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7 study tips to help you through med school

Aug 13, 2018, 01:48 AM by User Not Found
Samantha Collins, second-year osteopathic medical student, shares 7 study tips to help you get through medical school.

By Samantha Collins, OMS-2 | August 13, 2018

Samantha Collins

I remember sitting in the Evans Center lecture hall during first-year orientation, being overwhelmed by all the academic advice I had just been given. I didn’t know what kind of studying would work for me, but I knew I couldn’t use ALL of it. As an undergrad, I would usually read from the textbook or a PowerPoint and take notes, then wait to study until a day or two before the test. I knew medical school would probably require me to study all day—all the time—but I was determined not to sacrifice my health or relationships, so that meant I would:

1) Sleep as much as I needed to every day. I didn't set alarms unless I had to be up for anatomy lab.
2) Go to the gym ​three to five times a week.
3) Get outside as much as possible.
4) Meal prep so that I would have quick, easy meals for the week.
5) Be efficient in my studying so that I could spend my free time with friends and family.

I tried several different methods of digesting the coursework before I found what worked for me. I spoke with upperclassmen, met with Michael Koluch, Graduate Learning Support Specialist, and found YouTube videos that offered advice on how to study. It took time to figure out what would work best for me. After earning C’s on my first anatomy and foundations exams, I discovered that to really learn and understand the material, I needed to mix up my study methods. I made it a point to evaluate daily and to determine whether I was really learning or just mindlessly consuming the information.

I would use different study methods for different subjects; for example, I would draw out specific structures for anatomy, read from the immunology textbook, and listen to YouTube videos on kidney function or embryology. I tried to figure out what I would need to supplement my learning, and it didn’t come quickly! But by the second exam in anatomy and foundations, I was earning A’s. I recently took my Level 1 boards and far exceeded my goal score.

Although everyone should personalize how they study, here are some tips that may help:

  1. From Dr. Tafline Arbor: Ask yourself every day if your brain hurts. That may sound weird, but it doesn’t mean study until you’re burnt out or exhausted. I took it as “don’t mindlessly study”; which can be easy to do if you get into a habit of automatic note-taking without thinking
  2. Use a question bank or make questions for your friends. It’s never too early to start doing boards’ questions. Our Libguide on has many great, free question banks. I highly recommend University of Michigan anatomy questions and BoardVitals. My friend and I also make questions for each other to answer which keeps me from overlooking parts of the lectures. This is how I study for everything and is the #1 way I learn! Don’t wait until you’re “ready,” practice them now.
  3. Always finish watching the lectures of that day. Of course, some days it’s just not going to happen, but try not to let it become a weekly habit. Getting behind is a nightmare and really not worth it. I usually try to watch the lectures on the same day they’re assigned, then review/study the lectures from the previous day.
  4. Give up being a perfectionist. It’s not practical, and it hinders your efficiency. If you’ve spent an hour on a topic and not making much progress, move on. Come back to it later or “triage” it for the exam. However, if you’re the opposite of a perfectionist and you triage almost everything, try to dig deeper than you normally would on a subject. Pair up with a perfectionist who tends to spend a lot of time on one subject, force yourself to understand it more, and help them move on when they need to.
  5. Google everything you dont know. There will be a lot of words or terms that probably are familiar, but you can’t remember all the details. I leave a browser window open, and it’s much easier and quicker to google it than to look in a scholarly resource. However, if you have a resource you can easily access or you want to know more or go deeper, do that too.
  6. Find your best time of day. Figure out when you’re most productive; whether that’s at night, early morning, or mid-day—do not waste that time. My best time of day is usually between 9-5pm, so if I'm not in the anatomy lab, OMM, or ICM, I make sure I'm learning the more challenging material during that timeframe. I avoid mindless studying activities, like making flashcards, organizing my notes, answering emails, or getting distracted by household chores. By 5 p.m., I have usually mastered the most difficult topics of the day and can spend my evenings working out or watching TV while looking through some of the easier material I reserved for that night: such as reading through a lecture I found easy or doing extra practice questions.
  7. Ask for help if you need it. Study groups and individual tutoring can help you with specific topics as well as provide you with advice for certain professor’s questions.

Helpful Resources:

  • First Aid for Step 1 PDF ASAP! I’m sure most people will also buy the paper book from Amazon, but I like the PDF because you can quickly search for words and find helpful mnemonics. It isn’t highly detailed or in-depth for your course exams, but it can give you the big picture. Get familiar with the information you’ll need to know for boards.
  • Pathoma for pathology (will be more relevant in system’s courses). Take notes on the online videos in your pathoma book, so you’ll have it ready for boards studying.
  • University of Michigan Anatomy practice questions: ( can also be found under the Anatomy tab on Libguides.
  • Also on Libguides: Acland Anatomy videos & questions
  • Sketchy Medical for pharm and micro during boards, which are very expensive, so I didn’t get it during my system’s courses, although I wish I would have!
  • Always do the practice exams the school makes available on ExamSoft.


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