Getting started in med school, Reddit was one of the best places I found online to get lots of useful hints and tips on how best to study.
Instead of writing another article from my perspective, I’ve decided to curate a list of 26 top tips from other med students in the Reddit community.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did!
How To Study In Med School: Before You Start
The following tips are organized in a way I feel students would get the most benefit from reading just before they start med school. These are the kinds of things I’d wished I read going in!
1. Approach Med School Like It’s Your Job
One of the biggest problems I see med students suffering from is lack of discipline. Approaching med school like it’s your job, and scheduling free time where possible, is important.
Treating your medical school life as a 9-5 job (or however heavy your schedule is; 8-6 etc.) is more effective than any other method of working I’ve tried. Going home/to your halls knowing that you’re done for the day and can rest is such a liberating feeling.u/h00nking
2. Remain Open Minded
Although I’ve got lots of my own recommendations and tips on how best to study, you’ve got to remember; there’s no one single way. You’ve got to be open minded and as flexible as possible to the idea of switching tactics and trying new things.
The first year of medical school is really all about figuring out what kind of studying works best for you. You’ll get a million potential ideas but it’s your job to go through all of them, succeed with some not all, and find the best fit.u/maybefull
3. Work Hard to Overcome Intellectual Challenges
Maybe you feel you’re not the smartest student in the world. There are things you can do to overcome that. Working hard is the first place to start. Working smart is the second.
Work ethic x natural intelligence= good student. You can’t change natural intelligence, but you can change work ethic.u/LongjumpingBudget
4. Determine Your Goals
You’re going to be pressed for time in med school. Aspects of your life will suffer as a result. You get to choose your sacrifices though.
Say you study for 80 hours for a test and you get an 80%. That is all fine and dandy. To get a 90, doesn’t mean 90 hours. Its more like 120 hours. You have to determine if those are hours are worth it. Would your time be better spent in a relationship, with hobbies or with family? Only you can answer that.u/MrBigglesworth
Related: Do Medical Students Have Free Time?
5. Embrace Failure To Fix Mistakes
A real growth mindset is what will get you through med school successfully. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s the best teacher.
You must take each failure and rigorously analyze what went wrong, what strategies or skills to hone in order to fix those mistakes. This will vary widely for each person, and each time may have you addressing a different specific issue.u/areyousquidwardnow
If you’re interested in more tips on how I’d recommend planning for life in med school check out my article: What To Do Before Starting Medical School: 10 Key Tips.
How To Study In Med School: First and Second Year Tips
Once you’ve got the first few days and weeks of med school under your belt, it might make sense to review some of the following study tips.
1. Get Experienced Insight At The Start of Each Course
I’m a huge believer in this tip. Every semester I’ll contact some of my friends in higher years to see how they’d suggest tackling school-specific classes.
First, before you start a class, ask about it from someone who took it before. This cuts out a lot of nothing work at the beginning where you’re trying to find out what to read, what not to read, who are worthwhile professors etc.u/jbsilvs
2. Use Flashcards Strategically
In the initial weeks of med school is when I’d first suggest new students get to grips with electronic flashcard apps like Anki. Working out the best practices now will save you time later.
I made all of my own cards my first semester then switched to zanki when we went to systems and I saw some positive improvements in my grades. I think what makes it work is making sure that you police yourself. If I find myself just trying to remember a word without actually knowing why it’s the answer to that card I’ll pause and look it up to make sure I understand it.u/aggielax7
If you’re wondering what zanki is check out my article; What Is The Best Anki Deck for Step 1?
You can also read more about the use of digital flashcards as a tool in this article: How Many Med Students Use Anki? (What Students Get Wrong About Anki)
3. Scope Each Subject
Just like asking older year students they’re opinion on how best to ace classes, it’s important to then set a plan in action. Scoping a subject out is one of the best ways.
At the beginning of every block/rotation I would map out just how many questions/practice tests and what readings/note-taking I would do every day, and always stuck to it.u/maybes617
4. Ask Yourself; Are Lectures Worth it?
If lectures aren’t mandatory at your school they might not be worth going to.
Figure out if your lecturers are good or necessary. If they end up just reading the slides, you need not worry about going to their lecture. Saved me several hundreds of hours in medical school.u/misteratoz
5. Make Lectures As Active As Possible
If you do have to go to lectures (or aren’t sure if you want to yet), then try and make them as active as possible. Doing so helps you stay engaged and hopefully stops you from sleeping!
Speak up in lectures. It it the most stupid thing when the lecturer asks a question and everyone sits there in silence. Who cares if you’re wrong and if you actually interact with the lecturer you learn so much more and you won’t fall asleep.u/nbentley92
6. Practice Questions From Day One
Can’t recommend this advice enough. It’s something that makes up my own med school philosophy – you can read about this here; How To Study Medicine More Effectively.
I’m at the end of my 3rd year now and I wish that I started doing QBanks much earlier in med school. Great way to reinforce concepts and see how they might be tested and used to solve problems.u/hjl19
7. Go All In On Physiology
Physiology is definitely up there as one of the hardest classes you’ll take in med school. Learning it well the first time around will help massively moving forward.
If you’re going to spend massive amounts of time on anything during the didactic years, nail down the physiology. It will come back time and time again, pretty much no matter what rotation you’re in.u/redbrick
Related: Is Physiology Hard (Beginner Tips!)
How To Study In Med School: Tips for Clinical Rotations
Moving on from the preclinical years, there are still some study tips you might want to know. Here’s one good one I came across.
