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How I Study in Medical School

“What’s the best way to study?”- It’s the age old question for premeds and med students alike, and it is usually followed with the all too familiar answer, “well, it’s different for everybody.” So instead of feeding you that line of truth again, I figured I would just provide a brief explanation of how I integrate studying into my daily routine, and how it has impacted my life.

As a second year medical student, I have enough years of studying under my belt to have cycled through almost every study technique you could think of. There’s cramming, reviewing lectures, watching youtube instruction, putting an M&M on each page of your textbook as you go, locking yourself in a library, you name it, I’ve probably given it a shot at some point. Personally, for undergrad, I was able to get by with long hours of material review in the days/week leading up to a big exam, with sporadic work/assignments in between. Once you get into medical school though, the logistics of that approach are unsustainable. If you’re an active and involved medical student, you have too many extracurricular obligations for that to work, not to mention when you’re in medical school, learning is your job, and you should be doing it every day, just as your friends who are investment bankers do whatever they do every day. Not to mention, the amount of material in medical school can sometimes come out to about an entire undergrad class per week, so every day is technically “cram time.” The way you approach this is up to you, but the way I approached it has made me a very happy and successful second year medical student.

|| For college study advice from Edward Chang look at How I Studied in College Part 1 and How I studied in College Part 2 ||

During my first weeks of medical school I started experimenting with a completely integrated flashcard studying technique. The basis of electronic flashcards is simple: the screen shows the content from the “front” of the card, you tap or click to “flip,” and then the content on “back” of the card is then shown below the “front” content on the screen.  A lot of people think that this is best used only for topics that are memory heavy, such as anatomy, but with some good flashcard software, it can become the entire central system for the medical knowledge that you wish to retain. It’s also constantly synced to a cloud so your database is safe, even if your computer crashes or your iPad gets run over by a car (guilty). I use a program called Anki on my iPad air, and it is virtually always attached to my hand. I compile every piece of relevant information into a notecard format, whether it poses a question or not (practice test questions, lecture slides, lecture notes, learning modules, even stillframes from youtube videos), it ALL goes into my structured notecard database. How you structure your database is key, and I could give a whole lecture on the specific organization, but I’ll save that for the converts. The efficacy of using the program will come down to your ability to organize the information in the system. I make the cards in real-time during lectures and seminars, or during some free time I have, and then I review everything throughout my day. After a lecture, I’ve already reviewed all the material before even walking back to my apartment. You set the modifiers for each card, or deck, or class, or section, to organize how much you need to get through every day, what information you want repeated, and how often, in order to know the information to the degree that you’d like. I also am constantly refining my decks to make the cards better, eliminate redundancies, or repackage and add information to make them useful for the future. This means that by simply adding some cards and repurposing “old” material, I now have organized study aids for the boards and for my rotations.  I keep information cycling, so that even material I learned last year, I continue to see (albeit at much less frequent intervals), so that I can retain it instead of relearning it later, lending to its efficiency.

|| To learn more about Anki and how to use it properly, you can read through the Anki Manual ||

Like I said, I use the program Anki (of which I have zero affiliation), and have used it to integrate my medical review into every part of my life. Wherever I walk, I’m reviewing (and no I’ve never run into anything…yet). When I’m on a bike at the gym, I’m reviewing. Riding on the bus, watching Thursday Night Football, waiting at the airport, waiting for anything, is now review time. When I have to make a side trip to drop something off on campus, I no longer see it as an inconvenience in my day, I see it as a great time to get a few lectures of review in. This allows more of my free time to stay free, or more likely, get used for other time commitments that I want to take on or other recreational activities. It limits the amount of time I’m ever just sitting in one place studying, and I love it. It means that if I need to go run somewhere on a moments notice, all of my study material is still in the palm of my hand, no textbook, files, or computer necessary-I’ve already taken care of that when I built the cards. Yesterday I woke up at 6am, laid in bed on my iPad for an hour (reviewed 3 whole days of material), walked to class (reviewed another day), sat in class for two hours (making more flashcards), got lunch (reviewed information for the  boards), did an afternoon gynecology lab, went to the gym (more notecards on the walk there and back), worked on notecards for another two hours at the gym, and by the time I got home that night I was able to make dinner for my girlfriend and go to a bar with some medical students to compete in trivia. It was a great day, and I feel fortunate that I get many like it.

|| Tips on Memory Improvement from Edward Chang||

I wouldn’t dream of telling anybody how they need to study. This is merely a case study on what has worked for me, and what has allowed me to stay happy throughout medical school thus far. It’s my hope that medical school doesn’t have to be anticipated as the dark ages of someone’s life. I find it disheartening when I see students work so hard and want to get into medical school so badly, and then upon their first week of classes immediately forget the privilege of training to become a physician, and publicize their anguish. To all the prospective doctors out there, keep searching for study methods that make you happy, never be afraid to ask for help or advice, and when you get accepted, always remember the multitude of premeds that would have done anything to be where you are right now.


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Evan Laveman

Evan Laveman is a writer for He is currently an emergency medicine resident at Harbor/UCLA. He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine and is also a UCLA graduate from the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics. He is originally from San Diego where he was a lifeguard and EMT. During his free time he enjoys cooking, hiking, and being in the water.

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