If you thought cramming for your organic-chemistry exam during college was rough, then medical school might just break you. Not only is there way more material to absorb, there’s also the never-ending lectures, labs, homework and exams.
But that doesn’t mean you have to live out the stereotype of the half-asleep, stressed-out medical student.
We spoke with Dr. Linda Tewksbury, the associate dean for student affairs at NYU School of Medicine, to find out how students can ease into the transition and conquer their first year.
Forming a study group with like-minded classmates is crucial when it comes to getting through medical school, says Tewksbury. “That’s really the key — not isolating and locking yourself in your room to study all the time,” she says. After all, one of the best ways to understand new material is by working with others. “You might find a friend whose strengths you can complement,” she explains. “They might have a study strategy that you never thought of, or they may be able to explain something to you that all of a sudden makes it crystal clear.”
Plus, there’s the added benefit of having somebody to talk through the material with. And at the end of the day, “that’s how you know if you really understand something — if you can explain it to somebody else.”
You might have procrastinated your way through college, but those same tactics certainly won’t cut it when you get to medical school, says Tewksbury. For one, there’s so much more material being presented on a daily basis. “If you’re not doing some work everyday, once you fall behind it gets really difficult to catch up.” In other words, students need to make it a point to stay up to date with the lecture material. Even if you’re not attending class — lectures are often taped — make sure to go back and review the recordings on a regular basis, says the expert. Exam day might seem far away, but the reality is, “cramming just doesn’t work in medical school.”
Don’t get discouraged
If you don’t do so well on the first exam — don’t fret. “It really does take a couple of months for students to figure out a good study strategy that works for them,” says Tewksbury.
And even when they’ve mastered their crunch-time habits, there’s always a bigger challenge at hand: kicking the college mind-set. These students are used to getting high 90s on all of their exams, “so it’s a big shocker for them to not be at the top of the class,” she explains. “They have to just keep reminding themselves that that’s OK.” After all, the goal shouldn’t be to earn the title of “brightest in the class,” says Tewksbury. “It should really be to learn as much as they can to take care of the patients.”