Quantcast

What is the most effective way to take notes during medical school?

Achieve USMLE Step PREP Success | Picmonic
This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.

sanfran256

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
May 21, 2016
Messages
148
Reaction score
146
hi everyone,

I will be an M1 in a couple of weeks. I was just wondering how most people take notes during lecture?

In undergrad, I used to handwrite notes of what the professor was saying during lecture, and then use these notes, the book, and the powerpoint to make a detailed study guide (also handwritten), which I would review for the exam.

This method worked very well for me, but I am worried it may be too time consuming with the amount of material in med school. Also, if i somehow lose the notes then I am screwed (as opposed to them being electronic).

I would take them on a computer, but I type way too slow, and my eyes hurt when I stare at a computer too long.

Any ideas?

Thanks!
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

Cawolf

PGY-2
7+ Year Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2013
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
2,285
Tablet + Notability + Slides is what I am trying right now.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

kmp0410

Full Member
Joined
Feb 9, 2013
Messages
671
Reaction score
265
I was like you, but quite simply I would learn to adjust to taking notes on a computer.

It becomes extremely cumbersome and tiring to handwrite notes in med school. I did it for the first semester but second semester I started using OneNote and wish I did earlier. Basically just import the PPT's and make notes write on them. You will take alot less notes since the PPT's are right there so the typing shouldn't be a big issue.

Basically, too much info leads to too much writing. Also, since I usually study from my notes, if I didn't deem something important when going through lecture, I would often miss it when reviewing. Unfortunately, some questions will be random points on a slide that you have to simply hope you pick up. Much easier to manage your info when its organized in OneNote than having 4 notebooks in your backpack that simply get sloppy and worn down over time.

Now I do think there is a learning that occurs when I physically write something down in my own words that is tough to replicate via other avenues. So I usually go back during test week and make really consolidated handwritten study guides for concepts that still drilled into my brain yet. I also draw stuff out in Anatomy frequently.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 5 users

sloop

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
May 12, 2015
Messages
1,282
Reaction score
2,282
I found the best option to be an iPad with Notability. Your mileage may vary but I loved the interface and having all my notes neatly in one small package.

My school provided great note sets for most lectures, and these were pretty comprehensive. I didn't find it necessary to take lots of actual notes, but more I would just highlight emphasized points and write a couple short things in the margin. The iPad worked great for that and I was very satisfied with it.

In general, med school note taking is not like undergrad note taking, though I guess it depends on the way your specific undergrad and med school do things.

Most med schools provide note packets for most lectures. That really changes the equation. You don't actually need to focus on taking notes to the same degree you did in undergrad. You don't need to frantically write down that formula for a nucleophilic substitution before it gets erased. Mostly you can just sit back, relax, listen to the lecture and focus on absorbing content. You can follow along in your note set and highlight things, maybe write a few words elaborating on a concept and then go home and read it over and over again.

In my experience, the people who focused too much on actually taking notes during lecture didn't do as well as the people who focused on absorbing the material and reinforcing it later.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 2 users

TBV

Membership Revoked
Removed
Joined
Jun 5, 2014
Messages
1,098
Reaction score
2,108
It is possible to handwrite lecture notes. I wrote what the lecturer said in my own words pausing when I needed to on the recording. Results were very good and I felt like I had a deeper understanding than I would have based on working with the powerpoints because I was reading my own material. This can be very time consuming but worked for me.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

lymphocyte

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2015
Messages
2,150
Reaction score
3,672
In my experience, the people who focused too much on actually taking notes during lecture didn't do as well as the people who focused on absorbing the material and reinforcing it later.

Good post. 100% agree. Although my strategy was somewhat more in line with @TBV.

Whenever I see people say, "X worked really well for me, should I try something else"? I worry. If X worked really well for you, that's probably where you should start. At least until it stops working or isn't applicable.

In general, I've noticed a lot of people highlight texts to oblivion, memorise slide after slide, nod off during boring lectures, and generally waste so much damn time passively taking things in, and then review, review, review--hoping something will finally stick. Not good.

Learning medicine is like building a house. You have to lay a strong foundation and do it well. Otherwise, you'll spend years patching things up (or never at all). Make the material yours. Own it. Try to put things in your own words (even in your head), recapitulate the main points, follow along with the lecture, and if things aren't working, try something else. You got into medical school. You're 100% capable. If something isn't working, your strategy sucks, not you. (Lots of miserable medical students who miss this last point.) Also, the first month or two will probably be shock and awe. It will suck. It will seem overwhelming. Whatever. It gets better. Just keep experimenting until you find what works for you.*

*For those who choose to stay at home like I did (again, this only works for some), here's what my notes look like. I'm embarrassed to share them, because I used coloured pens, exclamation points, and even whiteout. Not very "doctorly." (I actually don't care. My self-respect is out the window when it comes learning.) But I'm also proud to share them because I love coloured pens damnit. And that's okay.

