Studying In Med School – Find Your Study Style

Being in medical school means I often find myself spending the entire day alone at a coffee shop table meant for 6 people with four books, my laptop, a barrage of notes, a white erase board and occasionally a strange teaching tool like “Big Tim.” It also means I sometimes have a powerpoint open in public and don’t realize that I have inadvertently exposed an unsuspecting Comm major to the world of Syphilis and Intestinal Worms while I went to pee. (Actually I just leave disturbing images pulled up on my computer so people won’t steal my laptop while I’m gone ordering my 14th espresso shot.)

It also means that in the midst of all that studying, sometimes I get really, extremely bored. When I’m sick of looking at power point notes…

Power Point Notes on Colitis.

I will occasionally move on to studying like this:

White Board Depiction of Renal Physiology.

When you start med school all the more seasoned med students tell you “Find your study style and stick to it.” Well, I thought I knew my study style – I mean, I made it through undergrad, right? Wrong.* I did okay in my first 3 blocks using my undergrad study method (go to class, skim book, cram 3 days before the test), but it was not until our Microbiology block that I figured out how to actually do well in Medical School classes.

Intestinal and Urogenital Protozoa Flow Chart.

My study style is visual and flow-charty. I had no idea. I had never studied like this in my life. I started making flow charts for everything last year. 

They almost all have pictures. And when I feel like I cannot draw one. more. flow chart. I draw really fun, slightly scary, pictures to help me remember stuff. 

Holy Grail of Gram (+) Bugs.
I am a med student, not an artist.
Don’t judge my stick figures.

And the craziest thing happened, when the test came around I could redraw these charts in my head. And, if I couldn’t remember something I could at least cross off a few answers by thinking about where on the chart page they were located. I also stopped going to class all together. A lot of people scoff when they hear that, but it works for me. I listen to our audio recordings, I can pause, rewind, look something up, etc. and not get behind. I can also listen on 1.5x or 2x speed if I’m getting distracted due to slow speaking. My grades went up a lot when I stopped attending classes. I’m too easily distracted when I sit in the lecture hall.

A lot of our interviewees ask me “What should I do before I start med school?” and they want to hear things like “Memorize Netter’s. Befriend Dr. Goljan and siphon his Pathology knowledge. Read Costanzo Phys 14 times. Sleep with Micro Made Ridiculously Simple for the entire summer before you start.” but I think all of those things would be a huge waste of time.

I wrote this blog in hopes that I can encourage any pre-meds who are reading this to start investigating their study style. Don’t study for med school before you’re here. Med school is not harder than undergrad – it’s just a larger volume of material in a smaller time span. Start looking into what you can do to improve your study efficiency while you’re in undergrad, that way when you get to med school you’ll already have it down pat. I promise you will be so much happier if you don’t do what I did and have to struggle to keep your head above water for the first three blocks while you’re figuring out how to study. 

Also, when you get to medical school don’t let anyone criticize or change your study method. I have a (really awesome, gorgeous, ridiculously smart**) friend that makes a note card for everything. She seriously has enough notecards to fill up a bathtub. I tried making notecards first year and it did not work for me. It was very time consuming and I got behind and frustrated way too easily. She also attends every. single. class. It works for her. She is extremely smart and makes wonderful grades, but when I used those methods I was not doing so hot in my classes. So, now I stay home and make millions of flow charts. Don’t ever let people, whether it’s friends, classmates or parents, make you feel guilty for doing what works for you!

*Err – Right I made it through undergrad. Wrong because I did not, in fact, know my study style. I knew a study style and it worked for undergrad, but it was not efficient enough for medical school. 

**She might be reading this, so I had to throw in something to embarrass her a little. 🙂