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How I Would Have Studied On The First Day Of Med School

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Part of being far into my medical journey is I can look back into my early medical school days and realize how much I was doing wrong when I was “studying”. 

This is despite doing well enough to get a 3.9 GPA in med school.

I got the grades – but the time and effort it took to get there … way too long. 

And even more importantly – the retention could have been a lot better. 

So today I wanted to share the exact steps I would take (knowing what I know now) to study on your medical journey. 

This is the system I use current as a cardiology fellow and has served me well. 

Today I’m going to break down: 

  • Why you only need 3 things in your study system
  • Why more of this one thing is more important than the study resource you use
  • Container system to getting better grades & keeping the confidence high

(I share all my favorite study techniques if you want a full deep dive + all my med school secrets to success here.

1. Only 3 Steps Needed To Get Better Grades

I’ll be honest – I tripped into this discovery in med school. 

This is what my study system and strategy looked liked during my first month of med school. 

  • Wake up & try to review lectures from day before
  • Go to lecture and furiously try to keep up with the professor 
  • Go home and recreate/organize my notes into an outline of some sort
  • Try to review my outlines for the day & prep for the upcoming days of lecture
  • Go to bed stressed about how much I had “learned” but not remembered

In reality, I was just getting exposed to information. But learning very little of it. 

This is your classic “drinking from a fire hydrant” analogy. 

The fire hydrant for me was at full blast with very little retention to show for it. 

So after trial and error – here’s what I found to be the only 3 things I needed. 

(We teach our students this to help them get results like these.)

  • Efficient System To Collect New Info
  • Predictable Schedule To Review Material For The First & Future Passes
  • Specific Time To Review Weaker Points

Let’s dive more into each of these. 

Efficient System To Collect New Info

When we get exposed to new material through a lecture, presentation, book chapter – we try to take notes.

And while you may thing that your note taking system is good – it likely isn’t. 

Here’s a quick test to know how good of a note system you have. 

Can you review & test yourself from your notes later the same day? 

Personally speaking – my notes weren’t even good enough to learn from when I got home. I would have to take extra time rewriting them or reformating them into an outline. (Which easily could take 1+ hours).

But after working with countless of med students through our coaching programs – not only are most note taking systems hard to review from …

… very few of them are useful enough to test from!

What you want is a system that allows you to go from new information -> inputted into a testable format -> review & repeat

This is why I’m a big fan of turning my notes into questions as soon as possible. 

At times I even do this during lectures using a Q/E method that I share in more detail in these videos. 

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And this video…

Each of these methods allowed me to go from a lecture that I was over concerned to learn everything to one where my approach became …

… “lets set ourselves up for success” 

Predictable Schedule To Review 

Let’s do another test. 

You may think that you are organized and have a decent study system so here’s a big question for you.

Do you know when you first, second, and third pass of a lecture is going to be? 

If the answer is “no” then you’re not predictable enough. 

As we’ll get into later – reps are really what matters. 

But just like you can’t expect to get stronger by doing a lift every 6 months – the frequency of your reps matters too. 

So when will you cover the lecture the first and second time at least?

For many of our coaching students – we will create a personalized plan where they’ll cover their first pass within 48 hours of the lectures being presented. Then a second time that same week based on their schedule. 

(Learn more about our study system & coaching here if you want results like these.)

Specific Time For Weakness

As much as we’d like to master everything the first time, it’s simply not the case.

In fact, we tend to have a spectrum in our comfort level.

After your first pass of the material, some topics are easy, many are average in regards to mastery, and some are still in the “what is this even mean” category. 

It’s this last category that needs the most attention. We know that. 

Problem is – to make ourselves feel better we tend to repeat the easy and average difficulty topics. 

And we pray that the tricky topics don’t show up on the test.

This is a recipe for disaster & anxiety on test day.

This is why you need to account for it in your weekly study schedule. Set aside 20-30 minutes once or twice a week to go through the hardest topics of that week. (You can add more sessions over time). 

What should you be doing during these “weakness sessions”? Quick and effective retention tactics like this one. 

You just want a quick way to ask “what am I missing” -> fill the gaps and repeat. 

These 3 steps are all you need to slowly boost your retention over time. 