Sure, they took time to put together (still 9-5 M-F with review on Sunday). But in doing so, I integrated all of the best resources that worked for me: (in this particular case) Dr Najeeb, Costanzo's Physiology, 2010 Kaplan Pharmacology, and Papa Robbins. At the same time, stuff really sticks when you actively have to put it together yourself (as opposed to highlighting to oblivion, etc.) I'd flip through lecture notes afterwards to make sure I didn't miss anything. My school was 100% systems-based, so this strategy worked great.

If you stay at home, you'll need a guide. A guide tells you what's important and what's not (like a good lecturer). My guides were PBL topics, FA (for what was important to learn in depth) and the texts themselves (for the bigger picture). Spend time at the library. There are a dozen different physiology books, a dozen different pharmacology books, etc.--flip through them. What seems most appealing to you? That's the one to go with. (And double-check with your seniors.)

Even in a busy clinical rotation, if there were a concept I really wanted to nail, I'd attack it the same way. I've included some notes on ventilation as an example. Clearly I had less time to make them. But who cares? When clinicals came around, I had gotten better at learning. Learning is a skill, just like any other. You will get better with time. Unless you adopt bad habits to begin with.

TLDR: The stuff below was an effective way to take notes for me. (I also think it's why Sketchy Pharm or whatever is getting so popular now--pictures work! writing works! colours work! Obviously I have strong feelings about this...)

upload_2016-7-11_22-29-46.png


upload_2016-7-11_23-31-14.png
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 19 users

Solard

Full Member
7+ Year Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2012
Messages
83
Reaction score
78
Good post. 100% agree.

Whenever I see, "X worked really well for me, should I try something else"? I worry. If X worked really well for you, that's probably where you should start. At least until it stops working.

In general, I've noticed a lot of people highlight texts to oblivion, memorise slide after slide, nod off during boring lectures, and generally waste so much damn time passively taking things in, and then review, review, review--hoping something will finally stick. Not good.

But learning medicine is like building a house. You have to lay a strong foundation and do it well. Otherwise, you'll spend years patching things up (or never at all). Make the material yours. Own it. Try to put things in your own words (even in your head), recapitulate the main points, follow along with the lecture, and if things aren't working, try something else. You got into medical school. You're 100% capable. If something isn't working, your strategy sucks, not you. (Lots of miserable medical students who miss this last point.) Also, the first month or two will probably be shock and awe. It will suck. It will seem overwhelming. Whatever. It gets better. Just keep experimenting until you find what works for you.*

*For those who choose to stay at home like I did (again, this only works for some), here's what my notes look like. I'm embarrassed to share them, because I used coloured pens, exclamation points, and even whiteout. Not very "doctorly." (I frankly don't care. My self-respect is out the window when it comes learning.) But I'm also proud to share them because I love coloured pens damnit. And that's okay.

Sure, they took time to put together (still 9-5 M-F with review on Sunday). But in doing so, they integrated all of the best resources that worked for me: (in this particular case) Dr Najeeb, Costanzo's Physiology, 2010 Kaplan Pharmacology, and Papa Robbins. At the same time, stuff really sticks when you actively have to put it together yourself (as opposed to highlighting to oblivion, etc.) I'd flip through lecture notes afterwards to make sure I didn't miss anything. My school was 100% systems-based, so this strategy worked great.

If you stay at home, you'll need a guide. A guide tells you what's important and what's not (like a good lecturer). My guides were FA (for what was important to learn in depth) and the texts themselves (for the bigger picture). Spend time at the library. There are a dozen different physiology books, a dozen different pharmacology books, etc.--flip through them. What seems most appealing to you? That's the one to go with. (And double-check with your seniors.)

Even in a busy clinical rotation, if there were a concept I really wanted to nail, I'd attack it the same way. I've included my notes on ventilation as an example. Clearly I had less time to make them. But who cares? When clinicals came around, I had gotten better at learning. Learning is a skill, just like any other. You will get better with time. Unless you adopt bad habits to begin with.

So to answer your question, this was an effective way to take notes for me. (I also think it's why Sketchy Pharm or whatever is getting so popular now--pictures work! writing works! colours work! Obviously I have strong feelings about this...)

