So you want to learn how to study better in med school. A great way to start is by learning the best study habits of medical students.
In this post, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 effective study habits of med students.
Finally, I want to let you know where you can get info after reading this post. First, check out our free step-by-step guide and video course on how to study in medical school. You can find that here.
Next, if the advice in this post is intriguing, you’re going to love our video course, Level Up Your Studying, where we show pre-meds and med students how to create study systems which transform their learning and improve their grades.
You can check out the course here.
But let’s get to the study habits!
Focused Study Goals:
There’s a difference between “I want to read today’s lectures” and “I want to read Chp 11, which has 20 pages, between 7-7:45 PM Monday evening.”
High achieving med students do the latter.
There is just way too much information and responsibility for you to be loose with your planning. This is why effective med students are focused on creating specific goals.
These goals can be as simple as the task (ie. syllabus chapter you want to read) and the time you want to accomplish it in. But they can also be more long-term (ie. I want to have an average of 85% on my question bank this week).
So make sure to have small and large focused goals in your study plan. Wanting an A on your test is great.
To get there, however, you’ll need to create the baby steps of habits of the tasks which will get you there. So make sure to plan those too!
There are many benefits, as you can imagine, which come out of being so meticulous in your studying.
For one, everything has its place and time. Thus all you have to do is show up and execute.
This is so much better than getting ready to study, only to first spend the first half hour to plan exactly what you’ll be doing.
Next being focused provides you a visual system that you can tinker with. Let me give you an example.
One of my readers recently sent me an email about how she was feeling overworked and stressed.
She sent me her Google Calendar and on the surface, it seemed like everything had its place. But if you looked a bit closer, you’d realize that she had large chunks of time dedicated for work, but very little structure within these hours.
You can actually watch me help restructure her calendar into a schedule which allows her to have balance while still making time for her studying.
My advice to her was to transform her large blocks of “work hours” into small specific tasks which take 30mins to an hour. This way she can sit down and know exactly what’s need to be done.
Now the benefit of having these goals is that she can now tinker when the system still has room for improvement.
If she’s dedicating an hour to her syllabus reading but is, in reality, taking 1.5 hours, she’ll have a visual cue to readjust.
What in the world is an ALR?
ALR stands for your active learning ratio.
Now I’m going to assume you know the difference between active and passive learning. I have many posts and videos on the topics if you don’t. Check out this post which shows you how to make all your study methods in med school active.
But knowing the difference is not as important as how much of our total time is spent doing each.
Think about it, what style of studying do we tend to start with? Well if you are someone who reads the syllabus, you’re likely using a passive technique.
Next, how do you obtain the information from your instructor? You likely sit in lecture, listen, and “write notes” but it’s still overall a passive technique.
The truth is the first 30-40% of our learning is passive.
Now since passive techniques are half as effective as their active counterparts, this is a big waste of time.
While we can’t avoid passive study techniques altogether, we surely can reduce the proportion of our time spent doing them.
This is where the active learning ratio comes in. Normally it’s a 50/50 or 60/40 split between active and passive techniques, respectively.
The study habits of med students who ace their exams require them to use a ratio closer to 70/30 and even 80/20.
I’ve talked about how to increase your ALRs in a few posts. You can check out how to improve it here.
If you want my exact study method, I’d encourage you to check out my free video course where I give you an over the shoulder view of my study strategy from start to finish. I would say my ALR is about 85/15!
You can check out the course here.
So now, what’s your ALR?
Note: Want to learn how to study in medical school? Check out this post – Ultimate Guide On How To Study in Medical School.
1 Degree, Not A 180:
Have you completed parted ways with your study method in med school or as a pre-med?
I’m sure many students will admit to doing that at least once if not many times in their academic career.
Think of learning like a steering a ship. The goal is to find the smoothest water, get to your destination, and get there quickly.
This is equivalent to finding the best methods, doing well on the exams, and spending the least amount of time.
But compare how you would respond to turbulence as the captain vs. the student. The student does a complete 180. They assume the turbulence means their method and path is a lost cause.
The captain, however, will shift in small increments until they again find the smooth waters. They’re confident that the most comfortable path is not that far away.
The same goes for your studying! When you design a study plan, you likely have some effective strategies that you plan to use.
