How do I study in medical school? I’m sure you’ve looked that up during your training. Take it another step forward, and you’ve likely wondered about effective study methods for medical school.
Don’t worry I got you covered.
In this post, I will share with you five proven study methods for medical school that have worked for me and many of my students.
In fact, I’ve used a combination of these to reduce my studying by half! Oh, and you know what happened to my grades? They went up!
That’s right! While the drinking out of fire hydrant analogy will never go away in medical school, I’m trying to show one student at a time that studying an unnecessary amount of hours is surely a myth. (If you want to hear my more accurate analogy about med school, click here.)
So let’s get started!
Note: But first, if you want to see over my shoulder as I show you the study method I used as a medical student, check out my free video course.
It’s been downloaded by hundreds of students already, and I’m always getting emails about how unique and effective the study method has been.
You can get the course here.
But let’s now get to the study methods for medical school.
You can also enjoy the video version for this post below! You can find more videos like this on our YouTube channel!
So how do you study in medical school?
1. The Brain Dump
I wish I picked a better name for this study technique, but boy does it work.
The brain dump is a technique I teach many of my students. Think of it as one of the best ways to spot your shortcomings before test day.
Here’s how it works. After you review your lectures and feel comfortable with the material, pull out a piece of paper.
Now typically we tend to memorize the rough structure of a lecture, especially if it’s recent. So you may recall what topics the lecture started with and how it ended.
Try to recreate this structure on a blank piece of paper.
For example, you may have had a lecture about a disease. Typically a lecture may be something like the following structure.
- Why The Disease Happens
- How it progresses
- What symptoms the patient can have
- How to diagnosis
- How to treat
So now with your blank piece of paper, try to recreate this lecture from scratch. Keep in mind that you don’t need to care about spelling or handwriting.
What you’re looking for are gaps! Gaps? Yes, gaps!
The points we lose the most often on our medical school exams are when we convince ourselves we know something we don’t. The brain dump puts your shortcoming in broad daylight.
Let’s say you were trying to quickly recreate the “how the disease happens” section of the lecture. Perhaps you remember step 1 and maybe even step 4 through 5, but you have no stinking idea what steps 2 and 3 are.
This is a gap!
[“This is what makes this one of the most effective study methods for medical school.”]
As you try to recreate your lecture, you will find many gaps. You will be missing some key pieces of information to go from point A to point C.
How To Fill Your Gaps Using the Brain Dump:
So you’ve identified your weaknesses, what now?
As you’re going through your brain dump, have a system to highlight where those gaps were. I simply will put a star right next to the topic I’m having trouble with.
Once you attempt to recreate the whole lecture, identify the stars on your paper and look up the necessary information.
You’ll have a few, “Oh I knew that”, and some “Oh crap I had no idea that was a thing.” That’s what this study method is for!
Now once you feel like you got your holes plugged, try it again!
Each time you do the brain dump you should expect to have fewer and fewer gaps in your knowledge.
This is a great way to review prior to a med school exam or quiz.
Now we have other study methods to get to, but the brain dump is by far one of the most effective study methods my students end up using. After they’ve perfected the technique they’re able to do the following:
- Retain 80-90% of the information on the first pass of the material
- Create an automated system to review their weaknesses and gain points on their exams
- Reduce stress prior to test day because of effectively using multiple iterations to get the highest score possible
If that sounds like something you’d like to achieve as well, I’d encourage you to check out the Level Up Your Studying video course.
The course not only shows you first-hand examples of how to study in medical school, but it also provides you systems which can withstand any tough medical school course.
I get it, inside you not only want to learn about study methods in medical school but learn how to use them to spend less time while getting better grades. I have students every day which are doing that by using these techniques.
If you’re looking to transform how you study in medical school and get a leg up on your classmates then this course is for you. You can check it out here
Back to the study methods for medical school!
Note: Want to learn how to study in medical school? Check out this post – Ultimate Guide On How To Study in Medical School.
