February 22, 2009

Top Ten: Study Methods and Habits

Medical school is one of those interesting fields where obsessive-compulsive behavior is reinforced and rewarded to no end. While I am not an inherently organized and disciplined person, I decided that I needed to change for the better upon entering med school. Here are some of the strategies that I employ:

  1. Buy a lot of different colored highlighters
    I use each color for a specific purpose when I read.  Colors are a fast way of categorizing items. It helps keep me awake if nothing else.  The bonus: having nice colorful notes that are easy to review.
  2. Yellow = important facts
    Green = examples, lists, subheadings, lab values/Diagnosis, (+)/increasing
    Orange = Key Topics/Vitally Important facts
    Pink = In contrast to, (-)/decreasing
    Blue = Treatment/medications
    Purple = difficult to remember names/eponyms

  3. Tag chapters in textbooks
    Dog ear or put in little tags for chapters.  When I tag more than the chapters, there's too many slips of paper and it takes a while to find what I want.  I also try to use different colored tabs to represent different things: Red = CV, Pink = OB, Blue = Pulm, Purple = ID, Yellow = Renal
  4. Develop concept-maps/case-maps for basic physiology/pathophysiology concepts with integrated management.
    Algorithms are boring and thus, terrible ways to learn.  A concept map that systematically thinks through a problem is much more engaging.  I use C-maps for this purpose.
  5. Use mnemonicsUse them often!
    Mnemonics are highly individual and some do not work at all for anyone else but yourself.  I've done my best to try and share ones that I thought others might appreciate or those that I've heard but were not readily available online.  I made a bank of mnemonics in an excel spreadsheet with the comments as the expanded version -- when I float my cursor over the mnemonic it pops up with the reminder of what it means.
  6. Learn how to think.
    Problem-Based Learning helped me develop on the spot differential diagnosis development and consequential workup, diagnosis and management.  I like it when experts tell me how they think through a problem... that's why one of the books I'm reading right now is Learning Clinical Reasoning (Excellent resource; unfortunately, it seems like its no longer in print.)
  7. Stay up to date.
    Read medical journals, news and blogs.  Clinical Cases and Images answers the question: "How do you Eat an Elephant?" by setting up Google Reader. I read feeds on the latest articles in NEJM, JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, AFP and The Lancet.  Also, I follow some great blogs -- I share the entries that I find of special importance (seen in the sidebar.)
  8. Use a multi-monitor setup.
    Buy an extra monitor!  The more desktop real-estate you utilize, the more you can read and learn.  Typically, I use one monitor for reading something and the other monitor for taking notes on the subject.
  9. Centralize ALL of your notes.  When I was studying for Step 1, all of my notes went into First Aid.  Now that I'm studying for Step 2 and all of my different shelves, it'll take more than a book to hold my notes.  Which takes me to my next point...
  10. Use an online notetaking service.
    Evernote is my all-time favorite application now.  I can put text notes into it as well as pdf files... perfect for clipping key parts all of those articles I'm reading!  It has the benefit of being available on any computer (so I can find my notes on diabetes anywhere I go.)
  11. Use a question-bank to keep things in perspective.
    I use USMLE World.
    It is easy to lose track of what might be considered "important/high yield" for exams if you don't use a Q-bank on a regular basis.  Mark all of the questions you get wrong (be honest!) and review those specific topics and questions again.  Repetition is the key to rote memorization... and sometimes that's whats necessary to remember things like drug names.  Ugh!
  12. Above all else... Have fun!
    Otherwise you'll just end up wasting time .  :)



  1. thank you. this is brilliant and helpful. i am on my way to buy another monitor. does evernote work with mac systems?

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  3. Great post, lol. Evernote works on a mac, but unfortunately for me, just from 10.5