How to learn content in medical school

The difficulty in medical school is not necessarily understanding the concepts but rather the vast amount of content you are exposed to in a short period of time and this can feel very overwhelming at first, raising the question: How am I going to learn all of this content for the exams?


Why am I writing this blog?

 I started medical school not so long ago and I felt overwhelmed with the amount of content that was covered in one lecture alone and got me thinking, is it possible to learn all of this? Medical school is not about learning everything about medicine and science, in fact this would be impossible to do because as you’re reading this right now, something is being discovered by a scientist, a new drug has been released on the market or a new disease has started spreading. I have tested several methods of studying and below are the most effective methods of studying according to science:


So, we start learning the alphabet in nursery and study through the years from primary school to university, but has anyone ever taught us the best way to study or learn content? According to scientific research, the best study methods are active recall and spaced repetition. Spaced repetition involves regularly reviewing information over a long period of time, so you don’t forget the information after a few days or months. This technique works because it combats the forgetting curve, a period of time where your brain no longer retains information that you once remembered. So, whenever you review content regularly, you are strengthening the encoding of that memory.

When should I do spaced repetition and how do I do it?

There’s a complex algorithm which tells us after how many days spaced repetition is effective depending on how well you can recall the information. Instead of trying to understand the complex algorithm, I would recommend using ANKI, which is a flashcard based software, which allows you to learn content and the software itself will tell you when you need to review certain cards, so you don’t have to worry about not knowing when to review what content. A lot of medical students recommend making flashcards, as they’re an active way of recalling information: it requires you to think of the answer. There are several other ways of active recall revision.

Active recall

Practice questions are a good form of active recall, as they give you a true indication of what your exam questions will be like. Regularly practising questions from the start is important, as the questions can give you hints on certain topics which you need to know in more detail than others. Group work is a great way of learning whilst also having fun. Creating quizzes for each other and then going through the answers in a group is an effective active recall method, whilst simultaneously also ensuring you have a similar level of knowledge to your peers.

There are several studying techniques out there and the best technique is the one that works for you. So, ensure you test out a few revision methods, whilst also incorporating active recall and spaced repetition.

Sarah Mahmood
University of Hull York 

About The Author

Sarah Mahmood is a medical student at Hull York Medical School. She is also former Member of UK Youth Parliament for the Borough of Rochdale and Diana Award winner.

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