Tips for Studying On-the-Go During Med School
- Jan 26, 2023
Stop me if this sounds familiar: To keep on track with your study plan, you’ve got 1000 Anki cards, 100 practice questions, and 10 videos to finish this week. On top of that, you’re required to be present and prepared for your clinical rotations and you have to plan your study goals around your class schedule.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes it feels like our entire study plan is based on how much we can study “on the go,” like the 15 minutes between clinic patients or the unexpected 30-minute break after a case in the operating room. This is the time we work so hard to capture but often tends to slip through our hands.
The good news is, while you can’t anticipate every break, you can have a plan for how you’d use them. To maximize study time and find wiggle room in your otherwise jam-packed schedule, try these strategies!
Med School Study Tips: Studying “On-the-Go”
1. Identify sizable gaps within your day.
At the end of the day, I like to reflect on how and where my time was spent. This helps me identify where I can squeeze some studying in. During the pre-clinical phase, I found time between classes and labs. These break times were usually predictable and offered a fair amount of study time. I could plan to complete a task during these breaks and feel confident that I would be successful.
During clinical rotations, some breaks were predictable, but most were very random and could be anywhere from five minutes to two hours. It can take some trial and error to find what tasks you can accomplish on the go, especially when you don’t know when the breaks are coming and how long they will last.
2. Set priorities in your study plan content.
Once your breaks are identified, look at your study plan. What needs to be done, which tasks are you comfortable doing away from your normal study spot, and what resources are required to effectively tackle your prep?
In particular, Blueprint’s Cram Fighter is a great resource to help create a personalized study plan to prepare for USMLE, COMPLEX, and shelf exams. It incorporates the resources you use and is adaptable in real-time based on what you accomplish today, tomorrow, and every day that comes. This adaptability is wonderful because we are constantly forced to adapt, especially on clinical rotations when time is not in our control.
Personally, I like to prioritize the most important pieces of my study plan into predictable parts of my daily schedule. For example, say I have 45 minutes of time between clinic patients every Thursday morning, which is a great place to crank through a small set of Qbank questions on an app (such as AMBOSS and UWorld). When I have a clinical rotation 30 miles away, I like to find a relevant podcast to listen to. There are many podcasts that are tailored to either USMLE/COMLEX content, or the specific clinical rotation you’re on.
For the 15-minute breaks, many students find it hard to accomplish anything in such little time. For some, doing a few practice questions is useful while for others, it’s hard to mentally engage in short spurts. This is where I like looking through my study plan. For instance, Cram Fighter may have assigned some boards and beyond or Sketchy content for you, and if you can predict a 15-minute break you can plan to put a video into the break.
3. Prepare for unplanned free time.
What about unplanned breaks during the day? The ones that randomly pop up and you have no clue when the attending/resident is going to dismiss you or assign another task. These are tricky. I found it hard to motivate myself to do practice questions if my ‘break’ could end in the next minute. This is a great place to put flash cards like Anki, content review, or some of those videos on your study plan.
The key here is being prepared and taking advantage of the breaks when they come. It’s easy to aimlessly sit or scroll through our phones if we feel like our break is only going to be five minutes. Sometimes it is, but when it ends up being 30-45 minutes, most of us wish we accomplished something. Having your resources picked out and on hand is important to give yourself the best chance of using that time.
4. Have the right study tools on hand.
As we mentioned, Blueprint’s Cram Fighter can be a powerful tool to easily create a personalized med school study plan, no matter the exam.
Additionally, mobile apps like UWorld and Anki can be time-friendly resources. If you don’t feel like you can accomplish practice questions during short breaks, you can simply go to the last question you flagged and spend a few minutes on your phone trying to understand the knowledge gap in that specific question. If reading is your jam, there are plenty of pocket textbooks for rotations. I found this strategy particularly useful because it was a very structured way to spend unstructured time.
Keeping these resources on you and readily available makes studying far more efficient. On your clinical rotations, this can also be a great way to connect what you see and do every day to the material you study at home and in-between clinical obligations. If you connect the two, you can reinforce exam topics on the go, as a natural part of your clinical day.
For example, say you recently missed a question on the antibiotic choice for pneumonia and you were just asked to develop a treatment plan for a patient with pneumonia. Whip out the Pocket Medicine textbook, quickly read the guidelines, and as you move forward with treatment you can connect that patient to future exam questions.
Try making a list of these big-ticket topics (like treating pneumonia, COPD, or hypertension) then add a topic to the list if you identify a knowledge gap from a question.
5. Know when a break is better than a cram session.
Sometimes, 5 minutes is just 5 minutes and the time is truly best spent giving yourself a mental break. Sometimes, 5 minutes is best spent scrolling through Instagram. Sometimes it’s more important to spend your 30-minute commute listening to music or a podcast about volcanoes.
The grind of studying can be stressful and feel non-stop, so remember to plan breaks for yourself. If studying on the go is creeping into your wellness, maybe it’s time to set boundaries for when you’ll study and what breaks are better spent refreshing yourself. Medical school is a marathon and studying on the go is a great way to use your time more efficiently, but remember to practice self-care during your med school experience.
About the Author
I attended Purdue University for undergrad and completed a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering with a Pre-medical focus and then continued my journey to Indiana University for Medical School. I am currently in my fourth and final year of medical school with the intention of pursuing a career in academic general surgery. Over this time, I have worked as a tutor for over 10 years, including several years working as a tutor in the department of engineering and now tutoring medical school exams exclusively with Blueprint. I am currently interested in either vascular or trauma surgery but as I prepare for general surgery residency, I have an open mind. As a fun fact, I have worked as a personal trainer for 5+ years and currently own and operate a personal training business.