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8 Practical Time Management and Study Strategies for Medical Students

Created November 13, 2017 by Eric Brown
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There’s no question that medical school is tough, especially when you consider the amount of material you need to cover in a few short years. Even if you’re putting in the hard work and making every effort to keep up with your studies, the stress of trying to juggle multiple activities and deadlines can impact both your physical and mental health.

Learning how to manage your time better will help you maintain academic performance as well as a life outside of school. 
Here are 8 strategies that will help you build strong time management skills in medical school, when you need them most:

1. Set a Daily and Weekly Schedule – Build a schedule of all your tasks and use a planner to stay organized. In medical school, time is your biggest asset. Planning daily and weekly tasks allows you to set aside time for academic activities such as lectures and tests, on-campus club or interest groups, as well as personal hobbies and interests. You can use a notebook or diary as your planner, or an online app on your computer or phone. List important tasks such as tests, appointments and meetings with fixed timetables first, and schedule gym sessions, movie nights, homework and other tasks around them.

2. Develop a Habit of Consistency – College is usually too packed with activities for you to stick to a routine, but try to be as consistent as possible. If your body settles into a rhythm for waking, sleeping, eating and exercising at the same time daily, it becomes easier for you to focus and stick to your planned schedule. This is especially important when it comes to sleep schedules before exams, since all-nighters and lack of rest can affect your efficiency, energy and focus. Set yourself a time to go to bed every night so you aren’t forcing your body to keep adapting to changing routines.

3. Stay Away from Distractions – At least while studying, turn off your cellphone or put it on silent. Sign out of social media if you’re working on your computer or laptop. This removes the temptation of checking each message, email, or update you receive, and helps you focus on studying instead. Constant distractions can cut into your study or homework time and cause it to drag on longer than needed. If you get rid of distractions before you begin, you will be able to study more efficiently and finish up faster. Quality study time also leaves you free to pursue other activities later.

4. Attend Lectures and Pay Attention – It can be tempting to skip certain classes, especially if they are streamed online and you can watch them when you choose to. But you must make your decision keeping your personal grasping power and retention capabilities. Take your time to understand what works better for you; attending classes as and when they are scheduled or going through all the recorded sessions later. Either way, make your decision keeping your study schedule in mind; and if you prefer watching multiple lectures in one go, be sure to regularly dedicate time to do so. By scheduling time for your lectures in your study plan regularly, you will be able to keep up with your course and avoid instances of overburdening yourself towards the end of your preparatory period.

5. Prioritize and Schedule Study Blocks – As opposed to trying to fit in study time between other activities, allocate fixed slots for each subject and stick to the schedule you’ve created. Setting regular study blocks is the best way to ensure that you’re spending enough time on your studies every day. Also prioritize study material so you can master course content based on yield. You cannot be a perfectionist here, since it’s practically impossible to memorize every single piece of information during medical school. Instead, understand the value of each subject or concept and allocate study time to it accordingly.

6. Look Up Test Review Resources – During lectures and classes, professors tend to stress upon certain concepts for each subject. This material is usually emphasized on standardized tests like the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), and you’re likely to be tested on it during your course. While studying course material, consult review sources for each foundational concept at the same time, and look for key points stressed in them. E.g., if your professor places emphasis on some aspect of clinical skills in class and the same concept is emphasized in USMLE Step 1 or Step 2 CS review resources, it’s definitely important.

7. Create a Pre-Exam Study Strategy – While attending class or consulting review sources, mark important concepts and material with special characters or symbols. Use a system where you place one symbol on content emphasized in class, and another for concepts covered in review sources. Use both symbols where they overlap. Before your exams, focus primarily on material that’s marked with both symbols, since it has the highest chance of being on the test. After that, move on to material with a single symbol, either emphasized in review sources or in class. This helps you save precious time and maximize your study efficiency.

8. Take Time Off – You can’t just study or attend classes all day and all night without losing your mind. To deal with the constant pressure of medical school, you need a break every now and then. You’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by your study material and schedule if you take some time off.  Go out for a walk, meet a friend for lunch or just call home when you’re feeling stressed. Add a daily dose of exercise to your routine too, since there’s nothing like a brisk walk or jog to get your mind and body going. If you have a hobby or passion outside of college, make time for it whenever possible.

Effective time management is crucial for medical students who want to excel in their studies, survive the rigors of medical school, and emerge successful at the end of it all. It’s also a learning process, but some practice and planning is all it takes!

About the Author
Eric Brown is a standardized patient (SP) who lives in New York and advises NYCSPREP with their Clinical Skills course. He has a BA from a liberal arts college in the Northeast, where he majored in the theatrical arts and business. (He credits the first for his ability to simulate real patients.) He’s amassed years of experience as an SP and keeps up to date with CS exam expectations, trends, and developments. When the Phillies are in town, Eric considers it his duty to support his home team. He won’t be seen without his trusty catcher’s mitt on these occasions, and prides himself on having caught more than one foul ball with it. If you have any questions about standardized CS exams or courses at NYCSPREP, email Eric at [email protected] or visit www.nycspre.com.

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