View attachment 206133

View attachment 206135

When I was completing my SMP coursework I took notes very similar to this (but much less neat/organized!). After highlighting them I'd put them in a word document so they were easier to search through come test time. I think all the repetition helped me a lot, but as someone who has successfully done this is medical school, have you got any suggestions/tweaks to this method that you went through? I landed on that study method by about the second test so I haven't got much experience adjusting it for adversity. It got me grades that I was pleased with, but I feel like I don't remember much from my SMP year which has me worried that I unknowingly took a memorize then dump strategy to studying even though I didn't actually cram except on very rare occasions.
Also, could you walk me through your how you figured out which supplemental material you needed (FA, Najeeb etc)? I really worry I'll miss the bigger picture while studying details and in two to four years I won't actually know anything
I'd appreciate any suggestions from you as well, @TBV since your study method seems similar as well!
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

lymphocyte

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2015
Messages
2,150
Reaction score
3,672
Also, could you walk me through your how you figured out which supplemental material you needed (FA, Najeeb etc)? I really worry I'll miss the bigger picture while studying details and in two to four years I won't actually know anything

Knowing the bigger picture is hard as a medical student. It's what a good lecturer should provide.

Edit: Since it's already in my history, I'll just put it here. Here's what I originally posted on the topic (read all the way to the bottom): http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/buying-step-1-beginning-of-first-year.1207775/

I posted my notes mostly just as encouragement to people thinking about making pictures, or using colours, or whatever. I've noticed lots of recent threads about Firecracker and Anki and other quasi-"brute force" techniques. These are all great if they work for you, but there are other ways to do things. The above is just one example.

I promise that your study technique--any technique--will change in 2 months. Promise. Be sure to come back then so everybody on SDN can help you troubleshoot. And feel free to PM if you ever need help with anything.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 2 users

TraumaBlonde

Full Member
Joined
Mar 27, 2015
Messages
146
Reaction score
80
Good questions. Knowing the bigger picture is damn hard as a medical student. It's what a good lecturer should provide.

I'm a bit hesitant to distract from OPs original question though. I'd also love for others to provide their perspective. Plus, I've regretted posting specific study details in the past. Based on the PMs I got (not at all unwelcome btw), it just seems to stress people out about finding The One True Method, especially pre-MS1. You (or anybody) is always welcome to PM me, and I'd be more than happy to get into the details with you individually.

I posted my notes mostly just as encouragement to people thinking about making pictures, or using colours, or whatever. I've noticed lots of recent threads about Firecracker and Anki and other quasi-"brute force" techniques. These are all great if they work for you, but there are other ways to do things. The above is just one example.

I promise that your study technique--any technique--will change in 2 months. Promise. Be sure to come back then so everybody on SDN can help you troubleshoot. And feel free to PM if you ever need help with anything.

Edit: Since it's already in my history, I'll just put it here. Here's what I originally posted on the topic (read all the way to the bottom): http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/buying-step-1-beginning-of-first-year.1207775/
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
image.jpeg
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

TraumaBlonde

Full Member
Joined
Mar 27, 2015
Messages
146
Reaction score
80
Sorry it posted weird

Btw it's a view of cranial nerves if anyone is wondering what it is lol
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

sanfran256

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
May 21, 2016
Messages
148
Reaction score
146
Good post. 100% agree. Although my strategy was more in line with @TBV.

Whenever I see, "X worked really well for me, should I try something else"? I worry. If X worked really well for you, that's probably where you should start. At least until it stops working.

In general, I've noticed a lot of people highlight texts to oblivion, memorise slide after slide, nod off during boring lectures, and generally waste so much damn time passively taking things in, and then review, review, review--hoping something will finally stick. Not good.

But learning medicine is like building a house. You have to lay a strong foundation and do it well. Otherwise, you'll spend years patching things up (or never at all). Make the material yours. Own it. Try to put things in your own words (even in your head), recapitulate the main points, follow along with the lecture, and if things aren't working, try something else. You got into medical school. You're 100% capable. If something isn't working, your strategy sucks, not you. (Lots of miserable medical students who miss this last point.) Also, the first month or two will probably be shock and awe. It will suck. It will seem overwhelming. Whatever. It gets better. Just keep experimenting until you find what works for you.*

*For those who choose to stay at home like I did (again, this only works for some), here's what my notes look like. I'm embarrassed to share them, because I used coloured pens, exclamation points, and even whiteout. Not very "doctorly." (I actually don't care. My self-respect is out the window when it comes learning.) But I'm also proud to share them because I love coloured pens damnit. And that's okay.

