Study Tips

How Osmosis University Helped Me Become A Better Medical Student

Marcos de la Maza
Published on Jul 26, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Looking for a way to incorporate active learning into your medical school study routine? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Marcos de la Maza has your back with these tips he learned at Osmosis University!

During the past three years of medical school, I have experimented with countless study techniques and learning methods to help me retain the most information in the least amount of time. 

Everyone has their own study style, but I’ve discovered one that really works for me, and I’d like to share it with you in case you can benefit too. I’m not saying I pioneered this technique by any stretch of the imagination, but I wanted to talk about my success using it!

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Entering the clinical phase of my education

This past semester my classes have been much more clinical-focused, which made every question in my exam more challenging. I had to use my knowledge from past basic science classes and apply them in a clinical setting. 

The first month of exams were a bit rough: I was using the same passive studying techniques I’d been using in past semesters and it wasn’t working any more. The classes were different, and questions were being asked in a different way. I knew I had to change the way I studied. 

After doing a little research, I found a new technique that worked for me. 

Using active learning techniques in medical school 

This study technique is very simple:

  1. Open your textbook or main source of information for your exam and begin studying.

  2. Every time you see a piece of information that you know is going to be important, write down a question about it. Don’t answer it right away. 

  3. When you finish studying the topic and begin your review, attempt to answer all the questions you wrote down, twice. If you can’t recall the answer to a question, open your textbook and find the answer.

  4. Highlight the questions you had problems with and repeat them again.

  5. Divide your questions by topic. These questions will be your main source to guide your  exam review.

I started to implement this studying technique after taking an Osmosis University course called How to Learn in Medical School, which I was able to access for free as part of my Osmosis Prime membership. Module 3 of the course explores evidence-based methods of enhanced learning including testing effect, spaced repetition, interleaving, and multimedia learning. 

Osmosis illustration of a medical student studying for Step 1.

Why learning science works

I wanted to find a way to put all these learning methods into action easily, and when I came across a YouTube video from a Cambridge University medical student named Ali Abdaal, my way of studying changed for the better. In his video, Abdaal talks about a friend who topped all his medical school classes by combining learning science techniques to study effectively. 

Learning science really works!

In my opinion, the reason this technique works so well is because you are learning actively. When you are searching for the answers to the questions you wrote down, you are, in a way, practicing how to retrieve that information, and the connections between the concepts in your brain grow stronger every time you repeat the process. 

The information doesn’t just stick in your head for your exam, either: it stays with you for much longer than it would if you were cramming or passively reading the textbook. This is very important: as doctors, we have a responsibility to have as much information on hand at all times. For the sake of our patients, we simply cannot afford to forget crucial knowledge

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Save time and stress less

Active learning is also useful for last-minute studying, like the night before the exam. 

To speed things up, I typed up the questions and answers, and used an app called Notion to tab and untab the answers quickly during my final review. Overall, though, I still think that going to your textbook for the answer is a better option, as it provides more context and helps you retain information in a more meaningful way.

The moment I started using this study technique, my clinical test scores skyrocketed! I was retaining way more information for much longer. This made studying for my finals a lot less stressful, since I remembered a large amount of the necessary information from past study sessions. 

Using this technique, I was even able to help my classmates by sharing my newly-created review questions with them—an added bonus which they definitely appreciated! 

Overall, I think active learning in the way I’ve outlined in this post is a highly effective way of studying that everyone learning medicine and health science could benefit from. I hope you found these tips helpful!

About Marcos

Marcos de la Maza is a third year medical student studying at the Universidad de Monterrey. He was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and now is studying there as well. He’s interested in sports medicine and endocrinology but is open to other areas as well. In his free time Marcos enjoys powerlifting, video games, and reading sci-fi books.

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