If your end goal is to apply to medical school, your GPA matters. Although a low GPA is not necessarily going to take med school off the table, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later if you learn how to study now.
For most students, the transition from high school to college can be intense. Especially if you are taking all of the difficult science courses that premeds are required to take.
Learning how to study as a premed is the most difficult part of getting good grades. Once you have figured it out, the rest is just making sure you put in the time.
It took me most of my college years to learn how to study like a med student. At first, my GPA suffered. But after learning the study skills that med students use to get through med school, I was a straight A student taking the most difficult courses you will take as a premed.
Part of it is hard work, but the majority requires working smarter. I want you to succeed as a premed now instead of learning the hard way as I did. This guide is a culmination of everything I know about how to study like a straight A student.
Is Going To Class Important?
Sometimes going to class can feel like a waste of time. Like lots of other premed students, I too have thought about optimizing my study time by skipping class. Oftentimes, you are given the slides that the teacher went over in class. Sometimes they will even provide a recording.
It makes sense to spend that hour you would have been in class studying. And most of the time there are things more pressing to get done than that particular class.
Don’t fall into this trap, go to class.
There are 2 reasons why I think going to class is important:
- The teacher will emphasize topics that are likely to be on the exam. There is a lot of material for each science exam, but a teacher will only cover a certain percentage of it during class. Therefore, you can eliminate some of your study time simply by going to classes and taking notes on what was actually covered.
- Learn the material from another perspective. Great teachers will help teach topics with examples and analogies. Granted sometimes you may end up with a teacher that only reads from the slide but you will need to go to class to see if the former is true for you.
- Chance to engage in class. When you are confused by something you will have the option to get clarification from the teacher during class. Also, engagement in class uses active learning which we will go over next!
Active Vs Passive Learning
Active and passive learning is loosely defined, but here is the general takeaway:
Passive: Any kind of learning that involves little input from your brain. For example, reading textbooks without taking notes, listening to a lecture without taking notes, and pretty much anything else that involves little engagement from your brain. Often times when we learn passively we retain very little and are forced to re-learn the material.
Active: Active learning requires critical thinking. It means putting your brain to work to solve a problem. This is way more effective than passive learning. Because your mind is engaged, this will also be a more enjoyable form of learning that will make time fly.
One of the best examples of active learning is solving practice problems. But there are also a lot more forms of active learning. A couple of more examples are, taking notes in class and putting them in your own words, simplifying difficult concepts into small bite-size pieces, teaching other students, and much more.
Just remember, if you are forcing your brain to work and come up with thoughts on its own, you are most likely engaging in active learning.
This will be important for later as we explain how to study as a premed.
3 Step Excellent Premed Note-Taking Guide
If you want to learn to study effectively as a premed, it all starts with note-taking.
I personally found note-taking to be one of the most difficult skills to grasp. I always felt that I couldn’t keep up with the teacher and my notes were a jumbled mess.
But over the years, I developed the skills necessary to take good notes and ultimately help improve my GPA.
There are 3 steps to taking good notes:
Prepare for the lecture
The first step to taking good notes is to be prepared. If you are an avid procrastinator like me, you’ll find this step tedious. But it’s important, I promise.
Spend about 30 minutes to an hour going over the lecture you will cover in class that day. If your teacher is organized, you should know which chapter is associated with which class throughout the semester.
Don’t spend too much time reading, you are really only skimming through the chapter/lesson. You just want to make sure you have a basic overview of what is going to be covered so that you can be really engaged in the class instead of learning everything for the first time.
You’ll benefit in two ways:
- It’s an extra layer of coverage on the topic.
- When your teacher is going over the lecture you can focus on the topics that you found most tricky and ask questions for clarification.
Take quality notes in class
Easier said than done, I know. What are quality notes exactly?
Your teacher will cover the topics that are important for the exam. If they emphasize anything, you want to bold that in your notes.
You don’t need to write down everything the teacher says verbatim, rather you want to stop and listen to what they are saying first and then quickly jot down a summary of what they said in your own words.
This will take practice. Science teachers often talk fast. Over time, you will figure out your own shorthands and how to summarize what a teacher said in a short sentence.
2 takeaways from this:
- Bold things that the teacher emphasizes because those will appear on the exam.
- Summarize what the teacher is saying in your own words as short sentences.
Consolidate your notes after class on the same day
This should take you about 30 minutes, maybe shorter or longer depending on how in-depth the class was.
Your notes from class will probably be pretty messy. What you want to do is organize the information in a way that makes sense to you. This is a form of active learning. You are taking information from class and creating your own content.
You will also want to refer back to your textbook to beef up the topics that you think are confusing or require a little more context.
At the end of this step, you will have a concise workbook with notes that make sense to you and that you can refer back to as needed.
Also, following these 3 steps means you essentially went over the material 3 times. Over time, this kind of repetition will engrave the information in your head so that you do not need to spend as much time reviewing the topics when studying for the exam.
