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First-Year Study Tips from Upperclassmen


Evansville medical students studying with Mari Hopper, PhD

The Mentoring and Advising Program (MAP) asked some second-year medical students how they adjusted to medical school. Don’t forget: everyone has different experiences. To get personalized care and advice, reach out to your lead advisor or the learning specialist.

Student One

  • Resource Management. To me, the biggest change from undergrad was the number of resources available for classes. I sample a variety of sources in the first week of each new class, and select the ones that best help me learn the material for the remainder of the course.
  • Time Management. Some people study all day and then take the evenings off. That’s a great strategy if it works. But I tend to take several 15-20-minute breaks throughout the day where I play piano, go for a run, or watch a Netflix episode; this keeps me from burning out.
  • Study Strategies. I find that creating mnemonics or applying the information to my life is a very useful learning tool.

Student Two

  • Do what works for you. I tried four completely different study styles during my first year (flash cards, review books, lecture PPTs, handwriting notes). All of them worked really well for different classmates of mine. Only the last one that I tried worked well for me. What works for me (handwriting notes) takes a long time, but it’s effective for me.
  • Try new study methods. If I had stayed with the first method that I tried in med school, I wouldn’t have been able to improve my understanding and exam performance the way I did by discovering better and better methods. (‘same methods = same results’ type of thing).
  • I have never been so consistent with my habits in my life. I plan my days, I wake up at the exact same time, I reflect on my study methods, I take care of my health (physical, mental, etc.) I have found that consistent effort provides success.
  • Planning – The old ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ is so true. The weeks when I plan every day and review my plans I get work done! The weeks when I don’t, I usually end up cramming the day before the exam.
  • Talk to the experts – find people who have done well, and aren’t too far ahead of you (first-year through fourth-year students), and ask them what works! I do this all the time and it’s given me great ideas.
  • I decided my top priorities were: 1. my marriage, 2. my health, and 3. my schooling. I keep those in balance, and anything else I happen to get to or accomplish is icing on the cake. This keeps me from feeling guilty or stressed when I do not get to other things in life that might be important but not a top priority.

Student Three

  • Time management. I always make an effort to prioritize sleep and healthy habits. You study much more efficiently when you’re well rested, and it helps your memory, too! Make time for exercise as well, at least a few times a week. Don’t study with your phone out or social media tabs open– instead, focus on studying during the dedicated study time, and this will help you have more free time to do things you actually enjoy!
  • Study plan. I don’t have a written study plan; instead I go through the lecture slides, look up anything I didn’t understand online or in a textbook, and test myself with multiple choice questions. I generally try to go through the lecture slides two-three times before an exam to reinforce the concepts and details. I think not having a written plan helped me focus on my own understanding rather than completing a checklist.
  • Study strategies. Definitely feel free to try out different study methods to see what works best for you. For me, this meant actively reviewing lecture slides (thinking about how information connects to things we’ve previously learned, creating memory hooks, etc.) and multiple-choice questions to test understanding. I also used review books and visual learning tools (e.g. Sketchy) to reiterate high-yield information. It’s easy to feel pressured to use certain study tools/strategies based on what your peers are doing, but find what works for you and stick to it; everyone learns differently!
  • Self-assessment strategies. Multiple choice questions from review books and online resources.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

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