Let the Good Times Roll…on Medical Education: Effective Study Habits

Catey Harwell, MS2


Last week, I attended the Northeast and Southern GSA/OSR Joint Regional Meeting in New Orleans along with my fellow UofL OSR reps. The AAMC hosts a conference for their Group on Student Affairs (GSA) and Organization of Student Representatives (OSR). This Spring, it was a joint conference with the Southern and Northeast regions. The states included in these regions are listed below.

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One particularly interesting session, at least to me, outlined study behaviors that have been shown to be effective and ones that have been shown to be ineffective in the literature. For example, behaviors that do NOT work include:

-Re-reading – this is passive and it can provide a false sense of knowing the material

-Laptop note taking – students are not forced to summarize and identify main points, which are considered important for effective, active learning

– Study aids – basically someone else is doing all the work

– Highlighting – this may actually hurt performance (!); it doesn’t help connect concepts across chapters/paragraphs

– Flash cards – when you make them yourself, you often don’t have time to use them effectively

What DOES work:

– Time management – taking the time to put together a study schedule helps you manage your time effectively; planning ahead also allows for “distributed practice” (rather than trying to learn everything in one cram session)

– Selecting main ideas – summarizing and identifying key points facilitates learning and retention

– Actively process information – each person select different information that he/she needs to focus on (i.e., don’t just copy your classmates notes from class)

– Practice retrieval – basically, self testing; start early – don’t wait until the day before you take the exam to start doing practice questions, you need to be consistent with it

While some people may mourn the fact that highlighting has not been demonstrated to be an effective studying tool, what I’ve found that seems to work for me is a multi-modal approach – I’m listening to a lecture, reading along, and taking notes in the margins on key points all at the same time. And questions…lots of questions, in a simulated test-taking situation, too, with adequate, thorough review of the answers. At least, so it goes in an ideal study world. I’ve got the study schedule in place for Step 1, now it’s just down to the execution.

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