Medical School - PreclinicalResidency & Beyond

Path to Residency Part 2: Learning How to Study

Learning how to study in medical school

For Part 1, please read here.

I quickly realized that studying for medical school and studying for college were drastically different. People often compared studying for medical school to drinking from a fire hydrant. There is an overwhelming amount of information.  You can never master everything. So how do you study?

Before I explain how I studied in medical school, I wanted to explain that you need a new mindset towards studying in medical school. To get accepted into medical school, you needed to be a good student in college. You were probably used to getting mainly A’s with the occasional B. You could cram for midterms and finals and get away with it. You could skip lectures and discussion sections and just read the class textbook and ace the class. Unfortunately, you cannot get away with the same things in medical school.

I was a very disciplined studier in college. I’ve written two articles on how I studied in college because I had a very effective study regimen in college. I used similar study strategies in medical school and did very well. However, there are other nuances to studying in medical school that I had to address. The first major question you will likely have as a medical student is, “Should I study for class or should I study for USMLE Step 1?” This is an honest question because you only need to pass your classes to become a physician. Also, many medical schools, including DGSOM at UCLA, do not “teach to the boards”. You need a good step 1 score to go to the residency program of your dreams. I was told by multiple upperclassmen that I did not need to start studying for USMLE Step 1 until about halfway through my second year. This ended up being sound advice.

Paying attention during lecture, participating in PBL and studying for my school exams was well worth it because I gained a sound foundation of knowledge that I may not have obtained if I strictly focused on studying for step 1. So you can put away First Aid during your first year. You most likely won’t need it.

Read More: Important Tips for Step 1

I took doing practice questions to an extreme while in medical school. Although I took notes and organized them when I could, the bulk of my studying from first to third year was done by doing practice questions. There is a plethora of practice questions available because there are so many step 1 qbanks. Many medical schools also do weekly quizzes which are often very reflective of their major exams. I also used flash card apps like Anki to help me memorize things that needed brute memorization. Looking back now as a resident, I still remember so much content from medical school such as random step 1 facts or interesting tidbits about physiology. I don’t have a photographic memory and I am not a genius.  Although I’m sure there are many reasons why, I think I remember so much because of the sheer number of practice questions and self-testing I did.

Read More: Navigating the Pre-Clinical Years in Medical School

Lastly, learning how to study in medical school took time and a lot of trial and error. Medical school is all about setting a foundation of learning. You need to figure out how to obtain and maintain information in an efficient manner. You have to build habits that will stay with you for the rest of your career. I’m a terrible at cramming. I have a lot of anxiety when I procrastinate. So I developed a habit consuming information consistently every day. Honestly, I was learning how to study and adapting my study style even while I was studying for step 1. One of the biggest mistakes I saw my fellow classmates make was refusing to adapt. They continued the same habits that had worked for them in the past. This is a recipe for disaster. Medical school is the perfect time to learn how to adapt because starting from third year of medical school to the end of your residency, you will be constantly adapting to new hospitals, rotations, teammates, specialties, sleep schedules, etc.

All in all, studying hard in medical school was well worth it. I had always tried to tell myself during school that I was studying for future patients, not for a grade. Although at the time it didn’t feel true, it has definitely become true now. I can actively see how my studying during medical school helps me as a resident now. So don’t lose heart! Keep grinding because your future patients will thank you one day.

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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