Every allied health and medical student has a ton of learning to do in order to graduate, which can be overwhelming and stressful.
Feeling some stress is a normal human condition, so you’ll never remove it completely. However, as a student, it’s important to minimize stress where you can, because studies have shown that high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol correlate with inhibited attention and memory. In other words, too much stress gets in the way of learning and remembering!
Medical students have the most to learn, across such a wide number of topics, however most of them are full-time students so can fully concentrate on their learning. In contrast, allied health students typically have narrower fields of study, but many are non-traditional students who are juggling families and work lives outside of school, with their study requirements having to fit around that.
Which ever type of student you are, here are some practical and powerful study strategies to ensure you’ll learn effectively and help reduce your stress. The goal, of course, is remembering everything you need for exams and beyond!
- Make a Schedule and Stick To It
If you don’t already have one, creating a personal schedule will help you to make the best use of your precious study time. Map out non-negotiable time (like sleeping and at least a little relaxation!) and fixed classes/lectures, and slot in the time you’ll need for study and completing assignments. Also schedule in some “me time”.
A well designed schedule will keep you focused on your goals by helping you to identify and avoid time wasting activities. You can see clearly how much time you have for allotted tasks therefore reducing the chances of you feeling overwhelmed by it all.
Schedule the following:
- Non-negotiable time (sleep / classes / lectures / labs)
- Study time
- ‘Me’ time (sleep doesn’t count!)
Avoid This Mistake: Don’t try to schedule all your study into one sitting each week. Neuroscience research shows that studying in regular, small chunks will increase both your learning and retention. For instance, five 1-hour study sessions spread through the week are better than one 5-hour study marathon.
- Study In Different Locations
The brain is very good at learning on the fly during daily life. Cognitive research has also shown that varying the place where you study increases the cues associated with what you’re learning. This makes it independent of any particular location and therefore easier to recall.
On the other hand, if you only ever study in the same place, your brain might permanently link your knowledge to that location. You don’t want to have to go back to your study space in order to recall the information you’ve learned!
- Study in different rooms and spaces.
- Read while you commute or listen to lecture podcasts while you jog.
- Do the same when you sit down for a coffee.
- Get some fresh air in a park while you study.
- Explain what you’ve been learning to a friend (or your dog!) while you’re out for a walk.
Avoid This Mistake: Study groups can be popular and may sound motivational, but they can also be very distracting – particularly when everyone is connected to social media on their devices! You may get better results by studying alone. Get together with a classmate later, to test each other.
- Create an Accountability Network
“Accountability” might sound a bit serious but it really just means making some commitments and keeping to them, in the eyes of someone else. Here are some ideas:
- Tell your family and friends about your goals and share what you are doing.
- Post the dates of key events and interim milestones in your program around your dorm/apartment/car/office on notes and charts that you and the people around you will see all the time.
- Set your smartphone alarm for the times you have set to study and act on each reminder.
- Set up a wallchart to track your progress towards completion, like a fundraiser chart. Make sure it’s visible and fill it in as you progress and complete milestones.
- Regularly ask your instructors for feedback. Ask questions like: “How am I doing?”, “What area do you think I most need to focus on right now?”
- Set up a regular weekly or monthly phone call or café meeting with a supportive friend, relative or classmate. Use it as a check-in and give them an update on how you’re doing against your goals, and how you’re feeling.
If some of those ideas make you feel a bit uncomfortable, that’s good. That’s the feeling of accountability at work!
Avoid This Mistake: If someone says they don’t believe you will succeed or makes some other disparaging comment, don’t let it undermine you. Their viewpoint says a lot about them and how they think, and almost nothing about you! Use what they said to fuel your motivation instead! Back in the 19th century, Walter Bagehot said: “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” We know how good that feeling is, so we highly recommend following his advice!
- Be Prepared for Class
Always attend classes and clinical labs with some basic knowledge of what will be covered that day. Skim-read ahead or do some online research beforehand. Do some web-based simulations of the procedures you will be covering in a lab, so you can focus on learning at a higher level rather than starting at step 1. It’s also a good idea to think of 2 or 3 questions you’d like ask.
The goal here is just to get familiar with the content at a high level beforehand. Knowing what sort of thing to expect will greatly reduce the pressure of absorbing new information and allow you to feel in control. And being prepared could make you stand out amongst your classmates!
