How To Remember What You Read In Med School
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How To Remember What You Read In Med School

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So you’re trying to read for class, but you can never seem to remember what you read. How can you make sure that your attention gets a little bit better? Let’s talk about how to remember what you read in med school.

I get questions about this all the time in the comments or email saying, “I’m trying to go through my syllabus, it’s super dense. I have no idea what’s important or what’s not, and my retention’s just falling. What should I do?”

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Improve Your Retention

To make this post straight to the point, let’s take this for an example: the ventilator book

This is a book that a lot of residents will use to help them understand how to manage ventilators in ICU and take care of really sick patients.

Now, I could go through this book in a very basic traditional way and know that there’s a good chance I’m going to forget a lot of it. But as a physician in an ICU, that’s not really an option.

To make sure that I can remember what I’m reading here, one of the things I’ll do is have a very systematic approach of how I go through any new material, whether it’s a journal, article, textbook, or syllabus. And the same applies to you studying for your classes.

Let's talk about how to remember what you read in med school.

Stop Doing This

The traditional way of going through a new piece of material is doing a sort of stop-and-go method where you go through the material and be like, “Oh, that’s important. Maybe I should write that down or make a flashcard about it or something.”

And then you go back into learning and reading the tables, and you find that it’s a big time-waster as you’re transitioning your energy between obtaining the information and then trying to process it as well as creating a quiz material.

There’s a lot of messiness that goes with it.

Step-by-Step Approach On How To Remember What You Read In Med Schoolhow to remember what you read in med school

Step #1. Get Through The Reading Phase Quickly

The first step is to mark down what’s important and review it later.

One of the things I recommend to a lot of my coaching students on how to make your reading more effective and how to remember what you read in med school is to be able to go through the systems of your syllabus much more effectively and with minimal friction.

And that includes going to the syllabus lecture in one pass without making so many stops and go’s.

While you may have the desire of saying, “Oh, that’s important, let’s take notes on it.”

Instead, if you think it’s important, create a mark on the side of the page next to the line where that piece of information is.

So if you’re reading an important paragraph, you can put a star on that paragraph and continue to do this throughout your lecture.

Then you can go back and find all of those stars and markings that you’ve made throughout your syllabus.

how do you take notes for med school

Step #2. Create Questions Out Of Key Info

Once you’ve identified what’s important, the next question would be how can you make sure you retain that information?

And the answer is to make the learning as active as possible.

So instead of just reading, trying to process, rewriting, and regurgitating it on your textbook or your word document, I actually encourage you to write a question next to your marking or write a question on your word doc that refers to that piece of information.

For example, if you’re reading about a patient with a specific type of liver disease, phrase that statement into the form of a question and put it into your notes.

Once you identify what you consider to be important in a lecture, the next question is how can you make it more likely that you’re going to retain it?

And the answer to this is by making that important statement and recreating it in the form of a question.

Whether you’re learning about hypertension, heart failure, or liver disease, and you have a specific piece of information, ask:

“How can I create this piece of information that I normally would just type in to my notes or my notebook? How can I create it in the form of a question?”

Now, if you haven’t yet, you can check out this post that refers to the Q&E method, which basically structures your notes in a question and answer format.

how to remember what you read in med school

Step #3. Include Questions On Your Notes

Once you create your questions, you can add them to your own word doc or your notebook

Sometimes I’d also put it on my syllabus next to the paragraph that it refers to.

That way, when I’m doing my review, I could go through the different pages of that lecture and simply ask myself, “Can I answer all those questions on the margin?”

If so, I don’t really need to read that paragraph, I’ve pretty much gotten the gist.

But if I can’t, then I know I can just quickly shift my eyes over and get that important information pretty quickly.

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Step #4. Structure Your Review Schedule

Now this is really just the first part of increasing your attention when you read. Honestly, this next part is the most important, and that’s having a very predicted and structured review schedule.

Most people will typically not review what they read. Instead, they’ll review what they’ve created from their reading.

And that’s why it’s important for you to create your notes in the Q&E method through your notebooks or your word processor.

Now, regardless of how you choose to review, it’s important that you have a predicted schedule on when you’re going to review each lecture.

That way, when you look at your schedule, you can say, “Okay, this hour block is dedicated for that lecture I learned about a week ago, and it’s for me to challenge myself and ask, ‘Can I answer those important questions once again?’”

That way you can refer to your notes or you can refer to your physical texts if you chose to write your answers in there.

The approach doesn’t really matter, but having the structured time to go back to the material and see if you can answer the questions is really where a good portion of your attention comes from.

how to remember what you read in med school

Bonus Tip: Outside-In Approach

And for the bonus tip, let me share this: One of the things I hate doing when I’m reviewing a text is going from start to finish.

You can think about it this way: I need to understand what’s on page 3 of this book as much as I need to understand what’s on page 200.

So usually, when I would create my study schedules, I would do an outside-in approach. For example, on day one, if I could do four lectures, I would do two lectures from the front and two lectures from the back.

Each day, I would progressively move towards the middle and then move back outside if I have enough time to review for a second time.

This way I would be reviewing some of the older material as well as the newer material I’d just recently learned, making sure that I know both the old and the new equally well.

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A Quick Summary

Make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck when you’re reading. Here’s a quick summary of how you can go step by step:

Make sure you’re systematically going through the material as quickly as possible without so many stop and go’s. This includes marking topics you consider to be important. That way you can come back and identify them later on.

Go to those important pieces of information marked previously and change them in the form of a question.

Take these questions and include them in your word processor, notes, your physical notebook, or on the actual text itself.

Have a very predictive review schedule where you know what hour of the week you’re going to have to review which lecture.

And as a bonus tip, try the outside-in approach to have a more authentic review process that’s going to feel much more natural like the actual exam, instead of going all the way in a chronological order.

And that is basically my step-by-step approach on how to remember what you read in med school.

Bonus: Want a full library of free medical school eBooks, video courses, and training? Click here to get access to your free med school advice library!

Hopefully this helps you guys out. If you do have more questions about how to go through your reading material more effectively, setting up productivity, or about medical school, drop those comments down below.

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If you enjoyed reading this post about how to remember what you read in med school, try these other related posts as well:

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Until the next one my friend…

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