Here’s How To Study Less And Get Better Grades

Do you want to know how to study in medical school? Interested in knowing how you can study efficiently medical school? More importantly, how do we study less by studying actively in medical school? What study methods help you study less and make higher grades? Keep reading to learn how!

Now notice how I said methods instead of method. The truth is different study techniques in medical school will work for different people, but a single person may use many different types of techniques. You must identify which methods will get you the best results with the least amount of time.

In this post, I’ve included suggested ways to enhance the effectiveness of commonly used study techniques in medical school. After reading this post you will know many the ways on how to study in medical school.

If you prefer a video format then check out my YouTube Video below and my the channel here! This is the first of many to come so be sure to subscribe for weekly videos.

Passive vs. Active Studying in Medical School

You will hear a lot about passive vs active learning in medical school.

If you’re not familiar, passive studying refers to strategies such as reading the syllabus, glancing at the slides, copying your notes verbatim, etc.

Active learning, however, includes methods such as practice questions, flashcards, asking questions, and explaining concepts to your peers.

While it may seem obvious which method should be used in medical school, most students spend most of their time with passive learning in medical school. Each method below can be used actively or passively.

Below I’ll highlight how to make each one active. Because as soon as you know how to actively study in medical school, your grades will improve and the time spent will decrease.

Using Flashcards in Medical School:

Many medical students use flashcards as their primary means of studying.

It’s personally one of my favorite study techniques in medical school. It’s served as my core on how to study in medical school. Using flashcard has made the difference between studying efficiently in medical school and spending countless hours studying.

You’ll hear and learn a lot about studying with Anki in medical school. Anki is a wonderful spaced-repetition software which presents you with your flashcards over time. It’s great for students who like their information in bite-size pieces, and those who learn best by testing themselves – like myself.

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Now using flashcards is active. Students, however, often fall into the trap of making too many cards and no time to review them all. Your flashcards should be about the high yield topics. For example, If you’re learning about a disease, the flashcards should be about the mechanism, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
I make a goal to not have any more than 15-20 flashcards for a one-hour lecture. You can read here about how I use flashcards to study on average 5-6 hours a day in medical school.

One of the books which really transformed my approach to studying in medical school was Medical School 2.0. This book inspired my own style on how to use flashcards to limit my studying every day. You can learn more about the book and check out the current price on Amazon here. 

Now not everyone in medical school uses Anki. Some use other flash card making resources such as Quizlet.com. Others stay away from flashcards altogether. I’d recommend you try them for classes such as Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Microbiology. More on tackling these classes individually later!

How to Use Outlines to Study in Medical School:

Another common study technique is to use outlines in medical school.

There are a few formats by which students use outlines. Some will collect their notes from the syllabus and lecture and condense them into a Word document or sheet of paper. Others will use a program such as OneNote and annotate their notes next to each slide.

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As a test approaches, students will study their created outlines or annotations.

It’s a great way to condense the information from the lecture. Just be careful that you don’t spend hours making the outlines and seconds actually studying them. Focus on the high-yield points from the syllabus and lecture. Learn these first and then go back to the details.

I’ve used a technique I call “mind dumping” to make my outlines an active form of learning. To learn more about “mind dumping” and my other strategies, check out my first book, The Preclinical Guide here.

How to Study in Medical School Using Your Syllabus:

Don’t you just love it when you have to read 20-30 pages for a one-hour lecture, only to find the lecturer saying most of it is just for reference? Hopefully, your lecture includes only relevant information in their syllabus that is easy to follow.

This doesn’t always happen, but for now, let’s imagine it does.

Most students will pre-read the syllabus to get information on what the lecture will be about. This can be a simple highlighting of the information that seems pertinent. It can also be taking notes on the side.

If you’re highlighting to be familiar with the lecture, that’s fine. This, however, should not take any more than 15-20 minutes per lecture. If so, you’re reading too thoroughly and might as well be doing it actively.

A great way to make pre-reading active is to know the topic of the lecture, jot down some simple questions about it, skim the material, and then answer as many of your questions as possible. For example, let say you’re receiving a lecture on colon cancer (I’m on my GI block). After pre-reading the syllabus you should have questions such as:

  1. Why does colon cancer happen?
  2. Who does it happen in?
  3. How is it diagnosed?
  4. How is it treated?

After your pre-read, you may have general answers to some of these questions and have no idea of others. Once you go to class, you should pay attention to the questions you’re unsure of, and think more deeply of the questions you understand on a superficial level.

