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How I Study in Medical School: Spaced Repetition

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

One of the biggest difficulties that medical students often face is how to study and how to store the huge amount of information we need to know in our brain. Everyone has their own way of studying and as you go through medical school you begin to discover what really works for you.

Over the past 2 years I have adopted the study method of spaced repetition. You might be wondering what it is and if it really works, but yes it does, it got me 1stdecile in my exams (YAASSS!!) and its going to most definitely help you too.

Below is my very own guidance to studying and revising for exams. You may want to follow it step by step or you may choose to incorporate some of my steps into your own study process.

Towards the beginning of the year or the start of a new semester, I spend most of my time making my notes and gathering my revision resources

The second half of the semester is when I begin my revision.

  1. First, I make my lecture notes. These notes contain all the information on the lecture slide and any additional the information that the lecturer mentioned that I thought was relevant and helpful.

    • This is done for every single lecture I would have had during the week.

  2. Over the weekend, I would go through all the lecture notes I made that week and try to understand them. A mistake that a lot of students make is that they just try and memorise, however it is important that we store the information into long-term memory because we not only need it for our exams, but also for when we start working as doctors. Taking the time to understand what is being taught is therefore vital.

  3. Once I feel that I have understood the information, I will make a new set of notes for each lecture. These notes must be concise and set out in a way that you best understand them.

  4. Steps 1-3 are continued on a weekly basis until there is a long break e.g. Christmas or Easter Holidays.

  5. At the beginning of the holiday, I always advise making a list of everything you need to know e.g. lectures, anatomy etc and then make a revision timetable.

  • A mistake I feel that many of us make is that we overestimate the amount of work that we are able to do. This often leads to us feeling as though we haven’t accomplished much.

  • It is therefore important that we set realistic targets to meet and give ourselves some time to relax and have some fun.

5. The holiday period is where the revision begins. Many people have their own methods however I particularly like the use of flash cards.

  • From the notes I made previously, I would make my cards with a question on the front and the answer on the back. I try to make all of them during the first week.

6. For the rest of the holiday, I constantly review the cards and below is how I do so:

  • I have 3 boxes, each labelled every day, every 2 days and every 5 days.

  • All the cards are placed in the everyday box on the first day and I will go through them.

  • The cards I got correct and had no difficulty answering would be moved up to the next box (every 2 days). The cards I got wrong will remain in the everyday box.

  • After 2 days, I will review the second box. Those that I got correct would be moved up to the last box (every 5 days) and those that I got wrong would be moved back down to the everyday box.

  • At the 5 days mark, all the cards in the last box are reviewed. If they are correct, then they remain in that box. If not, they move back down to the second box (every 2 days).

  • This may all sound confusing, but eventually you will get the hang of it.

7. Flash cards isn’t the only method of studying. There are many other ways such as group studying with friends, or even teaching someone who knows nothing about what you’re studying.

Lastly, it is very important to make sure that you have a good work-life balance. Don’t isolate and over work yourself. It is vital that you still maintain and keep some time for your friends and family.

Thank you so much for reading and good luck with your exams.

Written by Khadija Owusu

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