Top 5 Concerns of Struggling Medical Coursework Students & What To Do About Them

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Congratulations  you’ve faced the challenges of the med school admissions process and are finally living your dream of attending medical school. Unfortunately, things are not going as planned. Your professors are hard to understand, there’s a ton of lecture material, and let’s face it  you performed poorly on your first set of exams, and you feel like you’re struggling. At Med School Tutors, we’ve worked with many students just like you, and we’re here to help put your mind at ease by responding to the top 5 concerns that students in your situation express when they reach out to us. Here goes!

    The Top 5 Challenges of Medical School Coursework:

    1. “I’m not a good test taker.”/”I don’t do well on multiple-choice exams.”

    We have news for you doing well on exams is a science, not an art, and it’s a skill that can be learned! Step 1: develop good study habits to master your course material. Step 2: practice, practice, practice! Utilize Qbanks like UWorld (our favorite), Kaplan, and others, and don’t forget to do ALL the practice questions that your professor or upperclassmen may provide. It’s a worthwhile investment, since you will face multiple choice questions not only in medical school but on the USMLEs, board certification exams, and even recertification exams throughout your career.

    2. “I have a liberal arts background, not science!”

    Majored in History, Global Health, English, or Anthropology instead of Biology? Good for you! Your future patients will benefit from any experience that makes you a well-rounded and compassionate physician. Your unique background sets you apart in good ways! On a practical note, though, we’ve seen it time and time again: no matter how many biochemistry or microbiology courses a medical student may have taken as an undergrad, the playing field levels out very quickly by the middle of the M1 year. Everyone has a lot to learn.

    3. “I have a previously diagnosed learning disorder.”

    Do you have a history of dyslexia, nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD), or ADHD? You are not alone! Our experience with thousands of medical students attests to the fact that many just like you have not only passed but excelled in medical school. Our general advice is: start with what’s worked for you in the past. If you aced your college courses with the help of a tutor, find a knowledgeable 1:1 medical tutor to guide you (we can help!). If you learn best with visual mnemonics, check out the Sketchy Medical series. If videos are your thing, Osmosis and others have great content. There are a plethora of resources that fit different learning styles, so when you find what works, stick to it! Also, most medical schools have an academic support team and it doesn’t hurt to check in and introduce yourself early on, even if you don’t end up needing extra support. Their job is to help you succeed!

    4. “I’m overwhelmed by all the lecture materials and resources and don’t know how to study it all.”

    We’re with you: there’s a tremendous quantity of material thrown at you during the preclinical years. What’s more, you’ve got to learn a whole new language of medicine to go with it! Here’s where we advise that structure is key. Look at your syllabus, make a schedule, and hold yourself accountable for it. The devil is in the details: we like to see hour-by-hour calendars that incorporate dedicated times for studying and review leading up to each set of exams. Don’t limit your schedule to studying, though: pencil in breaks, days off, and plenty of “me time” to de-stress and do what you enjoy most. We also recommend early use of spaced repetition platforms like Anki, Memorang, or Firecracker to reinforce the knowledge you’ve acquired. You’ll hear us talking about spaced repetition again when you start your Step 1 prep next year.

    5. “Everyone here is smarter than me!”

    Whether you’re a student at top-tier Harvard/Stanford/Hopkins/NYU/UPenn or or are attending the US News and World Report’s lowest-ranked school, it’s natural to compare yourself to your classmates and to feel like you’re not measuring up. Our advice is don’t. It is distracting and detracts you from your personal goal of becoming the best physician you can possibly be for your patients. That’s why you’re in medical school, right? And by the way: we know your classmates are thinking the same about you they’re telling us!

    Bottom line: Kudos to you on beginning your medical journey. Didn’t get the strong start that you had hoped for? All is not lost. Buckle down, focus, study hard, practice, and success will follow! Good luck, and remember that we’re always here to help!