The lightbulb moment

I recently had a change of study technique. My study methods up until now have been blatantly copying other students. I’m that chick who accosts you in the library and says “soooo what are you doing with that highlighter there, aye? ahhh you highlight your notes, huh? cool…”

I used flashcards because I saw someone doing it. I used a folder with tabs and bound notes because I saw someone do it. I handwrote my notes because someone told me it sticks better in your brain when you’re forced to write it (It kind of does, especially if you’re a fast typist). I bought books that people even half heartedly recommended.

But I still borderlined failed the neuro/psych/msk exam. Which made me cry. In a heap. In the shower. A lot. I was so down about it and felt like there was nothing I could do, because clearly my brain didn’t work the same way that other people’s did, as they all read the questions correctly and I was still reading them a completely different way. And forgetting stuff that I’d known when we did it in PBL.

But then in one moment the emo clouds disappeared and I realised that just because I was going through the motions of ‘studying’ like my friends it didn’t mean that I knew what I was doing. So, I googled “How to learn medicine”. Which is almost full circle from when I googled “how to get into medicine” in early 2008. I couldn’t believe it took THIS long for it to occur to me to actually research how you acquire large volumes of knowledge. Psychologists STUDY that kind of shit and here I was thinking I could just, like, do it by watching other people and buying some pretty stationary?

The results were amazing. On an overseas med student forum I found this gold:

To be a good student, the intangibles are required: work-ethic, dedication, and self-confidence.

However, in medical school, you will discover that almost everyone has that. The filtering process of undergraduate has removed most of those that lacked these intangibles. At this point it comes down to study method. The students who have the best methods are called geniuses. The students who have the worst methods flunk out or barely pass.

Good study method comes down to just a few things.

  1. You must understand the material by translating it in your own language.
  2. You must then review the material over and over again.
  3. You need to see the material at least 4 times with an optimum of at least 6 times.
  4. And finally, you need to review over several days.”

The most common mistakes made by medical students

1. Over-simplifying the material

2. Just reading and rereading the material. You must make your own notes in your own words and your own diagrams

3. Don’t review the material the week before the test. You must do it over the whole block.

Once I tentatively talked to a few people about it, it turns out a lot of students do this. Make sure they review a topic once every day for a few days to get it to stick. I’d just been reading it once, then waiting until study week (because that’s when you study, right?) and “reviewing” it and wondering why I wasn’t remembering stuff.


But now through trial and error I know what works for me. I think.

1. Pre-reading before a lecture.

2. Reading immediately after a lecture.

3. Writing in my owns word, turning the concept into a dirty story/poem or a song.

4. Painting and drawing for anatomy

5. Typing during a lecture, then reading over it to edit the grammar, then reading again to format the document. So by the end I’ve read the notes three times and have an easy to read formatted document.

6. writing one page per concept in a book. then condense hard to remember stuff on flashcards.

I hope this works. We’ll find out in three weeks.


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7 Responses to “The lightbulb moment”

  1. *C Says:

    Welcome back! I wondered what happened to you. Glad to hear you’re finding your groove. My library buddy and I were discussing way-back-when we started this course (my god, how long-short time it’s been!) what we thought constituted study… pretty study notes that we never returned to, text books that stayed on the shelves, coloured markers and post-its, and pictures and mind-maps that were mostly a waste of space.

    I’ve slowly been learning that medicine is just about the hard yards you put in – saying that, I still draw the line on too much study. Yes, perhaps I could get better marks, but life is for the living, right? I’m quite content to be average if it means I still feel human.

    Good luck with the exams ahead and looking forward to hearing more from you in the holiday time!


    PS. Thanks for the tips – I like the idea of pre-reading lectures. Maybe next year?!

    • C Says:

      Oh thank you 🙂 I dropped off the face of the cyber world for a while and am only just catching up with your last few months. Email pending. So much to say.

      I also thought coloured markers and post its were the shit. and pre-reading lectures is made quite difficult by the fact that some don’t get uploaded until months after the speaker hasth spoketh. But google is my boyfriend then. 🙂

      Good luck with your exams as well!

      ps and I love that you have a library buddy. I suppose we have a library posse…but we’re all kind of separate (but united in our exasperation over the undergrad dental students who use the library as the centre stage of their Gossip Girl lives).

      • *C Says:

        Ha! My library buddies sound like your library posse – we don’t study together as much as knowing each other is there somehow urges me along. We too are separate, yet united in our exasperation at the students from other faculties who use OUR library to study! (I have become very territorial about my library these days :P) And then of course we have coffee breaks and lunch together – which makes the world go round and everything bearable.

        Ah! So looking forward to holidays – just get past these exams and hooray! Freedom! (for a while) and then clinical! I’m nervous and excited about the idea of stepping onto the wards. But till then – happy study!

  2. Hayley Says:

    You can do it! You’re going to finish soon and you’re going to be an awesome doctor.

  3. docboyblog Says:

    hey C loved your post, was actually waiting to come across a kind of this type. i am totally following your every posts and being a fan of yours with every passing posts 😀 well i guess your life in med school isn’t as crappy as mine is. well i am lookin forward for sunnier days LOL 😀

  4. --Sunrise-- Says:

    This post absolutely struck a chord with me, just wanted to let you know. 🙂

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