Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from undergradute, graduate school, medical school, residency and beyond.

Study Skills – Part II

Today is my Birthday!!

First of all, today’s my birthday and I have the day completely off. I have been basking in the warm sunshine (by the pool) and thinking about this post.

 Study Skills

Learning Style
One of the most useful things that I did was figure out my learning style. I am a very visual learner. I love to color-code information and I never go anywhere without my different colored highlighters and multi-colored pens. When I am studying, I use my highlighters to circle information, rather than highlighting words. Each color has a particular significance such as blue represents the main headings, pink represents the words that must be defined and all important concepts are circled in yellow. Green is my check-off color as I check off things as I study. This lets me know what I have accomplished.
Visual learners like to sit in the front of the classroom for less distractions. During my first and second year of medical school, I sat on the end of the third row so that I could see. I was not a front-row person (too easy to get covered in saliva) and I would only sit in the back if I was doing something else (like reviewing another subject because I wasn’t particularly interested in this lecture).

Aural learners will typically sit in the back. These folks thrive on hearing the information and are not easily distracted. They need a good seat where they can see if they need to but most of the time, they don’t look up from their notebook or computer. Aural learners are good at pacing and reciting concepts back to themselves. They are also excellent study group members because they process information as quickly as they hear it. The biggest challenge for the aural learner is making sure that information gets into their “long-term” memory.

Many folks are a combination of both of the above. This is not a bad combination for medicine and medical school. As visual as I am, I tended to make drill tapes for listening when I am doing something like jogging on a treadmill or riding the subway. Sometimes it is nice to hear information organized rather than to keep staring at a page. I would often make a large concept map (on my white board) and then make a drill tape from that concept map.

Tools

Digital Tape Recorder
One of my best purchases was a digital tape recorder. This device enables me to record lectures, notes and thoughts and then download then to my computer. My device is the Olympus WS-100 which allows me to store up to 27 hours of recording. These files are stored as .wma files but I can easily convert them to mp3 for listening on my MP3 player.

Laptop Computer
My laptop accompanied me to class daily. I could download my instructor’s power point lectures and have them ready for adding my notes. This was especially helpful for subjects like pathology and physiology. Couple the power points with digital recordings of the lecture or my own digital summaries and I had a visual and aural review. I purchased a motion detector alarm for my laptop so that it didn’t develop “legs” and walk off.

Cut Text Books
I would take my textbooks to Kinkos after I had removed the front and back covers. I would have them cut the binding and punch three holes in the sheets so that I could place the pages in a three-ringed binder. I would removed only the pages that pertained to what I was studying for a particular lecture or week and place them in a separate (small binder) that was divided by subject. I would leave the rest of my textbook at home. My small 3-ring binder would have each subject for the day, the pages of text and the appropriate syllabus pages. I would preview each lecture the night before and add what I thought I would need for the day.

Multiple Highlighters
I love nice highlighters but I used them as I outlined above. I would circle things; highlight a single word or use them for checking things off. I really didn’t do much highlighting in my textbooks. I kept a pencil box with my highlighters, colored pencils and pens ready for my use.

MP3 Player
This device is as necessary to my studying as my notes. I love to have some music playing in the background when I study. My player has video and radio so I can take a break, catch up on the news and listen to good radio when I am in the mood. I have my favorite songs for every mood and situation. My player is good for drowning out background noise such as subway noise. I generally keep the volume low so as not to damage my hearing.

Study Tactics

Sometimes I can pace and study. I take my notes and just recite to myself out loud. This is especially helpful when I don’t understand something. Sometimes just listening to myself read the concept out loud or paraphrase it, can help me to remember it.

I also question myself or imagine how my instructor will question a particular concept. Some things just lend themselves to multiple choice questions. All of the following are branches of the external carotid artery EXCEPT. Other things lend themselves to True-False or Matching.

My attention span is about 50 minutes so I would set a kitchen timer for 50 minutes. I would study my notes for that 50 minutes and take a 10-minute break. On my break, I would get a drink, move around, get a breath of fresh air but I would do anything except continue to sit and look at a page of notes. When I returned from my break, my mind would be ready to focus.

In terms of avoiding distractions, I would study in Starbucks or study in the undergraduate library. I would be less likely to be interrupted in locations outside of the medical library or in a classroom at my medical school. I tended not to study at home because I wanted my home to be a sanctuary where I could completely relax. I never, never studied in the bedroom. My bed was for sleeping (or extra curricular activities) but not a place to study.

Finally, I got rid of the telly. This device can be a huge time-waster. If you have telly programs that you must watch, tape them and watch them when you have free time. I know that folks are hooked on Gray’s Anatomy, ER and the like, but tape the show and set aside some time on a Saturday or Sunday to watch. This can be your reward for getting the week’s studying done.

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25 May, 2007 - Posted by | medical school, study skills

4 Comments »

  1. This is exactly what I need to be reading before starting my program. Very helpful information. Really like the idea of using a large binder for book and smaller one for daily use. I thank you for your posts.

    Comment by PLJanuary | 22 July, 2012 | Reply

    • To PLJanuary:
      I always forget to mention that having the smaller daily binder allows one to concentrate on the task at hand rather than thinking about a huge amount of information. Smaller chunks of information are much easier to digest than larger ones. Good luck with your program. Always remember that once classes get underway, the time goes by very quickly.

      Comment by drnjbmd | 22 July, 2012 | Reply

  2. Thanks a lot, these advise has motivated. I was less motivated before i read this. Thank you very much.

    Comment by Kiro | 22 February, 2009 | Reply

  3. Do you realize the extent to which pre-med undergrads, graduate students, medical students, etc. are drooling over these blogs? Haha. Honestly, I’ve taken to heart practically all of your advice, from exercise habits to purchasing a digital recorder. In fact, in re-reading this blog I realized I had purchased the newest version of your recorder! I’m looking forward to re-reading these throughout the year as I persevere through my studies and try new strategies. Thank you for taking the time to post such useful, honest, and detailed advice. Good luck to you in all of your endeavors!

    Comment by nmwitty | 28 July, 2007 | Reply


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