Top Study Tips for Your First Semester of Medical School

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • The first semester of medical school can be very overwhelming. Many students who achieved high grades in high school or college may struggle to find the same success in medical school due to the sheer volume of material. The following tips can help you to successfully navigate the first semester of medical school.

    Develop a routine.

    Time management becomes increasingly important in medical school. The best way to appropriately manage time is to develop a routine. A regular routine will help to ensure you have time to go to class, study, and manage obligations or hobbies outside of medical school. It is especially important to learn to be more efficient in medical school, and blocking off certain times to study, work out, and sleep will help you to most appropriately manage your time.

    Repetition, repetition, repetition!

    Lots of repetition is key to retaining material in medical school. I recommend students use the “three passes” approach to remember lecture material, perform well on coursework exams, and retain material for step 1. First, students attend lecture (or listen to a recording) and take notes underneath the powerpoint slide on everything the lecturer says. The goal is to write down anything that is said that is not already on the slide to make it easier for you to understand the material when you go back to study it. Then, I recommend students go home and study a “first pass” of all the lectures from that day. The following day, they re-study the lectures from the day before to get a “second pass,” and on the weekend they re-study all lectures to get a “third pass.” While extremely effective, this method is also very time consuming; in order to keep it up, on most days students will need to 1. Listen to all new lectures and take notes, 2. Review a first pass of all those new lectures and 3. Review a second pass of all lectures from the day before. On weekends, every single lecture should be re-studied. Although challenging, this method is highly successful for students both struggling to pass as well as those aiming for top grades on their coursework exams.

    Ask for help.

    Many medical students are used to being very successful. Things may have come easy for them in the past, and they may not be accustomed to asking for help. In medical school, seeking help from professors or a tutor can not only help a struggling student pass but can also help a top student be that much stronger. Tutors can give you tips and tricks to master your exams, and professors will appreciate your initiative and help you identify areas for improvement. I recommend all students reach out to their professors with any concerns. Some students choose to open up an email to their professor as they study a lecture on their own for the first time and write down every question that comes up as they go through the powerpoint. Many professors will appreciate that you reach out to them with questions and some may even suggest what topics are more or less likely to be tested.

    Don’t compare yourself to others.

    One of the most important lessons to learn to achieve success and happiness in medical school is to stop comparing yourself to others. This is easier said than done, as medical school is an environment that breeds competition. We had to out-compete thousands of applicants just to gain admission. Then, once we are admitted, many schools have grades or rankings, and we feel pressured to be at the top or achieve high scores to open the door to our favorite residencies. With that said, we must remember that everyone learns in their own way and at their own pace. You will hear about a classmate who did 1,000 practice questions before a test when you only had time to do 100. Or that peer who never studied on the weekends will one day get a higher grade than you. You must learn to work hard on your own accord and not pay attention to how or what everyone else is doing. By constantly comparing yourself to others, you will always feel defeated. Instead, be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Realize how incredible it is to be where you already are today, and just worry about doing your best.

    It’s no question that the first semester of medical school represents a big time of change. But by following these tips, you can successfully navigate the beginning of your career in medicine.