Study Tips

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward and Survive Your First Year of Medical School

Michelle Schneeweiss
Published on Aug 2, 2021. Updated on Aug 2, 2021.

Before medical school, you always found the time to hang out with friends, binge Netflix, attend sports games, and have time for yourself. Now, just a few weeks in, you might wonder how you ever had the time for all that

So you got into med school - congratulations! The first few weeks of school (whether virtual or in-person) will be filled with excitement, enthusiasm and lots of social events

Try changing up your study techniques

When it comes to medical school, there will be so much information thrown at you. With this new style of learning, you’ll likely find some of your study methods from university aren’t working.

Things like spending hours handwriting your notes might have helped you ace courses throughout your undergraduate degree, but it might not necessarily work for med school given the significant increase in workload many students experience.

On the other hand, things like rewatching lectures at double speed the night before a big test to cram in as much information as possible might also have been a strategy you used before medical school. It’s likely to fail you, now, too because exams are more focused on higher-level reasoning as opposed to rote memorization.

The point is, everyone is different. Don’t be shocked if the methods that worked for you previously aren’t quite cutting it now. Take the first few weeks of med school to ‘try on’ different study tactics and find out what works best for you at this stage in your learning. It might feel like a waste of time at first to be jumping around from study tactic to study tactic. Think of it as an investment into your studies so that you can save time studying in the future.

Once you have found the best learning strategy for you, you are ready to set yourself up for success in the future.

Study smarter, not harder

The goal should be to make the most out of your study time instead of focusing on putting in as many hours as possible. I recommend trying to incorporate study techniques that have been proven to be effective. This includes things like:

  • Taking practice tests/practice questions
  • Utilizing spaced repetition to review your notes
  • Incorporating more drawing (as opposed to text/writing out concepts) into your notes.

Osmosis makes use of many of these tools (flashcards for spaced repetition, helpful mnemonics, et cetera), so simply engaging with the platform may help you accomplish your goals.

Find study buddies

You might have tools like schedules and reminders to keep you accountable. However, it’s also nice to have people (especially those with similar goals as you) to help keep you accountable to your academic goals. Consider the following: At the beginning of the week, you tell your friends you’ll all study together on Thursday night (in person or virtual) for a few hours so make sure you end the week strong. Come Thursday night, you’re much more likely to actually go through with studying with friends than you are to study by yourself. This can also help combat the feelings of loneliness that many experience in med school.

Osmosis ilustration of Michelle studying with friends.

Take breaks

As tempting as it is to spend all your time studying and engaged with your schoolwork, it can do a world of good to take a break every now and then. Give yourself permission to make plans with friends and family frequently. It might be difficult to turn away from studying for a little while, but it’ll do you good in the long run to give your brain a break and let it recharge. This can be something as simple as taking a little bit of time every day to workout, or stopping work an hour earlier some nights to watch an episode of your favourite Netflix show before bed. It can be reserving Saturday nights for trying new restaurants with your med school friends, or reserving Sunday evenings for Family Dinner and Board Game nights. Whatever breaks look like to you, make sure to take them often enough so that you don’t burn out.

All in all, the first year of med school can be extremely challenging and stressful, but is also incredibly exciting. The friendships you make through medical school will last forever, and the journey you have now begun is one that you will likely continue on for the rest of your life. Just try to take it all in stride, and put your best foot forward!

About Michelle Schneeweiss

Michelle is a second-year medical student at McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario. She enjoys hanging out with friends, watching good movies with family, and starting each morning with a walk around the block with her 4-year-old Yorkshire-Terrier. She is exploring fields within both primary and tertiary care and is excited to see what the future holds. 

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