Sure, they took time to put together (still 9-5 M-F with review on Sunday). But in doing so, they integrated all of the best resources that worked for me: (in this particular case) Dr Najeeb, Costanzo's Physiology, 2010 Kaplan Pharmacology, and Papa Robbins. At the same time, stuff really sticks when you actively have to put it together yourself (as opposed to highlighting to oblivion, etc.) I'd flip through lecture notes afterwards to make sure I didn't miss anything. My school was 100% systems-based, so this strategy worked great.

If you stay at home, you'll need a guide. A guide tells you what's important and what's not (like a good lecturer). My guides were FA (for what was important to learn in depth) and the texts themselves (for the bigger picture). Spend time at the library. There are a dozen different physiology books, a dozen different pharmacology books, etc.--flip through them. What seems most appealing to you? That's the one to go with. (And double-check with your seniors.)

Even in a busy clinical rotation, if there were a concept I really wanted to nail, I'd attack it the same way. I've included some notes on ventilation as an example. Clearly I had less time to make them. But who cares? When clinicals came around, I had gotten better at learning. Learning is a skill, just like any other. You will get better with time. Unless you adopt bad habits to begin with.

TLDR: The stuff below was an effective way to take notes for me. (I also think it's why Sketchy Pharm or whatever is getting so popular now--pictures work! writing works! colours work! Obviously I have strong feelings about this...)

View attachment 206133

View attachment 206135

Thanks for the advice!! Are you ever concerned about losing the handwritten notes though?
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

lymphocyte

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2015
Messages
2,150
Reaction score
3,672
Thanks for the advice!! Are you ever concerned about losing the handwritten notes though?

No. I'm very protective of them. I also had them colour-copied and bound, and I use them to teach Step 1 review. They feel like a real accomplishment. Technology is great, but sometimes there's nothing better than pen and paper. We are small in number, but we do exist. Power to the handwriters!! ✊

Here's most of MS1. You can see the dividers for each block. I included an egg-timer for scale randomly.

upload_2016-7-12_4-9-31.png
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 6 users

TBV

Membership Revoked
Removed
Joined
Jun 5, 2014
Messages
1,098
Reaction score
2,108
When I was completing my SMP coursework I took notes very similar to this (but much less neat/organized!). After highlighting them I'd put them in a word document so they were easier to search through come test time. I think all the repetition helped me a lot, but as someone who has successfully done this is medical school, have you got any suggestions/tweaks to this method that you went through? I landed on that study method by about the second test so I haven't got much experience adjusting it for adversity. It got me grades that I was pleased with, but I feel like I don't remember much from my SMP year which has me worried that I unknowingly took a memorize then dump strategy to studying even though I didn't actually cram except on very rare occasions.
Also, could you walk me through your how you figured out which supplemental material you needed (FA, Najeeb etc)? I really worry I'll miss the bigger picture while studying details and in two to four years I won't actually know anything
I'd appreciate any suggestions from you as well, @TBV since your study method seems similar as well!

Yeah I would just take really detailed notes in a notebook as i watched lecture. I would highlight and review from there. Then come the week of an exam I would retype it into a word document leaving out things that I felt comfortable with and use it as a condensed study guide. Worked very well for me, stayed in the top quartile of my class in the first 2 years and pre-dedicated step 1 nbme was 230 so something stuck long term.

As far as first year I only used netter's and netter's flashcards as a supplemental resource, some people liked BRS physio but I would only suggest it if you have some background in physiology (which I did). In second year I leaned heavy on pathoma and FA along with classes.

good luck
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

Crayola227

Contrary to rumor I am not Jesus
7+ Year Member
Joined
Oct 22, 2013
Messages
23,041
Reaction score
28,270
ugh same thing that worked for me in colllege - I had to hand write EVERYTHING

but since it was the fire hose, I wrote everything that didn't seem extraneous from the slides and hardly even read the written lecture notes
this resulted in the most nasty looking garbled notes that review later wouldn't help

the point for me was the act of doing it, studies have shown hand writing uses your brain in a way nothing else does - reviewing flashcards, typing, even notes notes with stylus on an epad - despite those studies, this is the ideal learning method for SOME not all

I pity da fool.... that has to do this
 
  • Like
Reactions: 3 users

AM508

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2014
Messages
671
Reaction score
585
I used to hand-write everything and tried that for the first week of classes. It was too cumbersome, so now I load the power-points and handouts into Notability on the iPad and annotate them during the lecture. That method works pretty well for me.

