Notes from a First-Year Med Student: Active Learning Study Tips

Jenna Dafgek '21
uvmmedicine blogger Jenna Dafgek ’21

This blog post was first published on September 6, 2017, on the White Coats and Polka Dots blog, where Jenna Dafgek ’21 writes about life as a medical student, and offers tips and advice.

I just had my first real medical school exam this past Friday (*shriek*). I tried hard these past three weeks to utilize effective and efficient study methods that focused on active learning to help me prepare. With school just starting, it’s a great time to try out new methods and integrate them into your studying repertoire. So, I thought I’d share some of the new techniques that helped me.

Studying for all the senses.
While rereading the textbook can seem effective, it has been proven to be one of the most ineffective study techniques out there. Active learning is better. Active learning means listening, drawing, and moving. Rewrite your notes. Draw out diagrams. Listen to podcasts. Perform practice questions. The more ways you come into contact with the information, the better you will retain it.

I add little doodles here and there in my notes to keep my mind focused. Plus, sometimes a random analogy (i.e. separating Romeo and Juliet) helps me remember concepts.

I add little doodles here and there in my notes to keep my mind focused. Plus, sometimes a random analogy (i.e. separating Romeo and Juliet) helps me remember concepts.
I add little doodles here and there in my notes to keep my mind focused. Plus, sometimes a random analogy (i.e. separating Romeo and Juliet) helps me remember concepts.

Identify your ideal noise level.
Some people need absolute silence and thus should find designated ‘quiet’ areas on campus or invest in ear plugs. I personally do better with some ambient noise so I like to sit at a semi-crowded café. I also found this amazing site that makes ambient noise mixes so that it sounds like I am sitting in the Slytherin common room at Hogwarts.

Base study guides off objectives.
This is something that is emphasized a lot at my school and I wish I had focused on this more in undergrad. Most professors have a list of learning objectives or focuses that they introduce at the beginning of each new section. Use these to your advantage! They are a fabulous guide to what you should focus your studying on. These topics are likely to be high yield – meaning they’ll show up on a test the most and are thus more worthy of your study time.

Study guides directly based on the list of objectives
Study guides directly based on the list of objectives

Teach and be taught.
They say that you truly understand something when you can teach it to someone else. Now, we don’t all have roommates kind enough for us to teach them all of our lectures. I recommend a study group (my ideal size is four to seven people) who can talk out hard concepts. If you’re struggling with one topic, try teaching what you can to the group and allow them to jump in when you mess up or forget something. Then do the same for them.

I hope some of these tips help you all as much as they helped me with my first exam. Have a great start of the semester and happy studying!

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