Powerpoint presentations. They’re long, they’re (sometimes) complicated and they’re not usually fun.
How to study powerpoints best?
Pre-study them first. Ask active questions about the information on the slides. Make quick (but short) flashcards from the key concepts.
Med school leans on powerpoint presentations a lot!
For students wondering how best to deal with them, this article is for you.
- Useful ways to make passive slide reading more active
- How can you save time having to cover the material in multiple passes
- The tips I used to survive heavy powerpoint content
Having spent the last four years in powerpoint hell, I’ve come up with a few ideas!
Let’s get started.
How To Study Powerpoints
1. Pre-Study Powerpoints
One of the most effective ways to prepare for lectures and increase your chances of staying awake is to pre-study them beforehand.
Doing this helps you contextualize information better. As you’ve already seen the start and end points, you know exactly where the presentation is going.
Here’s how you can best do this:
- Skim over the slides for a quick first pass (don’t worry about understanding at this stage)
- Force yourself to come up with 5-10 main questions based on what you’ve read. Things like:
- Why is this information relevant to X?
- What is meant by X or Y terms?
- Why is understanding this beneficial?
- Listen actively in the lecture and try to pick out the answers to these questions
- If anything remains unanswered ask for clarifications at the end
Of course you don’t have to only do this in lectures either.
If you choose not to go to lectures (don’t worry, many med students don’t), you can switch point three (listening) to reading instead.
The main point is that you try and answer the questions during a deeper second pass.
This is similar to a couple of tips shared by med student redditors in my article; How To Study In Med School: Reddit’s 26 Best Tips.
2. Actively Review Slides: Ask Questions
Reading or listening to powerpoint presentations is very passive. I know when I first started med school I was surprised by just how dull and ineffective this mode of learning could be.
That’s why I’m a big champion of evidence-based study strategies like active recall!
You can apply active recall to powerpoints by writing questions instead of notes on the slides. Then you can finish up by collecting these questions and putting them into a spreadsheet or something similar. And finally periodically quiz yourself on the answers.
This is probably best done with note-taking apps like Notability or OneNote.
If you use a tablet or iPad in med school, you can import the slides and write these questions directly beneath them.
Janice Studies has a really good guide on digital note taking in this video…
I did a lot of this in the preclinical years of study!
3. Turn Lecture Slides Directly Into Flashcards
Another great way to get more active when studying powerpoints or slides is to convert them directly into flashcards.
There are lots of ways to do this but my preferred method is using digital flashcard apps like anki.
A few things to be aware of:
- Set a target number of flashcards per lecture (don’t turn every bullet point into a flashcard – that’s just overkill – aim for something like 2 cards per slide)
- Check if there are any pre-made decks that cover the major points already (helps if you’ve pre-studied the slides first)
- Use cloze (fill-in-the-gap) formats or the image occlusion add-on to make your cards faster to recall (don’t jam a load of endless facts on them)
This last point is why I love zanki so much. Check out my article: What Is The Best Anki Deck For Step 1 to learn more about that.
This video from Prerak Juthani is very similar to how I’d recommend doing it…
Having your powerpoints converted this way will ensure you memorize them effectively.
Just remember to keep up with the reviews!
4. Summarize In Your Own Words
Summarizing the information on slides into your own words is a powerful technique that can help you understand and recall the information better.
Here are a few ways of doing this effectively:
- Condense the information: force yourself to select the most high yield information that’s worth memorizing.
- Once put into your own words, try recalling it without help: you could use concept maps on whiteboards to help here. Whenever you get stuck go back to your summary, review and repeat the process.
- Teach someone else the concept: explain it to a friend, colleague or say aloud without a reference guide to prove you’ve really understood it.
Each of these are strong active recall strategies that can help turn passive powerpoint learning into something great.
Bonus: Forget The Powerpoints
This last tip is something a little extra.
Perhaps it’s best to forget the powerpoints completely.
Why not pick up a high-yield review book instead?
I decided to do this after my first year in med school and I never looked back. Using UFAPS and resources like Boards and Beyond to learn the material during the first pass, I saved a lot of time and effort and my grades weren’t impacted either.
Note: If you’re not a med student, just Google “best review books for X”. X being your topic of study!
Just remember to skim the lectures before major exams though to make sure you cover the details your school’s internal exams love to test on.
Powerpoints are many professor’s best friend. Instead of getting bogged down with them, work out how to use them to your advantage.
Hopefully the tips above can help show you how.
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Image Credit: @xteemu at Unsplash
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in digital marketing and 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.