But you will never find the perfect study plan. You will have turbulence.
Being aware of this helps separate the students who continue to ace their exams with minors adjustments – and the students who have erratic grades and can’t keep up with what method works for them.
Remember that you’re closer to your right solution thank you think. So be focused on perfecting your strategy by making small improvements while avoiding the reactive overhaul.
If you’re in need of a good study method, I’m sure you’ll love this blog post about the top 5 study methods for medical school! Click here to read the post!
Take Time Off
Doesn’t sound like a study habit does it?
But this is what I found effective students do better than anyone.
Now I’ll preface by saying that ineffective students also may have to take time off. We instead like to call this procrastination.
Effective habits of medical students, however, include planning their time off and when they’ll stop working.
While it’s possible to be a 24/7 med student or pre-med, you are setting yourself up for burn out.
Thus it’s important to control the hours you put it. This starts with first having a time that you will call it a day.
I call this my clock out time. This is the latest time that you will be okay working to.
For me, it’s 7:30 (I’m not functional after 8 PM so I see no point in late night work). For you, it may be completely different. Regardless, pick a time and be as stringent about sticking to that time as you are to your work and grades.
Next, give yourself a day off. I know this is not always possible, but this is key when your schedule allows it.
One thing that effective students have going for them is they are motivated. They enjoy learning and they also enjoy doing well. But it’s very easy to lose this joy if your work consumes your life.
So find your clock out time and find your day off. The studying will then become something that you can bear if not enjoy!
Focus on The System and Not The Method:
Students are always looking up new study techniques and methods. They want to know what their peers are doing. Once they find something new and intriguing, they give it a shot.
Many of these techniques may actually work (for someone at least), but they’re only effective if you can consistently apply them.
This is the key to effective study habits of medical students – they focus on the whole picture.
For instance, I love using flashcards as my study method. These flashcards are only effective if I can be consistent with the schedule required to review them. If I have an amazing method but poor execution, my grades are going to reflect the latter.
This is why you need to focus on study systems. It’s not good enough to have a great method – you need to have a system which effortlessly operates.
What does a system entail? Everything!
It first requires you to have a consistent trigger, reminder, or motivation to begin your method.
For my flashcard system, my trigger is to do half my flashcards before doing that day’s tasks or reading. This at least makes sure I begin my flashcards.
Next is a way to complete the task effectively and as intended. Studying is obviously ideal when you have minimal distractions and you have maximum focus. So it’s important to maximize these.
For my method, I keep my focus high by working in 45/15 minute intervals between work and rest. I minimize my distractions via browser and cell phone apps which shut me out of social media and emails while I”m working.
If you want to see all my tips on how I stay focused during studying, watch the following video!
Now our system contains the trigger, the momentum, and a way to keep it efficient. Finally, we need to have a wrap-up process. This is where the clock out time and buffer times come in.
We’ve already talked about clock out times. Your study system requires a finish line as much as it needs a trigger for you to begin. But let’s talk about buffer times.
We want to make our system fail proof. The most common thing, besides distractions, which affects our studying is inefficiency and unpredictable events. For example, you may have allocated too little time for a task. A 1-hour task turns into 2 hours and suddenly you’re way behind.
To limit this I recommend using buffer times. You can learn more about this in this video where I show you how I plan my day in medical school.
So ask yourself what your system is like. Having the method is nice, but what’s your repeatable manner of executing?
These were the top 5 study habits of medical students. I hope you were able to take away just one point and now intend on applying it to your own system.
If you did enjoy this post I’m sure you’ll love the following.
Here are some blog posts that will also help you with your studying:
Top 5 Study Methods For Medical School
Ultimate Guide – How To Study in Medical School
How I Studied Less Than 5 Hours A Day
How To Perfect Long-Term Retention in Medical School
How To Study Effectively in Med School
My Morning Routine in Med School
In addition, make sure to get your hands on our free video course on How To Study in Medical School! I show you a step-by-step overview of my method and am sure you can take something unique away!
Click here to check out the course.
If you want more training, I’d encourage you to check out a project I”m super excited for – Level Up Your Studying. This is our newest video course which helps you transform how you study as a pre-med and a medical student.
Check it out here!
Thank you so much for reading!
Until next time my friends…