Other students may only use the syllabus after they’ve attended lecture and they feel like they have a base to go off of. The same concept from pre-reading can take place. After lecture, jot down questions on topics the lecturer may have emphasized. Now take a minute or two and see how many of those questions you can effortlessly answer. Mark the ones you know and the ones you don’t. This will help tailor your studying later that day.

Important information and exam questions will often come from the syllabus, so you can’t go wrong using it as your primary resource.

If you choose this method, make sure it’s as active and efficient as possible. This will limit the hours you put in.

How to Study in Medical School Using Powerpoint Slides:

Again imagine we’re talking about a good educator. If so, then the slides should reflect the syllabus and be an effortless extension of the lecture.

As mentioned when discussing outlines, many students will take notes on either a printout or electronic copy of the notes. They often either just use these notes for their final review, or condense them even further into more elaborate outlines.

Now how to make copies of the slides active? How about jotting down one or two questions per slide?

Is there a diagram the lecturer seems to really like? Make it a task to draw the diagram from memory and understand it to master that slide.

If you can go through an entire presentation knowing the relevant information on the slides in a testable format, you’ll be golden for the exam.

Using slides are my preferred way of studying because I can see the information in bite-size pieces vs. intimidating paragraphs in a 20-page lecture. Read more about how I studied during my preclinical phase here.

For more tips on the first two years of medical school, check out The Preclinical Guide if you want more advice on how to succeed and study in medical school!

How to Study in Medical School Using Actively Listening:

Believe it or not, there are students that can go through three hours of lecture and not write or type anything down. Now yes they’re smart – we all are – but they’ve determined themselves to be auditory learners, and thus rely on actively listening.

If this is you then you should challenge yourself to come up with one or two questions per lecture to ask the presenter. You can do this during lecture, through email, or even after class if you’re too afraid of appearing like “that one guy” in class. 😀 Make sure you ask your questions!

In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about how I use speed-listening in medical school to cut my study time in half! Stay tuned and subscribe to the newsletter to receive my free eBook on Top Ten Medical Resources and monthly updates on new posts

How to Best Use Group Studying in Medical School:

We’re all in this together right?

Some of your best resources during your four years in medical school will be your classmates! Find some that you gel with, are as smart or smarter than you, and form a study group.

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Group studying, in my opinion, should only be used after you know something about the material. Don’t go into your group studying expecting to be taught everything. You must create a format for your group on how you all will be learning and holding each other accountable.

So you’ve decided your format. Now, this is where, as they say, where the magic (of learning) begins. 😉

The best way to learn in medical school is to fail in your understanding of the material.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You feel confident about an exam. Then a classmate asks you a harmless last-minute question. After a while of thinking (and panic), you find out you don’t know! We may have an idea or may say, “If I saw it on a test I’d know it.” What?? Our future patients wouldn’t want that kind of answer!!!

So arrange a time with your peers and ask each other questions. Perhaps you can use questions you’ve made from your flashcards or annotated on your slides! Your group members may know more about a question than you did, so be attentive during the study group. More importantly, decide what material you’ll be covering and how much time you will be studying that day. Make sure you come prepared and with a plan!

We give ourselves false confidence when we ask ourselves questions because we will ask questions we know the answer to. Use your peers to make you uncomfortable and expand your understanding!

Which Method Should You Pick to Best Study in Medical School?

These are some of the common modalities medical students use to study but there are much more. In future posts, I will discuss these. For now, find which of the above strategies you think you can include in your study arsenal. Regardless of how you study in medical school, make sure it’s active!

One last thing about why it’s essential you spend as much time as possible actively learning. Prior to medical school, we were learning to get into medical school and fulfill degree requirements.

Med school is one of the first instances for many of us where we’re studying what we love. So think about your future patient every time you find yourself slipping because of that paragraph you “read” or that lecture you “listened” to could make the difference on the care they receive from you!

I’d love to know how you study in medical school. So be sure to comment, like, and subscribe.I’ve appreciated all the support and readership thus far.

This has been one of the most popular posts on the blog. If you enjoyed this I’d like to point you to other informative and well-received posts.

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Until next time…

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Lakshya Trivedi, TheMDJourney

My name is Lakshya (pronounced Luck-sh) and I’m a third-year medical student at UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX. TheMDJourney is my effort to give helpful advice and personal experiences to anyone on a similar journey. It is also my dedicated form of self-reflection and a project I hope to keep on going for a while.