Avoid This Mistake: Don’t try to learn it all beforehand. That’s not the goal of this learning tactic. Think of it like browsing a book’s table of contents and flicking through the pages to see what key quotes are highlighted or concepts that jump out at you.
- Take Relevant Notes. Always.
Always take notes. You won’t be able to remember much from your lectures if you don’t do this. But more importantly, it’s a very powerful learning strategy: research shows that note-taking increases learning and retention, even if the notes are never reviewed after being written! This is because writing notes is an active process that involves:
- focusing your attention
- listening carefully
- filtering to identify the important points to write notes about
- thinking about the information in order to paraphrase it in your own words
- engaging multiple parts of your brain: auditory for listening, visual for writing & reading the words, kinesthetic for the physical act of writing your notes.
It has been said that writing your notes by hand is more powerful than typing them on a keyboard, but a recent study showed that any kind of note-taking is better than none.
You can get even more out of your notes if you do review them later, and more if you summarize or abstract them, eg. writing the key points onto index cards to use when preparing for exams.
Avoid This Mistake: Don’t try to write or type what the lecturer says word-for-word. As explained above, some of the real power of note-taking comes from you filtering the information and then paraphrasing it in your own words. Also, writing notes too fast, in order to keep up with the speaker, will activate the wrong part of your brain and get in the way of you learning and remembering the material.
- Use Online Resources
Online resources can be invaluable to all learners because of their convenience and flexibility. They are available literally whenever and wherever you are.
The more widely you read and explore, and the more sources you are exposed to, the better you get at assimilating the knowledge you need. Online resources help to round out your understanding of any topic, and the design of some products can even extend your ability to learn and retain information.
SIMTICS web-based simulations could prove to be an indispensable online resource for you. SIMTICS is specially designed as a low cost education resource which allows you to virtually perform clinical procedures online. It’s called cognitive simulation – which engages your brain in realistic learning. This way you can continue learning and practicing medical skills and procedures outside the lab or simulation center, in fact anywhere.
There are many benefits of online learning:
- You can learn whenever and wherever you want.
- You can practice as much as you need without being rushed or feeling pressured to keep up with a class.
- You don’t need access to real equipment or consumables
- It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. No need to feel embarrassed in front of classmates or your preceptor. Just start the simulation again.
- The very nature of always-available simulations allows you to develop a more thorough knowledge of how to perform each clinical procedure, than when you have to cram all your skill learning into a short session in the lab or sim center.
- With over 160 modules, SIMTICS has got you covered across a variety of medical and allied health procedures.
Avoid This Mistake: Don’t rely on just watching videos to learn clinical procedures. Watching is a passive activity that doesn’t engage your brain – and it’s too easy to lose concentration when you have such a lot to learn, let alone when you are feeling stressed. And you have no idea whether you learned it or not!
In contrast, web-based simulations are interactive, requiring you to think and make decisions every step of the way. Plus they can track your progress and accuracy, so you know whether you actually learned the procedure – and whether you learned it properly.
That’s quite a lot of information so far, so we’ll go through the next 5 study tips quickly for you:
- Don’t cram. Cramming seems like a rite of passage for a medical student – isn’t it what almost everyone does? – but honestly it’s a waste of your precious time. Cramming does not help you learn. And it’s stressful, and we know that high stress rates actually get in the way of learning. Instead, refer to tip 1 above.
- Avoid distraction.When you’re in your scheduled study time, focus on studying. Close down all social media apps. Stop checking your messages. Switch off notifications on your laptop or mobile device. Does it really matter whether you don’t get your BFF’s message for a couple hours? If there’s something very important pending, make sure you deal with it before you go to study.
- Don’t get discouraged. Yes, you’re bound to flunk out on tests from time to time. Almost everyone does. But remember that even the person who graduates with the lowest score still graduates! Put in the effort, and you will graduate.
- Make time to relax. Set aside time in your schedule for relaxation. This will help you manage your stress, PLUS downtime is also good for learning, since it’s when your brain consolidates and sorts all the new information you’ve learned during the day, and moves it into longer-term memory.
- Stay in touch your family and friends outside school. Without your close supporters, you might not be where you are right now. Give them a call, spend time, share how you’re doing. You never know, you might inspire one of them to follow in your footsteps 😊
We hope you found these 11 proven study tips helpful. Happy learning – and enjoy your journey to graduation!