2. The Review Container
What gives you the most anxiety on your medical school exams? Is it the questions you know?
Of course not! The thing we worry most about is seeing a test question on a topic which we really don’t understand and we’ve been praying doesn’t show up on the exam.
You see it’s not the strengths which give us fits on our tests, it’s the weaknesses.
Now you may that’s obvious, but I challenge you to reflect on your own studying. What do you spend the majority of your time on?
If you’re like most medical students, you likely spend time on the information which you’re not an expert on but also don’t feel uncomfortable with.
These are the low hanging fruits. We know that with a bit of review, we’ll eventually understand it.
But now when we see a topic which doesn’t make sense the first few times, we often take the “L” and move on.
Now one of the worst things that can happen is having that topic show up on the test! It just messes with any momentum we otherwise may have.
This is where the review container comes in. (I really need to get better at naming my techniques. The following study methods for medical school are even worse 😀 )
Here’s how it works. As you’re reviewing your lectures for the first time, keep an eye out for topics which may give you a tough time.
Now grab an index card or scratch piece of paper and write that topic down. Start to collect these topics in a makeshift box, plastic bag, or any type of container really.
Once you start to collect a few topics in your container, create a set schedule of how often you want to review them.
A good system is to review maybe 2-3 topics before you begin your studying for that day or doing the review before you call it a night.
How you review the topics are totally up to you, but the brain dump we just talked about is a great way to test how well you know it.
If the topic still gives you a hard time, then put it back in your container. If you feel good about your understanding, throw (recycle) it away.
[Tweet “This is such a powerful study method in medical school! Normally we have that “Oh s*** moment” near the exam when we realize how much we still don’t know. The review container helps us stay proactive about addressing our weak points.”]
I used this technique through medical school and found myself feeling so much more at ease than my classmates because I dedicated weeks to my weaknesses instead of days.
Give the review container a try and let me know what you think!
3. Strategic Group Quizzing
Do you enjoy group studying? Well, then this study method is for you!
Now group studying in a perfect setting would be effective, but they never really are. Too often they become social hours and thus distractions.
But I’m going to show you a great study strategy to effectively use group studying in med school.
One of the most common pitfalls of group studying is that we tend to use our peers as a crutch during the initial learning phase.
For instance, some groups may assign each member of the group a lecture to teach or come up questions for. While this minimizes the work, your grade on your med school exams becomes dependent on your peers.
Instead, start the initial phase of learning by yourself. But as you’re going through a lecture, come up with 5-10 questions for your group members.
Take this another level further and create a shared document or spreadsheet with all the questions your group creates. This will be your one stop shop when it’s time to study.
Now have a set schedule to meet with your group members. Use these sessions to quiz each other on the questions in your shared document.
If you don’t understand a question your group member wrote then you likely have a gap in your knowledge. Also, if you wrote a question that others don’t quite get, you may not have connected your ideas well in the first place.
This type of strategic group studying allows you to strengthen the connections in your understanding while still leaving the initial learning to you.
Have a better way to do group studying? I’d love to hear your suggestions. Comment below with your flow and help other readers perfect their methods!
Note: Want to learn how to study in medical school? Check out this post – Ultimate Guide On How To Study in Medical School.
4. Expedited Flashcards For Med School
I left this technique for the end because many of my older readers know about it. It’s also my favorite technique and one I teach often.
This is my Anki flashcards study method.
While you may have heard of Anki and may actually use it yourself, you likely don’t use it quite like this.
I’m a big proponent of taking away the crap when we study. This includes minimizing the time we spent on tasks which have no actual results.
A great example of this is actually creating our flashcards. Sure we may convince ourselves we retain info while making our questions, it’s not realistic. We likely spend too much time on our flashcards and never actually get to reviewing them all. Or, instead, we try to be “efficient” but make terrible flashcards.
My expedited Anki method for medical school helps you do just that.
To avoid making this post too long, I’ll forward you to two great resources for a step-by-step on how I use Anki.
First, check out my post and video on how I used Anki to study less than 5 hours a day in medical school.
