Pre-Med Academics

Tips‌ ‌&‌ ‌Lessons‌ ‌Learned‌ ‌from‌ ‌Every Pre-Med Class

Looking for some pre-med class tips? I’ve gone through my entire college career and condensed all of my course-specific advice into this article.

Looking for some pre-med class tips? Nervous about taking organic chemistry? Wondering how to prepare for statistics? Not sure how challenging biochemistry will be? If any of these questions (or one similar to it) apply to you, then keep reading.

I’ve gone through my entire college career and condensed all of my course-specific advice into this article. Below you’ll find every category or pre-med pre-requisite, followed by a quote that I have heard or said at least once while taking those courses. Then I’ll go into detail about my experience and advice for that category of coursework. For specific advice about the individual courses, check out the video that accompanies this.

Biology: Haven’t We Seen This Before?

In all of the four biology courses required (Biology 1 and 2, Genetics, and Biochemistry), I had this non-stop feeling of deja vu. The very same topics and processes I learned freshman year were being covered (with slightly more depth) in my junior and senior years. The biggest lesson I learned from this, although a little too late, is that true learning is more effective than memorizing. 

In biology, more so than in any other class, I depended heavily on brute memorization. While that got me through each class pretty well, my efforts were repeated every semester as I re-memorized the steps of cellular respiration and DNA replication. 

If I could go back, I would commit these things to long term memory the first time around, and save myself some time down the road.

Calculus: There’s an Easier Way… and a Hard Way

At my university, there were two different tracks that you could take to complete your calculus requirement. They both covered the same material, but one did so across 3 courses, while the other did so across only 2 courses. 

As a result, the shorter, 2-course series became infamous for being incredibly difficult. When my classmates and I were faced with choosing between these two options, there were some who thought, “Taking the harder series will look good on my application.” On the other hand, I thought, “I could take two courses and risk a lower GPA and a lot of stress, or I could take the 3 course series, better grasp the material at a slower pace, and have a bit less stress.” 

So I jumped into the 3-course series. To my surprise, only 1 year (2 semesters or 2 courses) of calculus are required for medical school. So not only did I avoid a ton of stress, but I still only took 2 calculus courses. 

The biggest lesson this taught me was not to rush. Every premed course is challenging — why should I make it any harder than it needs to be?

Statistics: Just Grin and Bear It, Then Say Goodbye

I only took one statistics course, and once I turned in my final, I never saw that material again. I’m sure I’ll come across it again in medical school, but for those of you who aren’t particularly excited about taking this class, don’t worry too much. 

Just master the calculator functions, grin and bear it, and then say goodbye.

Writing/English: Oh Wow, This is Really Helpful!

Of all of the premed coursework I took, this course was the most helpful long-term. In addition to being a nice break from the hard sciences, my writing course offered me practical lessons in communication, presentation, and professionalism.

No matter how you feel about writing, it’s not going anywhere. My best advice for this course is to cherish it and make it count. It truly will feed into every other course you take, whether you are giving a presentation for your biology class or writing a lab report for chemistry. 

The skills you learn here in your English or writing class will carry you through it.

General Chemistry: It’s Like Baking a Cake

This was my least favorite batch of classes. I took two general chemistry courses, each of which had over 200 students. So, as I struggled to get help from an overwhelmed professor, I found myself learning on my own. For the majority of both semesters I spent my time reading the textbook word for word and teaching myself everything. 

While this was a challenge, I realized that this theme of building or baking kept showing up. Whenever I explained a complex problem to a friend, I leaned on the “baking a cake” example. I’d say, “You have some of the ingredients, but we need to figure out how much of the other ones to use based on how the cake should look at the end.” 

While that analogy didn’t apply to everything, it carried me through. I had been told once that you are either a “gen-chem person” or an “orgo-person.” I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it was true for me. I’m an orgo person through and through.

Organic Chemistry: Arrows, Arrows, Arrows…

I LOVED this course. For the first time I felt like I really KNEW about how something worked, beyond memorization. But that’s also the trick with this course, memorization will get you nowhere.

Organic chemistry really requires you to engage with the material and practice applying it as often as possible. The best thing I did for myself before exams was get as many repetitions of a mechanism or problem as possible. 

One thing I highly recommend is purchasing or downloading the book titled, “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language” and working through the first few chapters before you start the class (this shouldn’t take more than a few hours). It will teach you the basics of arrow pushing (there’s SO MANY ARROWS) and a few other things that can help soften the learning curve. The title is incredibly accurate because learning organic chemistry really is like learning a new language. 

Approaching it that way can make a world of difference.

Physics: Watch This

Physics (specifically mechanics) is the course that felt the most applicable to my everyday life, inside and outside of the classroom. Learning the material could be as hands-on as I wanted. 

because the topics covered in class were just explaining the day to day phenomena in my life. 

“If I throw a ball in the air with this much speed, how high will it go into the air?” Not only can I calculate this answer, but if I was lost, I could just get up and throw a tennis ball in the air to see the problem in action. No other class was so easily translatable to real life for me. My advice is to do exactly what I just described: get up and see the material in action. The best way to learn about friction is to test it. I vividly remember shoving couches and chairs to explain to my friends how the forces of friction work against me. 

These real life examples helped us understand the material so much easier.

That covers the major course categories that you’ll encounter on your way to applying to medical school. Every student and every school is different, so not all of this advice will apply to everyone. However, the material is largely the same, and with the right approach, you can succeed in them all.

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Olivia Brumfield

Olivia Brumfield is a 3rd year medical student at Harvard Medical School where she is pursuing her interests in pediatric neurology and getting involved in her class as the Vice President of Student Services! Before medical school, Olivia studied Neuroscience and American Sign Language at the University of Rochester (located in her hometown of Rochester, NY), two passions that she continues to explore in her medical school journey. Since beginning her clinical year, she has become involved in research exploring fetal brain development and healthcare access for children born with hearing differences. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with classmates and family, trying new foods, and working with aspiring medical students.

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