even make them up yourself. See if you can stump your friends! You could also summarize your notes out loud. I am currently teaching my cats microbiology!
Don’t Over-Resource Yourself
This isn’t as much of a problem in undergrad as it certainly is in medical school. Nonetheless, it is a good seed to plant. You are bombarded with information from the lecturer, which may or may not extrapolate beyond the power point (another source of information), and then there is the book and an array of potential handouts. You may have time in undergrad to rifle through all of these sources, but you definitely do not in medical school. Moreover, you need to start implanting the skill of realizing where the value is. If the lecturer is garbage, then look elsewhere. If you can find everything you need in the book, then why go to class? Learning premed study strategies is about streamlining the process of getting the information from all of these places into your head.
Condensation, Condensation, and More Condensation
Whatever your learning style or combination of learning styles ends of being, you will no doubt be confronted with a lot of information initially. This only gets more daunting, as each medical school lecture feels like you have been bulldozed. This tidbit will instill a vital survival tool though! Practice weeding out the important information. Initially, this will be educated guesses, but hints from professors, old exams, or your results on current exams can guide your future guesswork. Basically, if you are taking notes from a textbook or reviewing a power point, your interpretation of the information is not going to be verbatim. That would be silly. Condense it to the relevant information, which is more efficient in the moment, but also when you review it later.
This refers to a myriad of things. First, I highly recommend checking out our post on the Pomodoro technique. Essentially, you set a timer for a set amount of time and then study furiously. When the alarm rings, you grant yourself a 5 or 10 minute break. Then the process continues for as much stamina as you have. Ultimately, the goal is to work up to an hour of religious study per setting of the timer. This allows you to retain information better, but is simply more efficient than jumping between Facebook and the task at hand for several hours. Along the same lines, choose your study environment wisely. Is it an environment that will allow something like the Pomodoro technique to thrive, or will you constantly be interrupted?
Because your study strategies should be active, not passive, I do not believe that much collaborating should occur. If you simply take someone else’s notes for a lecture, then you did not have to listen to your professor speak and weed out the important information. This task is active. Moreover, the organizational scheme is less likely to make sense to you. Although it requires more work up front, you benefit in the long run. Studying in groups is different though. This can be turned into an active process by quizzing each other and explaining difficult concepts to one another. It is nice to converse with humans every once and awhile, as opposed to my cats. Ultimately, a little group studying is just what premeds need to keep some sanity too.
Developing a Healthy View of Competition
Premeds are naturally competitive, but it is also instilled from the moment we begin undergrad by the ridiculously competitive nature of getting into medical school. While this is stressful, embrace it in a positive way. Think about your classmates as propelling you to new heights. If medical schools had an 80% acceptance rate instead of one closer to 5%, would you study as hard? Definitely not! Moreover, the accomplishment would mean so much less. Embrace the competition and also praise those around you. By building up those around you, rather than tearing them down, you take the pressure off of yourself. This allows you to realize all of the qualified candidates that there are instead of putting yourself on a pedestal and being disappointed with rejection. Once accepted to medical school, regardless of your undergraduate experience, things become very collaborative. Study guides are shared on Facebook and people will spend time with you on difficult concepts that elude you. Why would it be any other way? After all, we will all be colleagues one day!