If you feel overwhelmed by medical exams coming up, don’t fret! These four tips will help you study smarter, not harder, so you can get the scores you’re aiming for.
Use Active Recall & Spaced Repetition
Two of the most effective methods for acing your exams are active recall and spaced repetition. Active recall uses tools, like notecards, or exercises, like writing down what you recall from a chapter or lecture, to create pathways in your brain for greater information retention.
With each repeated attempt, even if you can’t remember the answers, your ability to memorize becomes stronger. These “failed” attempts help you retain information more than simply highlighting as you read or jotting down notes as you go.
Space repetition is about reviewing the material not only repeatedly, but at the most effective times. Everyone has different timelines of when they begin to forget material. For information that is familiar or very interesting to us, studying with wider gaps between repetitions is ideal.
If the information is new to you, it is best to refresh yourself as soon as you would be most likely to forget the material. Therefore, instead of cramming, you can spend smaller intervals of time studying to more gently and effectively memorize large amounts of data.
Try the Cornell Note-Taking System
The famous Cornell note-taking system is designed to help you take more intentional notes that are ready to be reviewed as needed.
To begin, divide your page into four parts. One small block at the top of the page for the title of the information. The main section is divided into two columns. One larger column for your notes during class or while studying, and a small column to write down your questions, main topics, or ideas. At the bottom, create a small block to place your summary of the information.
This method helps you not only actively recall information, but makes it easier to study once you return to your notes. Also, the more thought that goes into your note-taking, the more likely you are to remember the information in the first place.
Consider the Fogg Behavior Model
If you’re having difficulty getting started, consider the Fogg Behavior Model. This theory by behavioral scientist BJ Fogg introduces the idea that learning or unlearning habits often come down to three variables: motivation, ability, and triggers.
The idea is to support all three of these as you work toward your goals. For example, to increase motivation, you can join study groups or get involved with groups that remind you of why you decided to become a doctor.
Help your abilities by using tools that foster the skills you need to succeed. Try reading articles, learning new techniques, and using apps that support your studies.
Continue the cycle by giving yourself triggers to keep the momentum going. Set alarms, write reminders on your mirror, or have accountability partners to stay on track.
Burnout is already a big risk in medical school. Promote your success by studying smaller amounts of information more often, rather than trying to remember everything at once. Cramming the night before a test is not only overwhelming, but generally only helps with short-term memory retention.
Learning takes time, so don’t forget to take it easy on yourself. When in doubt, take a break and reach out for help when needed.