Medical School - Clinical

How to Ace Your First Year of Medical School

7 Tips to Cruise Through Med School as an MS1

Spencer Evans is an MS2 at University of Colorado and has some great tips of how medical students can cruise through their first year of medical school.

Woo! I am officially no longer an MS1, and am now an MS2!

Of course, in the grand scheme of the medical journey, this is just another step on the yellow brick road. But, you gotta appreciate the small things, right?

Anyhow, I’ve got plenty of tips for how to cruise through your first year of medical school. Enjoy!

1) Practice Questions

2) Practice Questions

3) Practice Questions

In all seriousness, practice questions are 10000000% the most high yield source of learning during your pre-clinicals. For my cumulative final exam on the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and renal systems, the only way I studied was by doing practice questions. And boom — I passed (a lot of medical schools are pass/fail these days, including mine).

Do them early. Do them often. Do them again. Yes, if you are doing the practice questions your school provides, there will most likely be some repeats that show up on the actual exam. However, more broadly, you’ll start to pick up on the patterns of what, in the ocean of information that is thrown at you, is actually tested.

I know it’s challenging to jump into practice questions before you feel that you’ve mastered the material. But, trust me on this. In addition to priming you for what you’re going to see on test day, you can also learn from practice questions if you take the time to read the provided explanations for the answers.

If your school doesn’t provide you with practice questions, there are plenty of online question banks. Check ‘em out!

4) Answer Test Questions Strategically

A lot of exam questions are paragraph-long clinical vignettes. It can take several minutes to read through the paragraph, discern the relevant information, and figure out what’s going on with the patient before you even get to the actual question. Most of the time, the question asks about something that has little to do with 90% of the information in the vignette.

I’ve found that the best strategy for answering questions is to jump straight to the last line of the paragraph that contains the question, then skim the answer options, and then read the vignette. It is a heck of lot more efficient to read the clinical vignettes after you know what you are looking for. There will also be many questions in which you can answer the question without going back to the vignette at all!

5) Use Electronic Flashcards

Flashcards are an awesome way to memorize information — and there are a lot of facts you’re going to have to brute memorize. There are decks of cards that are have been made by med students across the country containing most of the material covered on Step 1 that are available for download online. Many of my classmates use these cards, don’t watch lectures, and perform very well on exams. I tried this strategy, but I wasn’t the biggest fan because I didn’t enjoy learning via going through hundreds of flashcards all day, every day. However, I’ve found that electronic flashcards are useful in moderation. I prefer to make my own cards using information I didn’t know on practice questions.

Why electronic over paper? They’re much easier to make and manage.

6) Prepare for Class

This one may sound obvious. But, if you actually do the assigned reading before a lecture, there will be a monumental difference in the amount of information you’re able to comprehend versus showing up to a lecture “fresh.” The most successful students maximize the time they spend studying (lecture is a form of studying), and pre-reading is absolutely a way to maximize time spent in lecture.

Another often overlooked strategy is preparing for small group discussions. I wish that I knew this was a good idea before my last unit of the year. However, small group discussions are literally case-based group problem solving sessions pertaining to the highest yield material from lecture. AKA: REAL WORLD PRACTICE QUESTIONS.

The cases and questions are often posted before small groups meet. Thus, if you work through the cases and answer the questions before your group meets (even if you get them all wrong), you’ll get much more out of these small group sessions.

7) Make a Schedule that Prioritizes Fun

8-10 hours of studying, tops. Schedule fun activities that bring you happiness.

I can’t emphasize this enough.

When you’re in the library, buried in a pile of textbooks, it’s easy to forget the big picture. All you see is a mountain of information you need to learn, and it may seem like the only way you stand a chance is if you spend your entire day studying.

But, I promise that’s not true. If you maximize your studying using the above strategies, you won’t have to spend more than a working-day’s worth of time on school work.

Schedule an hour for playing volleyball with your friends. Honor that commitment. Once you step out of that library, you can re-gain that big picture mindset and enjoy life. Ironically, this actually makes your study time even more effective.

Good luck, incoming MS1’s!

Spencer Evans

Spencer Evans is a graduate of the University of Michigan class of 2016 with a B.A. in Screen Arts and Cultures and a Subconcentration in Screenwriting. He is a medical student in the Class of 2023 at the University of Colorado at Denver. When Spencer isn't studying, he enjoys backpacking across foreign countries, snowboarding, and beating his roommates in Super Smash Bro's. In addition to writing for Prospective Doctor, Spencer loves writing screenplays and hopes to one day write a movie that will play on the big screen!

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