How To Study For Your Next Test Like A Pro

Looking back on my first year, I know now that I had no idea what I was doing when I told myself I was studying. It sounds funny because I have been studying science, and on the pre-health track, for more than a decade. Studying for any health professional school, including medical school is a beast. You can watch every YouTube video after searching how to study for medical school (I did!) and still do poorly on an exam. There is no secret and there is no magic involved. When it comes down to it, you just have to sit at a desk and make yourself understand the material you’re learning. There are a few things I learned along the way that might be useful to a student starting their first day in a rigorous, academic program.

Cramming never works. In order to commit material to memory, you really can’t cram. Of course we all know classmates and friends who argue that they just can’t study any other way. Cramming makes me very nervous. I’m one of those people who just can’t recall what I’ve learned on the exam. I completely blank. In some cases – trust me, this happens – you really just have no other choice but to cram through the night. The best way to avoid this is to keep on top of the material as best you can through the week, especially after the lecture that day.

What works for you won’t work for others. Sometimes it’s helpful (but most often it’s not) to ask others how they are studying for a test. This produces more anxiety than results. As mentioned earlier, everyone has different strategies for studying. One of my friends in school only likes to study a few hours each night for a long period of time. For example, she studied 2 lectures per day for 3 weeks leading up to the exam. On the other hand, I preferred to longer each day. You have to figure out what works for you.

Study groups. I don’t think study groups work well for health professional students. You have to be very strategic with your time because you won’t have much of it. Every time I walked past a group of students in the library trying to study for an exam, I found that they were not actually studying. Another alternative to studying in groups is reviewing material right before an exam. This is what I found works best for me and others I review with. This way, everyone can learn the material at their own pace.

Study using old exams. I didn’t realize the importance of reviewing old exams until much later in the year. No one really told me how important this was. At first, I used old exams as a way to test myself after I finished studying. The problem, though, is that I never felt like I was finished studying. There is always something more you can learn. Now, I review old exams first to take an inventory of high-yield concepts that I may see again.

A picture is worth a thousand words. The one study technique that has always worked for me has been writing down my notes. When I review a lecture or listen to a recording, I would write everything down in one place. I know a lot of people have a “1-page” rule of condensing notes to fit one sheet of paper, but I honestly didn’t hold myself to such strict rules. I also draw and make diagrams or pictures to help me understand something. By drawing, I mean I draw stick figures and shapes and arrows. My pictures are more like flow charts than anything else, but I find that it helps to group similar concepts together. I love to use color too!

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.