How to Study in Medical School

Hello my lovely reader

Hope you are having a great day! Here I am again with a new blog post. This time I am going to talk about how to study in medical school. A great way to start is by learning the best science-based study techniques.

In this post, I’m going to be sharing my own individual study tips and the top 3 most effective learning methods reviewed in this scientific article:

Augustin, Marc. “How to learn effectively in medical school: test yourself, learn actively, and repeat in intervals.” The Yale journal of biology and medicine vol. 87,2 207-12. 6 Jun. 2014.

So let’s talk about what types of knowledge we actually have to acquire in medical school.

Procedural Knowledge – practical part of medicine, covers “how” and “why” information, can be learned by means of simulation and practice
Factual Knowledge or conceptual – theoretical background of medical education, covers “what” information, more difficult to obtain by means of reading, summarizing, testing, and restudying

According to a qualitative study, students usually feel overwhelmed and stressed by the sheer amount of facts that medical school obliges them to learn. I can only agree with this as I have often wondered how I am supposed to retain all the information we learn in medical school and not go crazy afterwards. Also, it was discovered that students experience that long-term retention of factual knowledge is mediocre at best and forgetting is the unpleasant side of learning something new.

So the question that arises is:

How can we counteract this and gain and retain the knowledge we need to be excellent doctors in the future?

Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve and review cycle. | Download ...

Without practice, learned information is quickly lost down the path of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve as hypothesized by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. With practice, the memory can be trained comparable to the training of a muscle.

Here are 3 Effective Learning Methods backed by science
The Testing Effect
Studying Vs. Testing by potterheadjocelyn - Meme Center

Testing as an active element of learning is more effective than studying factual knowledge repeatedly.

  • A randomized controlled trial confirmed these findings and discovered that repeated testing resulted in significantly higher long-term retention than repeated studying. In fact, six months after the initial teaching session, repeated testing resulted in final test scores that were on average 13 percent higher than in the group of repeated studying.
  • It was discovered that a significant contributor to the testing effect is initial feedback to teach the student whether an answer was correct or incorrect. Interestingly, feedback enhanced learning, but even testing without feedback was beneficial. The study “The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention” by Roediger et al. found that testing even without feedback tripled the score in a test 1 week after initial studying. Best results were obtained by delayed feedback, which hints at the positive contribution of spaced representation of learning content.
My tip number 1

Try quizzing yourself before starting with studying. Find some old tests or questions from previous semesters and do one or two so as to get acquainted with the study material. This way you will know what to focus on. Save some for the end so that way you will ensure you have learned the material effectively.

My Tip number 2

Test yourself regularly on random topics from all kinds of subjects in medicine. Use your favourite platform such as Amboss (, Anki ( or Card2brain ( , for my fellow german students)- my favourite places to test my knowledge.

Active Recall

Active learning methods engage the mind and do not necessarily need to be instantly successful.

  • Quizzing is superior to learning because an equivalent learning success can be reached in less than half of the time. It is understandable that challenging tests are thought of as discouraging for us students. Yet the experiment conducted by Kornell et al. showed that difficult tests, which at first result in high error rates, actually stimulate subsequent learning.
  • Another study by Morris et al. demonstrated that trying to remember actively the name of a person you have just met is a more effective learning strategy than merely hearing the person’s name repeatedly.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is a Masterpiece – PUZZLED PAGAN ...

Active learning includes methods such as practice questions, flashcards, asking questions, and explaining concepts to your peers.

My tip Number 1 

What I have found most useful and fun in my four years in med school is being in a study group with my group friends. I’d suggest forming a study group of 2-3 people max and already knowing the material beforehand. Perhaps you can use questions you’ve made from your flashcards or annotated on your notes! What mostly happened to us was not understanding a concept and then discussing and researching it so much that we would later know it better than anything!

MY tip number 2
Try to summarise a lecture or your syllabus in an outline of a few pages. Do not spend a lot of time editing and try to focus more on actively recalling and thus memorising the information! Try to learn the high-yield stuff first and then revisit the details later!
Spaced Repetitions
  • Retrieval practise after initial learning is the main contributor to successful learning and retrieval practise should be performed on expanding intervals to further enhance learning. Longer delay between initial learning and recalling facts was associated with poorer retention rate.
  • Therefore, the best learning strategy is actively recalling information at expanding intervals such as on days 1,6,16 etc. and testing yourself to assess the retained knowledge as soon as possible.

Here is a really good article if you’d like to learn more about spaced repetitions.

How to Remember More of What You Learn with Spaced Repetition

When you are preparing for a big exam or exams, try preparing a study plan using the spaced repetition method. Plan for two or more revisions by making your first session about getting acquainted with the information, your second about learning it well and active recall and your third about active recall and testing.
These learning strategies can help YOU learn the most in the least amount of time. Studying according to scientific findings on the testing effect, active recall, and expanding repetition intervals assures optimal long-term retention of factual knowledge.

Thank you so much for making it to the end! I hope this was helpful to you!

If it was, please return the favour by sharing this post with your friends, colleagues and wherever else you think this post is appropriate!

I appreciate the support and your time!

Until next time my friend


Test-enhanced learning: taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Roediger HL, Karpicke JD , Psychol Sci. 2006 Mar; 17(3):249-55.

Roediger HL 3rd, Butler AC. The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention. Trends Cogn Sci. 2011;15(1):20‐27. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.003

Ebbinghaus H. Ueber das Gedaechtnis. Leipzig. 1885

Retention of medical genetics knowledge and skills by medical students. Greb AE, Brennan S, McParlane L, Page R, Bridge PD Genet Med. 2009 May; 11(5):365-70

Perceived stress during undergraduate medical training: a qualitative study. Radcliffe C, Lester H Med Educ. 2003 Jan; 37(1):32-8

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