Tips On Reading Textbooks
Reading should be an interactive process. You want to avoid simply reading for the sake of reading. Again, we are thinking of active learning here as opposed to passive. Here are a couple of things you can do:
- Watch a video on a concept you just covered to gain another perspective.
- Perform practice problems as you read if it’s available.
- Create flashcards on important topics and bolded terms.
- After finishing a chapter, pretend to give a lecture on the material in the book.
- Correlate what you learned in the book with real-life examples. For example, if you are reviewing anatomy, you can watch a surgery video on youtube and see if you can spot an anatomical feature from your book.
Tips For Memorizing
There are a lot of strategies out there for memorizing things. Here are my favorite methods:
- Flashcards: I’m a big fan of flashcards. When I was in my master’s program, Anki was my go-to. When reviewing flashcards I would go over each card. The ones I got right I would discard. The ones I got wrong I would go over again. I repeated this process multiple times before an exam.
- Creating a story: Stories are very memorable. Incorporating things you need to memorize into a made-up story in your head can help a lot.
- Re-producing onto paper from memory: Try to recreate a topic you need to memorize by writing/drawing it on a piece of paper or whiteboard from memory. For example, the electron transport chain. Draw out the entire thing and label every aspect of it.
A quick note on memorizing. Although sometimes memorizing is necessary, most of the time understanding a concept is more important. Using all the tips from this guide, you can develop a great understanding of almost any science topic. When you truly understand a topic, you can use common sense to come up with the right answer on the test.
Studying For Your Premed Exams
The beauty of learning how to study as a premed using the strategies of effective note-taking is that when it’s time for an exam you are basically ready to go take it.
No more stressed-out cramming and all-nighters.
Of course, you don’t want to take any chances with grades, so it’s still a good idea to prepare.
Here are the best strategies I used:
- Practice problems. This one is my favorite. In my opinion, doing practice problems is the best kind of active learning there is. If your textbook doesn’t contain practice problems you can check online (Such as Khan Academy), previous exams if you have access to them, or purchase a similar textbook that you know contains practice problems.
- Take all of your notes and consolidate them into a small, easily digestible document. This will require you to really think about what’s important and summarize that information concisely. Not only will this give you an excellent study tool, but you will also be re-learning all the information needed for the exam.
- Create a study group to review everything covered in the exam. However, it’s important to be careful with this method because the wrong study group can be a complete waste of time. Set up a group with like-minded students who are looking to ace that class. Set a time limit so that the study session is not open-ended.
- Review your flash cards. If you created flashcards, the days leading up to an exam are a good time to review all of them.
What Is Your Learning Style
Everybody learns differently, so don’t get fixated on one strategy vs another. Focus on what helps you the most.
Maybe you are a visual learner and watching youtube videos is the way to go.
Maybe you need to explain the material to another student. In this case, try finding a fellow classmate who is struggling and do your best to teach them the material.
Maybe your best way of learning is hands-on. Set up meetings with tutors or even your teacher to review the material.
Figure out what helps you learn the material most efficiently and stick to it.
In today’s world where smartphones are literally designed to take your attention away from you, it’s important you put effort into eliminating distractions.
According to a study by the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after you are distracted.
This is insane if you think about it. We waste an incredible amount of time simply being distracted by social media, let alone friends popping in and out.
Go to a quiet place, put in some noise-canceling headphones, and turn off your phone.
You are better off spending 1-hour doing undistracted work than 4 hours of distracted work. If you actually eliminate distractions you will be way more efficient with your time so that you can actually enjoy more free time with your friends afterward.
Do Not Procrastinate
I’ll admit that I am a terrible procrastinator when it comes to pretty much anything. But unfortunately, this will not fly with your premed studies or beyond. When you push off assignments or tasks until the very last minute, you’ll become overwhelmed with the amount of work you will need to do in one sitting.
For me, the routine became important. I devoted the same amount of time studying every week. If I was finished with everything that was pressing, I would start working on things that were due later on. I still had free time to hang out with my friends but I was also not overwhelmed when all the due dates hit on the same week.
Don’t Do All Nighters
Everyone knows that staying up all night is going to affect your performance the next day. Yet lots of premed students will pull all-nighters the night before an exam rather frequently.
I kind of get it. We want to be as prepared as possible and use up every second of time we have before an exam.
Trust me though, it’s not worth it. Sleep is essential to performing well on an exam.
If you are to follow the study tips in this post, you will have no problem being prepared for every exam and going to bed at a decent hour.
Do pre-med students have free time?
Yes! One of the stigmas about premeds is that they do nothing but study and work. This is not true. Although premed students study more than the average student, with efficient study habits you can expect to have plenty of free time.
What major is best for pre-med?
The short answer is that there is NO best major for pre-med! We wrote an entire post on this topic. Biology is the most common major because a lot of the courses you take as a biology major are also required by medical schools. However, as long as you finish the med school prerequisites, it doesn’t matter what your major is!