JaNeil Humphrey is a senior biology major at Oakwood University. You can follow her on instagram.
We all dread them, but we all need them! Effective Study notes are essential when tackling the mounds of information we need to learn. Having a fixed study style and routine will come in handy moving forward while studying for the MCAT. It will serve as a basis of your study style for the enormous amount of material learned in medical school. Here’s are some ways to give your study notes a tune-up:
Know your style:
Knowing your learning/study style is key to designing a study style that works for you. Do you work best by yourself or in a group? What is your learning style? For many people, excluding the lucky people who have a photographic memory, reading a textbook for even an hour straight can result in little to no retention of material. The types of learning styles can be remembered using the acronym ‘VARK’: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic. From the way information is retained during lecture sections, to when it is regurgitated on tests and assessments, study habits geared towards your learning style should be used as much as possible:
- Visual: Your primary focus should be to view the information in as many different ways as possible. You should be drawing the concepts discussed in the lecture to create a mental picture in your mind of what is learned. Your notes should include diagrams, figures, and tables, and should be color-coded or colorful. Flashcards may be helpful too(Pro tip: using one side of your notebook pages or using blank sheets of paper to take notes may work best for people with this learning style)
- Auditory: Your main focus should be to hear the information as much as possible. It is very essential to attend the lecture sessions (physically or electronically) to hear the material explained by the professor. If possible, you should be recording and listening to explanations of the material. You can even make rhymes or short songs to help remember the information.
- Read/Write: Your main focus should be to read or write about the information as much as possible. This is different from visual learners because you might not need picture aids or figures to gain a full understanding of the material. You should always have access to a dictionary or references. Taking notes during lectures and rewriting those notes in different forms (outlines, Cornell style, etc.) will also be advantageous.
- Kinesthetic: Your primary focus is to experience the material from many angles. This is a great opportunity to get hands-on clinical experience outside of the classroom. Setting up a preceptorship, shadowing, or volunteering at hospitals and clinics are great ways to get a hands-on experience of the content learned (although it is not likely to learn concepts in the order of your syllabus). Either way, it is possible to integrate movement and hands-on activities that are relevant to topics as they are taught. A kinesthetic learner would benefit from the use of physical models, or by acting out concepts in short skits or routines.
- Make time to experience the material at least 3 times before assessment: No matter what your learning style is, repetition is key. Before any test, it is best to experience the material (visually, audibly, via reading/ writing, or kinesthetically) as much as possible, and not less than three times. This can be done by yourself or in a group to maximize the reinforcement of the content.
- Prioritize courses by giving them the bulk of study time: Allocate enough study time for each class depending on the demands of each course. This will help especially in undergrad when you’ll need to dedicate more mental space to your science courses than your gen-ed courses.
- Take breaks: It is unrealistic to study 5 hours straight without stopping. Even preparing for and taking the MCAT, utilizing break time improves performance. To maximize your study sessions, use the ten-minute rule: for every hour spent studying, take a 10-minute break to exercise, eat, or to simply relax. For example: if you plan a three-hour study session, take a break for 30 minutes. An alternative, and a personal favorite, is a relaxing study activity during the break time. I like to draw, and so I take breaks from heavy studying by drawing multiple diagrams of what I’m learning.
- Plan ahead/follow syllabus: Use your syllabus or lesson objectives given at the beginning of each course as a basis of your study plan. Anticipating upcoming tests or content-heavy sections will help you adjust your schedule accordingly. It will also make processing all of the information you will learn less overwhelming.
- Be flexible: The study skills used in college may not work in medical school due to the increased volume of material to be covered. Let go of any study activities and methods that do not work as soon as possible! Get creative and be open to adapting your study skills as your life changes.
- Study in the morning: If you’re getting a good night’s rest every night, your brain is at its maximum potential to retain information in the morning. Because the purpose of rest is to reset and rejuvenate the mind, planning morning study sessions can improve your productivity.
- Have a designated study space: Keeping a clean, tidy, and organized study space will limit any distractions for the material at hand. See the module on Staying Organized for more information. Also, finding somewhere quiet to study will increase your productivity. If you can’t find somewhere without clutter or noise, try things that will make whatever space you have suitable for learning. If you live too far from a library or student center and have to study in your room, make sure your room is a little colder than normal, and make sure your bed is clear of extra blankets and pillows. If the library or study space you frequent is noisy, invest in some good headphones, make a study playlist (traditional jazz or classical music work best), and listen away!
Here are some resources that can help you study: