By: Maria Sajan and Munazza Khan
Most likely, your study habits will be ever-changing throughout the different stages of your medical journey. You will need to find different ways to grasp concepts across your various pre-med courses - trust us, what works for anatomy will not work for physics. Therefore, adaptability is one of the most critical skills you'll need to master to be a successful pre-medical and medical student.
As the new academic semester is still in its early stages, we think it's an appropriate time to talk about study habits and some resources that we believe will be helpful to you. While there are no surefire shortcuts when studying, there are things that you can do to get the most out of your study time, and we will be getting into some study habits that worked for us in organic chemistry and psychology/sociology.
Rereading your notes and textbook passages will probably not get you very far in organic chemistry. This study method not only gives you false confidence in knowing the material, but it is also much less effective than active recall in consolidating the concepts into your long-term memory.
Flashcards aren’t as simple as rote memorization, in the words of Mark A. McDaniel, a professor of psychology at Washington University: “If you ask people to free-recall, you can generate a better mental model of a subject area, and in turn that can lead to better problem-solving” (Glenn, 2009).
We recommend this website because it covers an array of concepts in organic chemistry.
Sometimes, having someone else walk through a concept with you can be helpful. We love Khan Academy and Leah4sci because they include examples in most if not all of their videos, and they cover a vast array of topics.
Khan Academy’s website also has practice problems for you to try at your own pace. If you know you’re going to cover a particular topic in an upcoming class, you can watch a Khan Academy or Leah4sci video about it beforehand to prepare for class. This can act as an excellent primer, so you have a better chance of that content sticking in your brain when you hear the same content for the second time.
Molecules and reactions can be hard to visualize, and you may need to draw them out for assignments and lab reports.
We’ve found applications such as Chemspace and KingDraw to be helpful in this area. KingDraw also allows you to analyze compound properties, convert chemical structures to IUPAC names, and view 3D models.
If you feel like you’re a hands-on learner, a model kit may work wonders for you. Organic chemistry is a subject that can be difficult to conceptualize in your mind, especially regarding bond angles and molecular geometry, so seeing and feeling a molecule in your hands can enhance your learning and work as a memory cue.
Writing a lab report can seem like a daunting task, but this guide will calm your nerves with helpful tips and examples. The guide covers the various parts of a lab report, explains how they fit together, describes the expectations of lab reports, and helps you develop a plan for completing your lab report. This website also includes helpful self-assessment questions and worksheets to test your newfound knowledge.
The best way to be an active student is to take notes as you read. While making notes, you don’t need to have overly detailed paragraphs.
In fact, keeping your notes simple and focused on key ideas and overarching details will help you more in the long run because our long-term memory is improved when we process small chunks of information at one time.
We suggest answering these questions at the end of a concept: What were the main concepts covered by the material? What are your own examples of each theory, problem, or concept?
Personally, MCAT-Review has been a helpful resource in this matter, as it covers all the topics that would then be relevant for your MCAT.
Prepare your own flashcards with definitions and include an example statement with it. However, as preparing your own flashcards may be a time-consuming process, a pre-made Anki deck can be your best friend. This one by premed95+cubene is a tried and tested favourite by pre-meds!
However, as helpful as the spaced repetition with Anki can be, we do not recommend substituting it completely for your review material.
Familiarize yourself with the various research methods and experiment types. And the most important point is to practice identifying the independent, dependent, and control groups within experiments mentioned in the passages.
Here’s what we suggest to incorporate Khan Academy into your study schedule, and this is especially crucial if you don’t have a strong psychology/sociology background:
Use a combination of your review textbook and Khan Academy. Read through the chapter in your book and practice the questions at the end. Then review that concept in KA, and do the corresponding questions in KA as well.
This approach will definitely reinforce the material. Plus, Khan Academy and your review textbook are going to explain these concepts differently, and with a subject like psychology/sociology, multiple perspectives can be extremely helpful.
You may be no stranger to this one. The MCATBros 300 page doc has been around for a while and is one of the most useful and consolidated guides for psychology/sociology.
This is a transcription of all the Khan Academy notes, and for someone who does not prefer the visual learning mode of Khan Academy, this is the next best option. This is a high-yield resource, and has been tried and tested by every pre-med we know who has taken the MCAT, and it is never too early to jump on that horse!
Works Cited: Glenn, D. (2009). Close the Book. Recall. Write It down. The Chronicle of higher education, 55.
Studying for pre-med courses won’t look the same across subjects, but we hope this guide can help you develop a study plan for two difficult courses. What we encourage most is a willingness to try different strategies to find what works best for you.
Let us know in the comments below what course you’d like us to tackle next or whether we missed any study strategies that have been helpful in your pre-med journey!
About the Authors:
Maria Sajan is entering her third year at Wilfrid Laurier University majoring in Health Sciences. As co-president of her university’s Stem Cell Club, she is dedicated to increasing the number of registrants in the OneMatch Stem Cell & Bone Marrow registry. Her interests also include writing, gardening, and biking.
Munazza Khan recently graduated from Gulf Medical University with a BS in Biomedical Sciences. As someone who was drawn to Cancer Biology early on in her second year, she is currently researching the immune response to hypoxic stress in a tumor microenvironment and how immunotherapy could be used in the future. She is also an avid cat and plant lover, but sadly, her cat is on a mission to destroy any plants in sight. Her hobbies include playing soccer and board games.