Medical degrees are well known for being amongst the hardest courses you can study at university. Not only are they longer than a regular degree – five years – but they also demand huge amounts of knowledge retainment, excellent writing skills, practical assessments, and lengthy exams.
Medical students have to rise to the challenges of their degree and build disciplined and habitual study practices to ensure that they pass. Most medical students work hard, but top medical students are amongst the hardest working undergraduates you will find.
So how do top medical students study?
We are going to take a look at some of the study practices of top medical students and suggest ways you can develop such habits to achieve successful results.
How do top medical students study?
The most important factor of any study schedule is discipline. The only person pushing you is yourself and maintaining discipline and consistency will allow you to achieve your long term goals over time.
Before embarking on your medical education it can be a good idea to try a short summer course to prepare yourself for the demands of the degree and see if you definitely want to study in medical school. The Medical Schools Council runs a competitive medical residency program for prospective students at medical colleges up and down the country. There are also summer medical schools at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Imperial College London.
So let’s jump in and take a look at some study tips to help you get to the level of a top medical student.
Study tips for medical students
Everyone has their own methods of studying, from coloured revision cards to verbal mnemonics. Whatever your style and methods are, your routine and habits around your study schedule are also important to ensure that you achieve success, and in many cases, these factors determine academic achievement.
Here, we will take a look at some of the habitual practices you should develop to build your discipline and get you working at the same level as highly successful medical students.
Waking up early and completing tasks that need doing before studying – such as eating, exercising, and anything else that fits into your routine – is a key marker of successful students and of success in general.
People at the top of their game, including medical students, are keenly aware of how valuable time is. Waking up early gives you a few hours of solitude to prepare yourself before the rest of the world kicks into action.
Productivity levels are generally higher earlier in the day too. So, generally speaking, if you have your morning routine complete and are ready to work by 8 am, your studying will benefit more than if you are ready to work by 11 am.
Build a studying habit
Studying requires discipline and practice. Like physical exercise, it is very hard for someone who is not used to studying to go from zero hours of studying a day to seven hours of studying a day.
So if you are looking to start a strict study schedule like that of a top medical student, then start small but maintain consistency and discipline. Even if your schedule begins with just half an hour every other day, it gives you a foundation to build upon. You can then add a few minutes or hours to your study sessions every fortnight, month, or week, it’s up to you, just as long as you maintain discipline.
Building the study habits of a top medical student can take a while, so it’s best to start as early as you can during the course of your university studies.
One of the most important aspects of successful studying is to have a study plan with your goals, deadlines, and revision requirements laid out in a realistic and achievable timetable. Once you have planned your studies it is much easier to keep track of how well you are keeping up with the demands of your course.
Top medical students will usually plan seven to eight hours of studying a day, including lectures and tutorials. They may even increase to twelve hours of studying in the build-up to a big exam.
However many hours you set aside for studying, be sure to pay attention to your mental and physical health. There is no point in studying hard if it makes you burn out in the end because you will cause more harm than good. Try and schedule one day a week of rest or at least a half-day if a full day is not possible.
Talk to tutors and classmates
Studying can be a solitary and isolating process, but it is wise to remember that studying can include meetings and discussions with courses tutors and reading or discussion groups with coursemates.
Your tutors should have a few hours a week during which their offices are open to students who want to discuss any work with them and you should make as much use of this as you can! It is not often you will have a leading expert in a medical field whose brain you can pick and advice you can seek.
Setting up regular study sessions with coursemates is also a good chance to pool your knowledge, ask one another for help, and enjoy (a small amount of) socialising in your breaks.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock when we say that spending hours every day at a computer or hunched over a book isn’t great for your overall physical health. You should always aim to do some exercise every day, but when you are in an intensive study period it is especially important.
Exercise doesn’t have to be the hot, sweaty, physically exhausting kind either, it can be as simple as going for a walk, doing some yoga, or stretching in the morning. Be sure to factor physical exercise into your timetable and make sure you stick to it, even if it means finishing your studies half an hour early.
Physical exercise boosts your motivation, improves your mood, and will increase your overall productivity throughout the day. A top medical student knows the importance of exercise and will undoubtedly schedule a good amount of time for physical activity into their day.
Students in the medical sciences know about the importance of a good night’s sleep better than anyone. A good sleeping pattern can change the course of your whole studying life and it is known that getting a good amount of sleep improves your concentration, reactions, and overall attention span.
Of course, when you are cooped up studying all day it can be hard to switch off and get rested, so it is important that you do everything you can to assist your sleep. Try and make sure you have at least three hours after studying during which you can switch off and unwind. Don’t eat less than two hours before sleeping and try and avoid consuming caffeine after 4 pm.
It is also important to get up and go to bed at the same time so your body gets used to your circadian rhythm and knows exactly when to switch off and when to wake up. Try to not look at screens for at least an hour before your bedtime and if you simply cannot sleep at night, get up and do something relaxing rather than lying in bed. And even if you can’t sleep, be sure to get up at your regular time the next day so as not to disrupt your overall sleeping pattern.
When you are in an intense study period it can be tempting to constantly reward yourself with delicious unhealthy food or to simply eat whatever is quickest and easiest. However, unhealthy food will make you sluggish and tired and can leave you feeling restless and bloated afterwards.
Pay attention to what you are eating while you study and try to maintain a healthy, varied diet. Incorporate fresh, whole foods into each meal, such as fruit with your breakfast, salad with your lunch and vegetables at dinner. Fish is great for boosting your concentration levels and if you don’t eat fish or meat, load up on berries, nuts, pulses (chickpeas, lentils, etc.), and greens. Carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are good slow energy burners, but they can leave you feeling stodgy and full so try and have them only cover a quarter of your plate.
Do what works for you
Ultimately everyone is different and different routines and habits work better for different people. For example, most people work better in the mornings but a few do work better later in the day. You should spend some time outside of intense study periods trying to find out exactly what works well for you while you study.
As long as you maintain discipline and keep to a strict schedule you can work to any routine that suits your style of studying and everything you need to fit around it.