Then check out my even more detailed free video course. Here I’ll take you into my computer and show you I use Anki from the initial phases of learning, all the way into reviewing for the exam.
You can find the video course here.
But a brief overview of the technique, use a screenshot tool to create questions and answers from your slides. This process of making your cards (which used to be 30-40 minutes) becomes 5-10 minutes!
Now you can dedicate more time to your review.
The review process is also unique. Normally we’re used to trying to learn everything on a flashcard before moving to the next. This is often not effective. Our brains learn best with repetition and it’s nearly impossible to see flashcards in med school multiple without a system.
This is why I use a review clock. My review clock is 10-20 seconds I allow myself to learn as much as I can from the flashcard.
Only 10-20 seconds? While it may seem like not enough time, the key is that we’re not trying to learn everything at once. Use 10-20 seconds to learn as much as you can. Then use Anki to show you the flashcard again in a few minutes.
During your next repetition, see how much you still remember. Then spend the next remaining time in your review clock to obtain more info.
This helps solve a few problems. First, you avoid getting distracted or paralyzed by a question. Two, you get multiple repetitions of the same question.
Again check out the video course for more details for free.
Click here to check out the course!
5. Take A Memory Walk
Do you hate topics which are very memorization heavy? These are your pharm and micro classes in med school.
If you said yes, then you may love the memory palace.
Our brains learn best when we involve multiple stimuli and senses. You remember a memory clearly if you can remember not only the event and people, but also the sounds, taste, and smells during that instance.
Now we won’t be smelling things for this method, but we will be using the power of our visual system.
Imagine your drive to school. You likely have landmarks you remember. We’re going to use these to remember a set of facts or drugs.
First, try to imagine your landmarks as clearly as you can. Then pick an order you imagine them. You’re likely going to go in the order they show up on your route.
Now we’re going to create a funny image for each of our facts/drugs we have to remember. This is when you get creative. Think about what your drug can sound like.
The more creative the better. To get a real example of how I use the memory palace, watch this video.
Once you create your funny image, try to now imagine it on your landmarks in your route.
For instance, one of my favorite examples is the COPD drug tiotropium. My funny image for this drug is an uncle (tio is Spanish for uncle) wearing a tropical shirt. Since it’a COPD drug, I imagine him smoking and coughing. Now I can use this image and apply it to any landmark.
So create your images and apply them your landmark. Once you do, you’ll realize that you’ll remember them so much easier and those funny images will stick long term.
Again check out how I use the memory palace in more detail by watching this video. You can also check out my blog post on the memory palace here.
These were my 5 study methods for medical school. Hopefully, you got something unique through these study methods. I tried to avoid the typical methods you may be used to seeing on forums.
If you have any questions feel free to comment below!
Once again there are plenty of resources I know you’d love.
Here are some blog posts that will also help you with your studying:
Ultimate Guide – How To Study in Medical School
How Do You Take Notes For Med School? [Step-By-Step]
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
Top 10 Best Resources For OSCE
Having A Job In Medical School [Is It Possible?]
Also, I’d love to remind you to check out my free step-by-step guide on how to study in med school. You can download it free here.
With the free guide, you’ll also get access to my free video course that hundreds of my students have already checked out.
Want something even more detailed? I got the perfect thing for you! Check out my Level Up Your Studying video course where I show you how to redo your entire study system to learn better, get higher grades, and do it all with less time – in just 3-weeks!
You can check out the video course here.
Hope you guys enjoyed!
Until next time my friends…
3 thoughts on “5 Proven Study Methods For Medical School”
I really like the different ways You wrote in ur article
I’ll definitely will apply to my study
Thank you so much
I love, love, love this article. Realistic advice is just what premeds need. I’m looking at Ty’s questions and thinking: there is so much ground to cover, even in high school! Mental preparation requires finding resources and people/communities who can support these students in their challenging endeavors.
I’m going to try the brain dump technique mentioned. I have already tried the review thing and the expected flashcards thing.