Study Strategies (from an MS-1)

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10+ Year Member
May 26, 2008
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Hi everyone-

I figured I'd make this post simply because I see a fair number of posts along the lines of "i'm failing," "I don't know what to do," and I wanted to share some thoughts on what I think might be useful.

For those of you who are matriculating, or rather, applying, MS-1 is your year to figure out what study strategy works best for you. Whatever you used in college, may or may NOT be the same effective method for med school. Just remember that.

1.) "I spend soooo many hours in the library!"
Okay, there are two common problems that are linked with this. First, the "library" doesn't equate to being better able to learn stuff. Just because there are books all around you, and it feels academic, a LOT of library time can be wasted by bringing your laptop, running facebook, blah blah blah. Study with a group? Pfft. I'd say (especially in college) most of group studying was reading independently, and then occasionally someone would share a funny meme or joke we'd all laugh at. If you really have a good study group, I'd envision that group to be one that constantly questions your understanding of the material as you go along, to help you not forget what you just read. My point is, make sure you really evaluate what you're getting out from the library. It might mean bringing your books, a notebook, no laptop, to a more remote location. Second, hours do not equate to mastery! Some people can honestly spend 8 hours at home, or in a library, whatever, and get 8 hours worth of reading with incredible retention. I'd say that's a minority. I am nothing like that. Honestly, 2 hours is probably the longest I can go before I get bored. So, what does that mean for you? BLOCK OUT YOUR TIME. GIVE YOURSELF BREAKS. ALLOW YOURSELF TO COOL OFF. I hear so many undergrads say, "dude, i'm gonna spend 10 hours in the library today"...and I wonder how much of the 10 hours will be productive. When you study, you study hard with little distraction. When you have fun, you should hang out with little distraction.

2.) "I'm a slow learner"
Okay, so being a slow learner myself, it kinda sucks. Things just take a LONG time to understand, and I see myself rereading stuff over and over and over again. If you haven't taken the MCAT yet, trust me-there's plenty of reading that needs to be done FAST, and with good comprehension. Some suggestions I have: 1) During my time shadowing, I found that attendings would share me small pearls for achieving a diagnosis, or whatever. (gently rub the skin-if it peels, it could be sign of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, or ascites-consider liver failure if LFTs are elevated.) And oddly those things I see myself remembering over and over again. Why not train the mind to retain information as if it were important? I know a lot of cell biology can be boring (womp womp), but trust me-even in med school, there are plenty of boring topics that you could really care less about. Yet they're still on boards, and exams.
2) If you have trouble retaining, try constantly quizzing yourself on the stuff you read a moment before. And just because you fail or don't remember, you keep doing it. But this mean you gotta keep yourself honest. I often got frustrated not remembering stuff, so the frustration helped me remember it the first time around.
3.) Use a whiteboard. Plot out pathways, regurgitate stuff. People seem to love whiteboards. Not sure why, but try it! If you don't have one, go to Home Depot and buy Thrifty Vinyl White boards, for liek 15 bucks for a 4' by 8' board. it's GIGANTIC. Study, regurgitate, erase, study, regurgitate, erase. you get the picture.

3.) Am I cut out for this?
Okay, so important things to consider here: Do you really want to be a doctor? Why? What compells you to slosh through all of this academic crud, just to want to be a doctor? Is there so intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, reason that is so compelling? I'd encourage you to follow intrinsic ones more than extrinsic. Money, social status, job stability, or parental pressure are all things that inevitably may compel us to medicine, but it really doesn't say that much about YOU, other than you want to have a good life. (Don't we all?)

Once you know you want to do it-you have to commit. This might mean breaking bad habits. If you really want it, you'll commit. The other day, I was reading about how a war vet went through so much to get a double arm transplant, which I believe might be the first of its kind. Was done at JHU.
You hear his story, and its like, WOW. this guy really committed. That's kinda the same thing with those who bodybuild, or work out a LOT. A lot of that comes from having a very regimented life, and you stick with the plan. For me, a large part of that was committing to a plan. I wasn't those "I'll study the MCAT in a couple weeks and get a 38 on it" students, nor was I the "I'm not sure if I'll graduate with magna or summa cum laude, gawsh" student either. In fact I was probably the opposite of it.

Bottom line, work your @$$ off. If your grades don't show, get involved. Volunteer. Have a real job. Basically, do something in your life that allows you to say something unique about yourself. You can do it. It's only been four years since I wanted to go to med school, and in those four years, I had to give up a lot of my "life" to turn things around. But hey, if you enjoy what you do, it shouldn't be that hard.

And last bit-vet with the double arm transplant...let that be an inspiring story for you all. (I find it inspiring, thus I share.)

Hope this is helpful to some-feel free to PM me with any questions. Cheers.

IL Pre Med

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5+ Year Member
Oct 11, 2012
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In reference to the double arm transplant guy: Chive on brother! Inspiration to us all.


Membership Revoked
Dec 1, 2011
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It's been a very refreshing week of AMA and random tips from people further along in the process.