1. Patients Are There For Practice
It costs nothing to introduce yourself and ask! Much harder at a European med school though where I’m far from proficient in the local language…
For clinical exams it’s like an actor learning his lines. Just standing at the bus stop I would run through my head the cardiovascular exam or neurology exam and all the different steps I needed to do. For practice I would go round the ward for the hospital I was assigned to and I would look out for patients sitting there bored who looked well and I would be honest and say I’m a med student would you mind if I examined you? and most patients are so bored they’re delighted for something to do and we would tell each other different exams to do and critique each other.u/kenlike
How To Study In Med School: General Study Tips
As for more general-style tips that you can apply to any field of study (let alone medicine) there’s some gold here too.
1. Learn To Synthesize The Material
You’ve got to constantly ask yourself what’s going to give you the most bang for your buck in terms of time spent studying. Learning to figure out the wheat from the chaff should be first on your list.
You do have to learn to recognize which details are worth knowing and which are not. This comes with time studying and reviewing some of the well-regarded resources. It’s all good knowing things beyond what is in the board review books, but there’s also a point where you can get bogged down in the details.u/blacktarrystool
I like to call this 80/20’ing the subject.
2. Be Ruthlessly Efficient With Time
Not much explaining needs to be done here!
Be ruthlessly efficient with your study time. Don’t study with other people. Constantly make connections in your head about new materials. Never take things at face value – figure out why it makes sense. Focus on what is testable.u/fighter2
3. If In Doubt Go With Your Gut
This is a huge one. So many times I’ve switched out answers in multiple-choice quizzes only to find out my gut reaction was right.
Never overthink a question. Some professors like to make questions confusing for no reason. Half the time I realized that I knew the exact slide they were referencing in the question. You’ve looked at the slide a million times, You remember small details about it (some types of receptors, a clinical sign, lab values). Just pick the answer you remember seeing on the slide. Most of the time its the correct answer.u/getfat
4. Find The Resource That Works For You
I’d also add not to spend too long in the process here. Sometimes you’ve just got to choose one good thing and run with it. Time is not on your side.
Honestly, half the battle is finding a good resource that explains things in a way that is succinct enough that you don’t just glaze over half of it but comprehensive enough that you can truly get what’s going on and aren’t just memorizing meaningless words on a page. I highly recommend Pathoma and Boards and Beyond – especially if your trouble spots are physiology.u/caxoo
5. Don’t Read Everything
Again, not much to add here.
You have to pick better books or learn how to simply skim or skip certain books all together.u/sunealoneal
6. Repetition is Key
Yes, most of med school is just brute force memorization…
I try to always get 3-4 passes with the lectures. First pass is streaming the lecture and taking notes only on what the professor emphasizes or is not readily available in the slides. My second pass is usually the same day as my first pass, and is by far the most time consuming step: handwritten 1 page outline of the lecture. I write everything on a tablet. I reorganize the information from the slides in a way that makes sense to me, and I densely pack that page with notes. For my 3rd and 4th pass I only study my handwritten outline. – u/anonymous
How To Study In Med School: Active Recall Tips
Studying with evidence-based study techniques is absolutely the right way to go about things in med school. Active recall is all about that.
1. Active Recall With Good References
Here’s one way to do that…
What I do is just watch lectures at 2x speed, jot down the important stuff, consult Wikipedia, review book, or textbook if I need clarification, make a study guide on Word or use Anki.u/bananacreampie
2. Actively Review Questions
Habit is what makes this powerful.
Don’t skimp on multiple choice questions. Do them every weekend (or if you have enough, at the end of every study session) then review them the next day.u/bigavz
3. Test What You Don’t Know
Troubleshooting is the main aim of this exercise.
Doing some form of active recall, e.g. drawing pathways from scratch, drawing/writing muscle innervation/blood supply, lets me know clearly what I am/am not retainingu/absie207
4. Learn Directly From Practice Questions
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to have memorized the concept first. The process of thinking about questions and applying logic is very useful to learning and remembering.
Practice questions are not to check if you have learned the material. They are to teach you the material. Use them to your full advantage. Do questions, figure out why the correct answer is correct and why the wrong answers are wrong. Then read the explanations thoroughly.u/YUNOtiger
5.. Quiz Like Your Life Depends On It
Working in groups is a great tip for making this more fun!
I had the best results with finding 1-2 other classmates who were the same way and just quizzing each other. You’ll get questions that are more likely to be on what your professors will test on and coming up with questions to ask your buddies forces you to understand the material better. It worked out great for me and the people i quizzed with, but I’m sure it isn’t for everyone.u/ATStillfullof
6. Settle On A Workflow
Ultimately you want to take all these tips and get a workflow or process going that works for you. Here’s how one med student does it…
The details of my approach varied from block to block but always had the same principle: preview-learn-review
1. Preview – read lecture notes or a review book just to get an idea of what’s important
2. Learn – watch lecture, read a textbook, or both
3. Review – make flash cards, reread notes or books, try practice questions, some kind of recall-based learning is probably good for thisu/jokerbot
7. Keep A Sense Of Perspective
Finally, when the going gets tough, you need something in your armory to help you find the motivation to keep going. I’ve included this advice because I think it’s a great reminder of the things we need to keep in mind when studying just isn’t going our way.
1) We’re lucky to be in medical school. Even when it sucks, we’re participating in something that 99% of the world will never get to do.
2) Suffer now, because later our suffering will go away. The people who work crappy jobs and struggle to find meaning in their work will not see an end to their suffering. Study hard because it will be worth it.– u/FindThisHumerus
Hopefully, this round-up of Reddit tips has helped serve as inspiration!
If you’re looking for even more advice check out my article; How To Succeed In Medical School: 10 Top Tips For Anxious First Years.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.