I have always envied those like @lymphocyte that can make awesome condensed, multi-colored diagrams to cover everything in a lecture but I have zero artistic ability and my handwriting is like a toddler's scrawls sooo, iPad and Notability on the powerpoints is the best I can come up with. Though it kept me top quartile thus far so no sense reinventing the wheel I guess.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 4 users

tnedoots

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Jan 19, 2015
Messages
52
Reaction score
44
The thing about med school that is underappreciated until you get to it is the sheer volume of material. In undergrad, or at least in my undergrad, even with 18+ semester units, I had enough time to go to lecture, take notes, review them a few times before an exam, and then walk into the exam confident I knew my stuff. In med school, I was lucky if I got through all the material once, let alone review it all. So, it's more important to decide what you'll actually use the notes for, which you probably won't know until you're a few days out from one of your first exams and realize that you are drowning in material.

Basically it boils down to opportunity cost. You have the same amount of hours to watch lectures + take notes + review material + be a human being. Ignoring the last variable for this conversation, you have to figure out what way you learn most efficiently using those other 3 variables. If you spend a lot of time watching lecture and taking detailed notes, that leaves less time to review material. If you take less notes, more review, if you watch lectures at 2x speed, blah blah blah. Anyhow the point is that you have to figure out how you learn most efficiently. Ideally I learn best if I watch the lectures at 1x, take handwritten detailed notes, review them everyday, make flash cards, and review those. But there isn't that much time, ever. I learned to ditch the flash cards, take light notes on my computer, watch the lectures at 2x speed, and use Picmonic to memorize the minutiae, and review as much as I could with the time left.

Use the first few blocks of first year to sort out a system that works for you. It'll come in handy when step 1 comes around. And it'll especially come in handy when you're on your rotations and need to figure out how to get the most out of an hour's worth of study time after 13 hours on surgery.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!
 
  • Like
Reactions: 5 users

Swish16

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Jan 31, 2016
Messages
101
Reaction score
81
I'm planning on annotating the note packet from my school during lecture then making my own condensed notes at home.


Sent from my iPhone using SDN mobile app
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users

lymphocyte

Full Member
5+ Year Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2015
Messages
2,150
Reaction score
3,672
I used to hand-write everything and tried that for the first week of classes. It was too cumbersome, so now I load the power-points and handouts into Notability on the iPad and annotate them during the lecture. That method works pretty well for me.

I have always envied those like @lymphocyte that can make awesome condensed, multi-colored diagrams to cover everything in a lecture but I have zero artistic ability and my handwriting is like a toddler's scrawls sooo, iPad and Notability on the powerpoints is the best I can come up with. Though it kept me top quartile thus far so no sense reinventing the wheel I guess.

Very good point (though you might be amused at how bad my scrawls and drawings can get). Everybody has their own style. I was just trying to give hope to the handwriters... ✊.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

AngelintheOutfield

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2015
Messages
35
Reaction score
71
I'll be starting school here in a few weeks, and a little anxious about keeping my head above water with so much material to cover . Fortunately, my school has an optional two week basic sciences introductory course to get settled in at the campus and get used to the pace of medical school (course is not graded). Hopefully I'll have a good idea of how I should study by the time this course is over, but I understand I will probably have to adjust as the year goes on.

I was pretty successful with handwritten notes and study guides in undergrad, but I'm sure I'll have to change things up because of the increased volume of material I'll have to cover. Initial plan is to use a note-taking app and annotate lecture ppt slides and to review these slides the day before and the day after the lecture. At the end of the week, I'll try and condense the notes and annotations into handwritten pages with diagrams, mnemonics, info from supplemental material, etc. When tests are approaching ideally I will be able to rely on my condensed handwritten study guides, and only have to refer back to ppt slides and textbooks when necessary.

Hopefully this will ensure I'm not overwhelmed with attempting to take handwritten notes during lecture, while still forcing myself to put the material in my own words and actively discern what to include and what to leave out from my study guides. We'll see if this works or not. Only time will tell.

Thank you to those in this thread who have left behind their advice!
 
  • Like
Reactions: 4 users

Azete

Full Member
2+ Year Member
Joined
Apr 15, 2015
Messages
772
Reaction score
1,320
I take literally zero notes during lecture. In my entire first year I did not find a single exam question that wasn't found in the provided lecture notes/slides.

My thought process is I'm paying a lot of money for them to teach me the material, and I'm not going to waste the limited time I get with the teachers frantically writing notes. I review the slides the night before, and I expect them to provide some context for it during lecture. Some teachers literally just read the slides, and I usually stop attending/watching those lectures very early and turn to other resources (Najeeb, etc.).
 
Top