Essential Study Tips & Tricks to Ace Your Medical School Classes & Boards

Shrishti S Sahai
Published on Jan 15, 2021. Updated on Jan 15, 2021.

In medical school and wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?” Well, this is the blog for you! OMEF Shrishti Sahai shares her essential tips and tricks for performing at your best in medical school so you can ace your medical school classes and boards. 

For all its wonders, medical school can be a struggle: a struggle to be the best of the best. It can be cut-throat. You might experience jealousy, struggle with an inferiority complex, or feel weighed down by the constant stress to get ahead—sometimes all of the above at once! These feelings naturally arise in a competitive environment, and it can be a real challenge to adapt and thrive, especially in your first year while you’re still figuring everything out.

Everyone has their own way of studying; you just have to play around till you find something that saves time, helps you retain the material, AND gets you the best scores. I am here to provide you with some tips that can give you a head start. These are the things I figured out throughout my first year and wish I had known sooner. Read till the end for a BONUS TIP!

Resources for USMLE® and class prep

There are a ton of resources out there, and it is hard to pick what might help you the best. The main suggestion is not to overcrowd yourself, as it can add to the already existing stress. 

For USMLE, everyone knows the essential resources: First Aid, Pathoma, UWorld, Osmosis... See WHERE you struggle and take the help accordingly. You might not need ALL of them—pick the resources that work for you. 

For the classes, my one tip would be to RECORD; you can have an audio recording or a whole video of your class lectures. The benefits of this are being able play the audio as you go through your book, or maybe even listen to it while you’re cooking or commuting. And you have all the important stuff right there in your device, so you don’t spend time on pulp data in the books and know where to focus. It has saved me a lot of times when I haven’t covered the entire syllabus before a test. 

Use mnemonics, but it can be a bit dangerous to overuse this technique, you might end up confusing the mnemonics or spend too much time trying to learn them.

Picmonic is an excellent tool for remembering those hard cycles: they make silly stories using the components of the cycles, using audio-visual mnemonics. For anatomy, Netter’s Atlas is your holy grail. You can also install apps like Histogram for completing those histology manuals. For other subjects, I pretty much recommend Osmosis; it is a lifesaver!


Practice questions, anyone?

There are a ton of practice questions available on Osmosis and elsewhere online. Solving them would require you to apply what you learn, and regular application will make sure the material stays long term. Some textbooks like Harper’s Biochemistry or Jawetz, Melnick, & Adelberg's Medical Microbiology have some practice questions at the end of each section: take time to solve them. 

Osmosis also has flashcards you can use for review. The more self-assessment items you solve, the better-prepared you'll feel.

Sleep cycle 

Some people stay up all night studying, going to bed at 5 AM for an exam that starts at 8 AM. (Confession: I am one of them.) It leaves you tired the whole day and you fail to be efficient. It’s a well-researched fact that people who sleep well before an exam have better scores than people who don’t. 

Studying all night WILL NOT help your exam performance; in fact, being sleep-deprived makes it harder for your brain to retrieve information. It’s okay to skip a few topics from the syllabus if you have to choose between reviewing those and getting enough sleep.

Taking the best notes for medical school 

A lot of people use note-taking apps like GoodNotes and Notability. I prefer old-fashioned pen-paper notes, and making them look aesthetic. It doesn’t matter if the notes are digital or on paper; making them saves time in the end for you to revise, and also allows you to familiarize yourself with the material, which helps you to retain the information.

Saving money in medical school

Medical school is costly, so every penny saved counts. Books cost a lot, so try and buy second-hand copies if you can (provided they're not marked-up, which in our education stream is something of a rarity!) You can also have an expense tracker to know where you’re spending more. 

Eat homemade food; most people in college just live on take-out meals, which costs more and can be unhealthy. 

Be confident (or fake it till you make it)

You have to be seen by the doctors to make sure your clinical rotation years are a breeze. To get noticed, you have to speak up where others are shy and participate where others don’t. So be confident and socialize. This will be a BIG help.

Getting (and staying!) motivated

When you know you have to study but can’t, consider taking a look at Pinterest! You can see notes, ideas, or lifestyle pins, and it can be really inspiring. You can listen to study music on YouTube; after a point, you’re so focused on studying you won’t realize how fast the time passes by. 

Personally, I like to listen to “epic music” or “powerful music,” while I study. It gives me the adrenaline to study fast and complete that chapter in time when I'm in a rush. 

Try the Pomodoro technique (30 minutes study, and ten minutes rest); when impose limits and study in short bursts, it can get easier.

Some final tips

Always stay ahead! You know you’re going to hate yourself for lazing around when you start to fall behind in your class. Keeping up can seem hard, but wait until you need to CATCH up; it can feel impossible in comparison. 

Having a daily routine will make your body used to the long hours of studying on your chair.

Follow YouTubers in the medical field. Some of my favorites are Ali Abdaal, TheStriveToFit, Kharma Medic, and Kevin Jubbal, MD.

As promised, if you made it this far, it's time for your BONUS TIP: Premade Anki Flashcards. Check out this guide on how to use Osmosis and Anki together!

About Shrishti 

Shrishti Sahai is a second-year medical student at DMSF, Philippines, originally from India. She can be found with her nose in a book, cycling or stuffing herself with red velvet cream cheese cake. Aspiring to be an oncologist.

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