Like many of you reading this article, I am not a genius. I may have above average intelligence but by no means could I rely on my natural intelligence to excel during undergrad. Therefore, I needed to study hard and learn from my numerous mistakes. As a fellow aspiring doctor (I am currently applying to medical school), my grades were one of my biggest sources of concern. Therefore, my desire is to share what wisdom I do have so that you may put yourself in the best situation as a potential applicant. I have delineated 5 steps but obviously it is not a comprehensive list.
1. Humble yourself
I have seen this situation too many times. After many younger premeds share with me their GPA woes, I question them, “How do you study?” After they briefly share, I ask, “Are you willing to change your study habits?” If they are unwilling, I know that there is no hope for them. Why is humbling yourself the number 1 step? If you believe you all the answers, you will never learn from your mistakes. Often times we are too prideful to think that we need to change. Our method has worked so often in the past, why should we do something else? This foolish mentality will keep us on trapped on the bad track of low grades. If we are humble, we are able to recognize our weaknesses and build upon them, rather than making the same mistakes over and over again.
2. Read the textbook before class
Going to every class is a given. If you don’t go to class, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Every student who actually goes to class is automatically ahead of you. So what actually differentiates you from everyone sitting in that classroom? Reading what the professor is going to lecture on before class. While everyone else is taking in information, you are already synthesizing. While everyone is thinking “what”, you are thinking “why”. This will definitely help you remember information because you will have a more thorough understanding.
3. Ask questions/go to office hours
You need to train yourself to ask questions. When you learn something, you need to ask yourself, “Why is that so?” This is important because doing well on exams does not depend on how much you know. It depends on how well you understand what you know. If you’ve taken a college exam, you know that it is not mere fact regurgitation. You need to be able to solve problems. You can only solve problems if you have already asked yourself the same questions that you think your professor is going to ask. Also, you can’t really ask questions unless you go to office hours.
4. Set aside time to study every day
All of us have done the high school thing. Barely study before the night of a test and ace it like you already had all the answers. We’ve gotten away with bad habits in high school and therefore we have this misconception that we can get away with it during college. Unless you’re a proven genius, this will not work. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Our brains are not designed to absorb too much information at once. If we study a little bit every day, even one hour a day, we keep our brain muscles (joking) warm. Repetitive hammering will allow the information to sink deeper and deeper into your brain.
5. Reward yourself
Humans are kind of like dogs. We need positive reinforcement. If we have nothing to look forward to, we will definitely lose heart. I suggest that you develop a self-reward system to keep you motivated. Study for 1 hour then watch your TV show for 20 minutes. Or study for 4 or 5 hours straight and relax for the rest of the night with friends. You know yourself the best, so you have to know how you operate. Keep yourself happy and your brain will work hard for you.
Ultimately, you need to study how you study. Find out what is most effective for you and stay flexible. Once you figure out the formula, you’ll be on the fast track to summa cum laude.