Reps, Reps, And Reps

Back to reps. 

In bodybuilding & fitness, there’s the concept of training to failure & muscle fatigue. To grow you have to push your body. 

So you can’t get away with a ton of pushups once a month if your goal is to have a strong chest. 

The same applies for studying. You can’t hope to have decent retention if you just plan on cramming most of it hours and days before the exam. 

But you already knew this right? The importance of repetition isn’t a revelation. 

Well you’re still likely underdoing it. 

Here’s an example to make the point: 

Student 1:

  • Topic 1 gives them difficulty – they spend 20 minutes trying to figure it out
  • Topic 2 is equal difficulty – they spend another 20 minutes trying to learn it
  • Topic 3 – easy – 5 minutes and they are done
  • Topic 4 and beyond – have to wait until another day because they have to move to the next lecture

Student 2: 

  • Topic 1-2 give them difficulty as well but they spend 1-2 minute chunks on each to review & test themselves before moving on to the next topic. They come back multiple times to these topics during the study session
  • Get through all the other topics as well in their 45-60 minute study session with average mastery level. They know they have a second pass coming later in the week. 

Most students are like Student 1. They will be so focused on trying to “fully understand” a single detail of a topic that they fail to realize something …

.. all the topics matter equally. 

Thus small reps over time allows you to give each topic (easy and hard) equal opportunity. 

Approaching learning like Student 2 allows you to not worry about getting bogged down by one topic or detail. You keep a mental clock in your head when it’s time to move on and come back to the topic later in the study session. 

As a personal example – when I’m studying using flashcards (with this strategy here) – I likely see at least 4-5 details per card. 

Let’s say I’m learning the mechanism, dose, and side effects of a medication. 

During the first pass, I may know how the medication sort of works but not exactly. And I have no idea of the dosing or side effects. 

Instead of trying to learn it all at once – I focus on just mastering the mechanism to memory in the next 1-2 minutes. Then I move on to the next medication/topic and do the same.

Now next time I see that same medication again in my flashcards I will first test myself on the mechanism and then add the next detail (ie. the dosing). And repeat. 

With this process, I may see one topic 10+ times in a study session which increases my overall retention going into an exam. 

Using The Container Confidence System 

This powerful technique & shift helped me boost my confidence going into an course or exam. 

Here’s the simplicity of the container system: 

You don’t need to know everything Day 1

Simple. Learning happens over time. Treat your retention the same way. 

Think of it like filling a water tank over time. You want to do three things: 

  • Fill the tank – learn new info
  • Minimize any leaks – review material to avoid forgetting things
  • Keep the flow – maintain connections between topics to answer the first, second, and third order questions

But the tank does not have to be full day 1. No one is expecting this of you. It comes with the reps and time. 

Thus every time you’re reviewing or learning something that’s hard – remind yourself that it’s okay to not know it just yet. 

You may need more reps and review, more time to work on your connections, etc – but eventually, you will add that piece of knowledge to your tank going into a quiz or test. 

So if you have a mammoth of a course or board exam ahead of you – don’t worry too much about how much there is to learn. Just focus on filling the tank and getting it more full over time through review. 

This is after all how you learn as a provider and doctor – reps over time. 

So let’s review so far: 

  • 3 part system of effective note-taking, predictable reviews, and weakness times are essential to get the grades you want
  • Reps matter more than any resource you can find
  • Keep that confidence up by reminding yourself that you’re just trying to fill the tank

Now if these are helpful and you want more actionable advice then I have more study tips for free that I wish I got one day one of medical school here.

Or you can take advantage of our Level Up Your Studying program that share with you a 6-step system to rehaul how you study and get grades in less time. The program is included in our Med School Blueprint which has been tried out by hundreds of med students to get results like these. 

And if you want even more 1-on-1 help to get better grades, work with one of our top study coaches to help you create a study system that is perfect for you and grades & retention like this. 

Or — if you’re not ready to dive into a course yet, just get started with today’s advice and share your results with me on social media or email! 

Hope this helps!😀

Thanks for being a part of my journey. Hopefully I was a little help to you on yours. 

Until next time my friend…

Lakshya Trivedi, MD
TheMDJourney 

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 


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