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Studying in Medical School

Written by Jordan Branch, a third year medical student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine

Studying for Medical School

As you have probably heard before, medical school is a marathon, not a sprint. One thing that can really help you survive the race is appropriate and effective study habits. Establish your habits as early as possible so that you can apply them long term to achieve your goals. Here are a few things to think about when it comes to studying for medical school:

How are you studying?

A huge part of effective studying is using as much of your time as possible in active (vs passive) learning. Active learning taps into your recall and cognitive skills much more than passive learning does. Here are a few examples of active learning compared to passive learning:



–       Practice Questions

–       Concept mapping

–       Flashcards

–       Reading a textbook

–       Watching videos/lectures

–       Writing notes


Adjust as needed so that you are actively learning whenever possible. Even if you are a student that prefers reading texts or watching videos, try turning your studying into active learning by using a white board to rewrite the information you’ve just reviewed from memory. Any activity that encourages you to recall information will lead to long-term memory and understanding.

Where are you studying?

Learn the environment that works best for you when it comes to studying. Many schools have study areas and workspaces available for their students. Determine if you can be efficient at home or need to stay at school for a few hours to be productive on campus. Some students prefer to go off campus and study in coffee shops. Many factors can contribute to where you study best. Decide if you want to (and can effectively) study alone or with a small group of friends. Do you need a space with a white board? Can you focus in the midst of background noise? Having the right environment will make or break your study sessions.

What are you studying with?

There are a wide variety of studying tools and resources available for medical school. Take advice from people who have come before you on what resources they’ve used, but do not fall into the trap of trying and buying everything. Many programs are available and often provide a variety of study materials in one subscription – question banks, flashcards, videos, and content summaries. There are some “golden standards” when it comes to preparing for standardized exams i.e. Step and shelf exams, or certain topics like pathology. Otherwise, take advantage of trials and pick the few resources that work best for you and your study preferences.

If you have study habits that worked well for you previously, start with those. As you matriculate, adjust your habits as needed. Be aware that different courses will require different habits. For example, anatomy lab is a lot more memory-based than pathology or physiology. Determine the methods, environment, and resources that work best for you and stay consistent along the way.

Here are some popular resources you might come across:

  • Pathoma: textbook and correlating videos that cover the most high-yield pathology topics, great for quick review and ways to memorize info once you’ve seen it in lecture
  • Boards and Beyond: another collection of videos that covers everything from pathology to physiology to anatomy. Videos tend to be longer than Pathoma and build from basic knowledge so can be useful as another learning tool as well as review.
  • Sketchy: a collection of goofy, animated video intended to help you memorize material. Most popular for their Microbiology material, but there is also a Pharmacology and Pathology collection.
  • Anki: free flashcard app – many students have created and shared premade decks that you can search and download from Reddit, or you can make your own cards. Great system for spatial learning and reiteration of misunderstood information.
  • USMLE Rx: a system for reviewing that offers a question bank, flash cards, and videos. The questions are generally more fact and recall based, making them a little easier than most standardized exam questions, but could be very useful for school test preparation or early Step prep.
  • UWorld: the golden standard question bank for Step exam prep, used for Step1 – Step3 and comes with a few practice exams. Many schools receive discounts for their students so check on that when the time comes to purchase.
  • Kaplan: question bank that some students use for Step 1 prep. Also has the options of customizable plans with quizzes, as well as tutoring services. Similar difficulty level to UWorld questions.
  • Amboss: another Step 1 prep question bank. This platform is slightly harder than UWorld, with questions ranging from level 1-5 difficulty. They also include slightly more “zebra questions”, i.e. extremely rare diagnoses that are less likely to be seen or tested.
  • First Aid: the “time-proven blueprint for Step 1 success”, it’s a textbook filled with mnemonics, graphs, and images about all of the high yield Step 1 topics. Also available as a PDF version, it’s intended to be a concise, catch-all source.
  • Online MedEd: provides free high-yield clinical review videos (more useful for M3). With prescription, you also get access to questions and notes.


This list is not comprehensive and there are many other resources that exist. Most of them are similar with small quirks to set them apart from others. Find the few you like best and run with them.


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