*This Blogpost was created in a paid cooperation with Olympus.
How do you study right? What are the best techniques?
How much do you really need to study??! (Much more about this in the blogpost “pre-clinic vs. clinic”.)
In the following, I will mainly point out the study strategies I used during my degree.
First of all: There is a vast amount of different study strategies and they might all be right and lead you to your goal. Everybody needs to find out for themselves which strategies are right for them.
Before we begin, I would like to emphasize that it is extremely important to make a plan before you start studying as to what at all it is you want to learn. Are you studying for an exam? Or are your standards so high that you want to learn for life?
Despite learning for life being a really neat thing, of course, most of my fellow students primarily decided to study for the exams.
GET A HOLD AND OVERVIEW OF ALL THE STUDY MATERIALS BEFORE YOU EVEN START!!! Use your time efficiently and learn the most important parts; the rest of the time left you can use for ice cream, pizza or sports, to patch knowledge gaps or to educate yourself otherwise.
Most importantly: Ask senior students from higher years how difficult and study intensive the various tests were and which topics got covered before you start studying.
I think a decent mentioning of the pareto principle is sensible here: Exam preparation follows the 80-20-rule (80% of the overall result can be reached with only 20% of the total effort). It is a principle of economics; however, many say it has universal applicability.
Depending on your location of studies, you might be confronted with a lot of multiple-choice tests. For this kind of tests you will best prepare with learning programs such as Amboss or Thieme online etc. I actually used both those programs myself, since Amboss was only introduced towards the end of my degree. Personally, I believe Amboss is structured considerably better.
There are different types of learners. Roughly, we distinguish between the visual learner, the auditory learner, the motoric learner, and the communicative learner.
I am not going to go into detail with this enumeration, but if you are interested you can easily read up on the topic by just clicking the first best Google result.
I would further distinguish among the visual learner types between the image and video type, and the text type.
To briefly illustrate how everyone learns differently, let me give you an example.
A rather demonstrative example comes from the anatomy course. Anatomy is one of the main topics in the pre-clinic and very, very extensive. Every single muscle, every vessel and every nerve has to be strenuously memorized for the region-specific test.
To do so, there are excellent books available that describe the locations and interrelations of the above-mentioned structures in text form. (That is something I cannot gain anything from.)
On the other hand, there are very fine atlases, which illustratively depict the anatomical structures and summarize the major aspects in short, concise texts. (That is what I can study with a lot better.) The atlas I used to study was Prometheus and I can recommend it without hesitation or guilty conscience.
So, for me, it was always about finding the right books that had good depictions (you might almost think of storybooks here) and were not too comprehensive.
My “To Go” book series (studying while one the move) was either “Endspurt Skripte” by Thieme or “Basics” by Elsevier.
There is also another series of short study books, called “Medi Learn Skripte” – I could not get much out of it personally.
Some content you just have to stubbornly memorize, like e.g. the citrate cycle in biochemistry.
Some other content you can familiarize with better by experiencing it practically or talking it through with others.
Biochemistry I learned like vocabularies. I wrote down the various cycles over and over again until they finally stuck. It was just the same with chemistry and pharmacology.
In general, there is a whole lot of stuff to memorize during pre-clinic (the first two years).
Once you reach the clinical part of medical school however, there is successively fewer courses that really require you to stubbornly memorize content. Meanwhile, it will actually be an advantage when you profoundly understand a thing or two every now and then.
For Pharmacology, microbiology etc. you will still have to bluntly learn by heart. But for subjects such as surgery, orthopaedics, the smaller disciplines etc. you will also have to understand some things. There are about 10 to 100 facts in every subject that you simply cannot derive by yourself and therefore have to learn by heart, but it is way more relaxed than during pre-clinic.
Concise facts and processes – e.g. the initiation of anaesthesia – I wrote down on white boards or paper sheets so that they were always visible.
Seen that I can understand a topic much better when talking it through, I frequently engaged in team work.
When the team partner was unavailable and I was faster alone, I worked a lot with voice recordings.
That is, e.g., how I prepared for the practical exam in orthopaedics (where you have to demonstrate oral and practical capabilities): I recorded myself talking.
I described the different joints speaking out loud, explained the respective tests and recorded myself doing so. After, I listened to my recording and watched out for mistakes. If everything was fine – often after the second try – I put the recording aside for the moment. At a later point, e.g. during activities like cleaning, cooking or other chores, I replayed the whole thing again and thus passively studied the tests.
For subjects that have oral exams, this is a great idea!
In the beginning, I mostly recorded with my cell phone. Recently, I started using the dedicated voice recorders of Olympus – learn more about those here.
The greatest advantage for me with these is the voice recognition software (Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Mac). This way, I can convert dictated speech files into text on my computer. You can then proceed to print the whole thing and highlight the most important passages.
Also in my new world of blogging, the voice recognition feature comes extremely handy: I can dictate/write blogposts e.g. during a car ride… but I am getting off topic now.
Another essential aspect of learning in university is practical capabilities, despite those not being the primary objective. You can meet with friends and train e.g. the auscultation of the heart or practice orthopaedic tests for the assessment of joint flexibility for this purpose.
Furthermore, there are special courses, often tutored by senior students from higher years, at most unis that aim at teaching practical skills. E.g. you can learn about venous blood withdrawals, gain basic knowledge about surgical sewing, ECG courses, possibly ultrasound and many other things (varies from school to school). These all are skills that will not directly help you in exams, however, they will provide great support in everyday clinic work, medical clerkship and the practical year.
Thank you for reading! I hope you were able to gain a little overview over the various learning methods that I used.