Gap YearHigh School Students & BS/MDPre-Med Academics

How I Studied in College Part 1

GPA is probably the most difficult component of your medical school application to change. Although you can take the MCAT more than once and take time off to engage in more extracurricular activities, raising GPA can sometimes be downright impossible. That is why it is important to start strong and not let your GPA fall in the first place. And if your GPA is already low, it is crucial for you to identify your mistakes and figure out what you are doing wrong in order to improve in future courses.

Unfortunately many students do not know how to study. Many of us pick up bad habits while we are in high school and expect those same habits to allow for success in college. That is why so many college students have a rude awakening.

I am by no means the best student but I wanted to share how I studied in college to provide a practical example.  I, like many other college freshmen, started off poorly and slowly had to bring my GPA up. Fortunately, I was able to identify errors in my studying and replaced them with more effective techniques. Here are some tips that you can follow to potentially improve your study habits. Keep in mind that following my example does not guarantee you a high GPA. Also other successful students have used other strategies so you must pick and choose what works best for you.

  1. Attend or watch every lecture

It is so easy as a college student to skip lectures. This is especially true if the professor is incredibly boring. But unless the professor is teaching something completely off-topic or you fall asleep no matter how hard you try (even after 8+ hours of sleep), you should go to lecture. Keep in mind that most classes are curved. Therefore you are putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t go to lecture because most other people are still going. I forced myself to go to or podcast every lecture in college and I truly believe it paid off.

||Read: Five Steps to a Better GPA||

  1. Be an active learner during lecture

Nevertheless, simply going to lecture is not enough. You must be an active listener. Do not sit back in your chair. If you can, lean forward. This simple change in body posture should help you stay mentally focused. Also, whenever your professor states a fact, immediately think “why?” or “how?” Do not accept information just as is. College exams often will ask you to synthesize information rather than regurgitate it. You must practice studying beyond memorization. If I knew that a course would be particularly challenging, I sat in the front. If the professor allowed us to ask questions in the middle of class, I would take those opportunities. I wrote questions that I wanted to ask the professor during office hours on the side of my notes.

  1. Avoid using your computer or tablet whenever possible

I avoided taking my computer to class because I knew it would be distracting. I also kept myself from studying with my computer whenever it was possible. The computer/internet allows for so many opportunities for distractions. It’s so easy to get caught up on Facebook, instagram, twitter, ESPN, etc. When you forgo technology while studying, it not only allows you to focus, it allows you to be a more flexible studier. We are often enslaved to our computer, reading our powerpoint slides one by one. Rather than doing that, draw diagrams, make flowcharts, recite information out loud, or ask your friend to test you.

  1. Study in short bursts

When I studied for long periods of time, my brain would automatically take a break for me. Rather, I tried to control my studying by studying in short bursts. In lab, I would study in between running experiments. When I was walking to my next class, I would think about the previous lecture. Even when I had a good chunk of time to study, I would study efficiently for 20 minutes and try to take a short break. If you give yourself a lot of time to study, you end up wasting a lot of that time. There were many times when I would purposely go out to eat lunch or dinner with my friends so that it would force me to study as much as possible before then. If I had no plans, I would get lazy and study a lot slower.

||Read: Build Effective Efficient Study Habits For Medical School||

  1. Make practice questions for yourself

So many students think that rereading is studying. It is not. Research has shown time and time again that retesting is incredibly more effective than rereading when studying. The article How to Learn Effectively in Medical School: Test Yourself, Learn Actively, and Repeat in Intervals explains why retesting is more effective than rereading for learning.

For us to remember something, we must put ourselves in a position where we have to retrieve the information from sheer memory.Throughout any course, as I went through lectures or textbooks, I would make practice questions for myself, both multiple choice and free response. If I knew that the professor gave free response tests, I tried to write free response questions that emulated his or her questions. If the professor gave multiple-choice tests, I adjusted accordingly. As the quarter went by, I would have hundreds of practice questions that I could use for my midterms and final. I would share my questions with classmates and use them to study together. There were many times when a classmate would point out a mistake in my test and often times that prevented me from making critical errors on the actual tests.

Here is an example of a some practice questions that I made for a developmental biology class.

1. Which of the following is not true of a placode?
a. it is a thickened region of the ectoderm
b. it invaginates
c. they come from the same region from which neural crest cells are formed
d. sensory placodes form at the border of the epidermis and neural plate at the posterior end of the neural plate
e. none of the above

2. Which of the following does not result from a mutation of the Shh pathway for sensory organs?
a. no floorplate is formed
b. sensory organs do not stop migrating toward midline
c. the sensory organs migrate toward the midline at different speeds
d. cyclopia
e. none of the above

3. Which of the following is the correct about the development of the vertebrate eye?
a. lens placode induces ectoderm to become the cornea
b. connection of the optic cup to the rest of the brain is called the optic vesicle
c. lens vesicle invaginates to become the lens placode
d. optic cup forms the retina
e. none of the above

Here are some practice questions that I made for medical school:

1. A 75 yo man presents to the ER at 7pm with nausea, vomiting and dizziness. He had two close relatives with similar symptoms a week earlier. He has a past medical history of hypertension, diabetes mellitus type II, coronary artery disease, and s/p 4 vessel CABG. He has been a smoker for over 40 years, smoking 1 pack a day. His blood pressure is 195/95. His speech is normal. He is alert and responsive. Which of the following diagnostic tests would be most useful in this situation?
a. Caloric reflex test
b. Dix hallpike test
c. Finger-to-nose test
d. Head impulse test
e. Tandem gait test

2. A 5-year-old male patient comes to the clinic with his mother because there are signs that he is going through puberty. If he is eventually diagnosed with familial male precocious puberty, which of the following mutations is he most likely to have?
a. An androgen receptor mutation that leads to constitutive activation
b. An LH receptor mutation that leads to constitutive activation
c. A mutation in the pituitary that leads to excessive LH release
d. A mutation in the pituitary that leads to excessive FSH release
e. A desmolase mutation that leads to constitutive activation

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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