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The key to successful studying isn't to view it as an activity you do only before exams, but as a valuable everyday practice that helps you absorb and retain critical information. Here are four steps to help develop a plan that works for you.

Getting through med school with maximum success and minimal stress requires a smart study plan.

“The popular analogy is that learning in medical school is like trying to drink from a fire hose,” says Patricia Celan, M.D. and postgraduate psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University. “The amount of information being thrown at you is massive, and taking in enough of it to meet your needs is a challenge.”

These techniques can help you develop a plan that works for you.

1. Figure Out Your Learning Style

Not everyone absorbs information the same way. Adjust your study habits to align with your preferred learning style to help get ahead.

Linguistic and logical/mathematical are the two most common learning styles, according to developmental psychologist Howard Earl Gardner, but they certainly aren’t the only ones.

“If you learn best from listening, try podcasts for medical students,” says Celan. “If you are a visual learner, watch YouTube educational videos on medical topics and go through slides from class.”

If the structure of your classes doesn’t support your learning style — or if your classes have moved online because of stay-at-home guidelines — you may want to carve out time for additional learning outside of class. For example, if you’re an interactive learner but your classes are mostly lectures, try medical simulation programs from home.

Understanding your learning style is crucial, but it’s just one part of the study equation. You may need to tailor your study techniques to the needs of specific classes.

“Some classes require rote memorization,” Celan says. “For example, learning antibiotics can be a very dry task that involves flashcards, quizzing friends, or similar techniques to create the associations. Other classes require practicing skills, such as physical exams when assessing someone with a cardiac condition, and this means practicing on classmates is key.”

If you’re unable to meet in person, try practicing skills on your family members or roommates with classmates watching and advising via FaceTime or Zoom.

2. Use your class schedule to build a study schedule

Creating a study schedule can help you maximize your time and stay on track. Look at your weekly class schedule, then work backwards from deadlines and exam dates to dedicate study time to each class.

If you have classes every afternoon and evening, for example, consider reserving your morning hours for studying. “You should be studying for at least a couple hours every day in med school if you want to get good grades,” Celan says, or more if your goal is to land a residency.

The key to successful studying is to view it as a valuable everyday practice that helps you absorb and retain critical information, not as an activity you do only before exams.

3. Collaborate with Classmates

“You don’t always know the lapses in your knowledge or your physical skills until a classmate puts you on the spot,” says Celan.

  • Find a few people from your classes to create a reliable study group.
  • Try meeting once or twice a week — in person if possible, or online — to review lectures, ask questions, and swap ideas.
  • Discuss difficult concepts and practice physical skills if you can safely do so in person.

4. Be Consistent

Your study plan is only helpful if you follow it. Training yourself to focus and absorb new material may come down to being consistent. Ways to stay consistent might include:

  • Meeting regularly with a study partner who keeps you accountable, whether it’s by video conference or in person
  • Using productivity trackers distraction-blocking apps
  • Rewarding yourself in healthy ways for reaching your study goals

A successful study plan can help you graduate from med school. What’s more, creating consistent habits that enhance your knowledge and productivity may also set you up for long-term success in your medical career.