Seth’s Possibly Helpful Ramblings About Studying

Written By: Seth Bayird, Class of 2022

Let’s Ask Some Questions 

What is your end goal that you plan achieve through studying?

  1. Having a good foundation for clinical medicine.
  2. Having a level of understanding that is suitable for academia or medical education.
  3. Scoring points on exams.
  4. Purely for reasons of self-satisfaction and improvement.

Each of these are perfectly fine goals, and all of us likely have a mix of all of them. However, if we find ourselves struggling, it is a good idea to focus in on the one most important to us and be sure we check off that box before addressing other factors.

If you picked either of the first two, I would suggest using outside resources as your main source for *learning* (different than studying, we will get to that). This does not mean only use these resources, but rather spend probably anywhere between 45-50% of your study time using board review sources and text books and the rest using ppts given by professors.

When going after these two goals, it is important to make a conscious divide between learning and studying. With the attitude of maintaining core fundamentals for years to come, I feel that learning should be done at a slightly more meandering pace, using videos and keeping note-taking and studying to a minimum. Spending time trying to soak things in without moving your hands is important (in my opinion). Take time to think about how you would explain these topics to a patient, family member, or colleague. Consider how patients would present to you as a doctor if they had the conditions you are studying. If you really HAVE to take notes during this period of learning, keep your notes future-focused. Instead of copying out everything you just read or heard, bookmark the video or page and make a note to come back and write out some word tables or lists later during study time. With this approach, you should make *study* time a time of intense, drill-focused activities. Set a timer to make sure you use your time effectively. 25 minutes is a good time frame for each study block. In that time, try to stay off your phone and limit distractions. This is your time to drill, drill, drill. This is about memorization of tricky little pieces of info or lists or tables. Don’t ever do more than an hour of true studying at a time. It WILL be a waste of your time with minimal returns the longer you go. Over time, your stamina for studying will go up, but it is important to break up your day to get the most out of your time. Go on a walk, go eat, do your planning for the next day, or go pre-read for your next lecture.

If you answered “scoring points on exams” for your goal, your main way of spending time is now studying, drilling, practice questions, drilling, and more practice questions. You need to spend the vast majority% of your time on the faculty ppts. Rewatch lectures (at 1.4 or 1.6x speed) and take notes while rewatching. Try and pause after they finish each slide and really ask yourself if you have squeezed everything out of what they said. After you have rewatched the lecture once, try to condense all of your notes into a single page. You should spend most of your time you would normally be watching outside videos just rewatching lecture videos. Then find as many practice questions as possible and keep doing them until you can answer all of them in one sitting without missing any. Talk to professors often(ish) to try and catch any hints possible that may net you one or two extra test questions (remember, this is the grade-grubbing method). For this method, being able to essentially rewrite the ppts from memory is probably the level you should shoot for. You may not have the best long-term retention with this, but I know some very successful students who are using this method.

If you picked the last goal listed above as your primary driving factor, I think you should do a bit of a hybrid from the past couple study methods. Make sure to use timers liberally, but take a bit of time every few days to just sit and think about the material without using any visual or audio cues. Take as many little victories as you can and take time to remind yourself that you are making progress. If your goal is self-improvement, please do not get caught beating yourself up of not being perfect or having a 100% in anatomy and BECOM. Remember your goal and take time to appreciate your progress. 

Next, I think it is good to ask ourselves why we use the study methods we use. More precisely, we should ask “When I do X, why do I choose to spend my time doing that instead of Y?” It is easy to latch onto old study methods out of habit, even if they aren’t yielding results or are not well suited for the type of material we are studying. Next, when we use one method, we should ask “What do I expect to get out of my time right now?” This needs to be asked *every* time we study. Studying just because that is what we are “supposed” to be doing will lead to a lot of unhappiness and ineffective studying. Make sure to always think about what you want to get out of the time you spend. Finally, remember than you have a finite amount of time with each exam block’s information. There will come a time where, for each lecture ppt, you will have to ask yourself “Will I ever see this information again?” Decide what to take with you, and what is no longer worth your time.

Some Study Suggestions

  1. Block your study time. Slow and steady does not win a 100-meter dash. Not every race is the same, and sometimes two intense 20 minute blocks are better for the task at hand than a stretched out 3 hour stay in a study room. 
  2. Sleep. Especially sleep at the right time for you. If you need more time, take more time, it’s worth it. You want you to be studying, not a zombie version of you.
  3. If you use outside resources, budget them. None of us can afford to sit and watch Ninja Nerd or Osmosis all day. Pick a time of the day to watch your videos and try to stick to it. I do mine early in the morning. If I miss them that day, I catch up on the next morning or the weekend.
  4. Don’t spend too much time pre-reading. This is where asking “What do I expect to get out of this?” really shines. Are you expecting to know all the information for the lecture after prereading? No? Then don’t spend 2 hours doing it. Spend 30 minutes at the most. If you want to go longer, take a break, see what you retained from the first block, and then decide if it is worth the time.
  5. Get at least a little bit of exercise. Especially if you are driven by personal improvement. Getting little wins can sometimes further drive us to succeed on the harder tasks.
  6. Take time to test your recall. Spend even just 10 minutes a few times each week sitting down and staring into space while you try to recall everything you can about the current exam block. Sometimes this is best way to identify areas of weakness. If you know a concept exists that you are supposed to know, but you can’t reproduce the information, that is the next place to start studying.
  7. Don’t group study too much. Sorry. Honestly, though, the majority of your time should be spent studying alone. Even if you don’t like it. Sometimes studying independently but with a friend in the room to bounce ideas off of can be a substitute for solo studying in short amounts.
  8. If you use notes, take them. If you spend two hours making a perfectly crafted set of note cards or one-page summary…READ WHAT YOU WROTE. If you are not revisiting your hand-written notes every few days, you are taking notes for the wrong reasons. If revisiting your notes is too daunting, you are making too many notes. Remember to revisit the basics regularly.


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