Studying Efficiently in Medical School

Figure showing various levels of efficiency where time is the hours allotted to study and the y-axis is knowledge acquisition.

A note on time

Your time in medical school, and more specifically, your pre-clerkship years, is limited and precious. Quantifying your pre-clerkship years, if you start classes in late August and complete MS2 in mid-April two calendar years later, you have 19 months or 12,768 hours of medical school. Assuming you average 7 hours of sleep per day during that timeframe and your available hours are now 9,044 to learn material for courses and board exams (herein called medschooling).

Make a daily plan

Your day will expand to however much time you have available. For example, if you know you have 2 months to write the paper, you will probably wait until the last minute to complete it. However, when you are in a time crunch like needing to complete a paper before its deadline, you can complete it in a matter of hours. Creating a list of the tasks you want to complete in a given day along with a general timeline of when you want to complete them will simulate putting you into a time crunch and allow you to complete more tasks per given time.

Emphasize study methods that test your knowledge / Focus on your weak areas

My philosophy is to try to minimize the amount of time I spend initially learning information and move into testing my knowledge as quickly as possible. In practice, this meant watching lecture videos only one time and on 1.5x to 2x speed and then consolidating what I learned with Anki flashcards. I am generally a fan of Anki because:

  1. Once you have unlocked and learned new cards, it preferentially shows you the information you are not comfortable with.

Avoid reinventing the wheel

A mistake I made during my first term of MS1 was creating all of my own Anki cards from scratch. While I was effectively able to learn the material, I ended up sinking hours per day simply writing facts and copy/pasting images into flashcards, time that I could have been using for other pursuits.

Find ways to “multi-task”

There are a number of great podcasts for Step1 that I would listen to while driving and working out. I personally recommend the Ed Goljan lectures (search on Google or Spotify). You might not get quite as much out of this study time as you would while sitting down at your desk, but I found it was a great way to cram in some extra learning during the day.

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Chris Hornung

Chris Hornung

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A twin in the Twin Cities. I used to write a lot. University of Minnesota Medical School. I really like tracking things.