How I Study for Exams in Medical School – 9 Day Plan7 min read
Exams in Medical School are a new ballgame. You are drinking out of the firehouse. Information is given at a rate faster than anyone can expect to understand and internalize it. The key is to focus on the necessary information and use your time efficiently.
I needed a way to most efficiently study for exams. My first exam did not go so well…
In the first exam in medical school, I reread all the PowerPoint slides and summarized all my notes. Then I summarized my summaries; at one point I had notes on notes on notes. This was an ineffective strategy.
Luckily, my friend, let’s call him “Jeff,” saved me.
- Jeff didn’t look at PowerPoint slides
- Jeff didn’t write summaries
Jeff used a method, which I will call, The Rongie Method.
The Rongie method integrates the three most researched, and effective, strategies for retaining information.
What is this “Rongie Method?”
Nine days before my exam I go through all the content I need to know for my exam. But I am not learning that content, I am skimming it; going over it briefly, and finding any gaps in my knowledge, then writing down those knowledge gaps.
I never look at a single PowerPoint, or chapter, for more than 5 minutes. Again, I am not learning that content, I am just finding the gaps in my understanding.
Every time I find a topic that I am confused about, or couldn’t explain to one of my friends, utilizing The Feynman Technique, I write that topic down, in red, on my iPad.
Writing down every topic I don’t understand, in red, takes me about six hours total over two days.
Next, I break that list up into manageable chunks and learn and understand all the topics written in red.
But what about the things I didn’t write down?
Skip those things.
This is why the Rongie Method is so powerful. Often times throughout a course there are things that I understand straight away; that I don’t really need to look at again. In fact, rereviewing those things is a waste of my valuable time. Instead, I skip over those things and focus on the things that I am unsure of.
I focus on the major gaps in my knowledge; my Rongies.
What is my exact plan? What do I do on days 1-9? (Day 9 Being the Exam).
My Exam Review Layout
In general it’s broken down into skim -> learn “Rongies” -> Practice Test
Day 9/9 is the exam…
- Day 1/9: Skim half of ALL material, write down “Rongies.”
- Day 2/9: Skim second half of ALL material, write down “Rongies.”
- Day 3/9: Divide # of Rongies by 4. Learn Rongies 1/4
- Day 4/9: Learn Rongies 2/4
- Day 5/9: Learn Rongies 3/4
- Day 6/9: Learn Rongies 4/4
- Day 7/9: Practice Test
- Day 8/9: Practice Test
- Day 9/9: Take Test
- Every day I do all of my Anki Reviews first thing in the morning.
- Every day, starting on day 4, I review the previous Rongie’s WITHOUT looking at notes or powerpoints or anything; I just look at the red item and see if I could explain it to a friend.
- After every practice test, I mark the questions I was unsure of (as I am taking the exam) and add the underlying topic to the “Rongies.”
Day 1 / 9
On Day 1/9 I skim the topic briefly. Not spending more than 3 hours total on half of all the content I need to know. I am just identifying the gaps in my knowledge. Everything I couldn’t explain to my friend goes down in red on my iPad. I am usually still in class during these first two days so can’t spend too much time reviewing anyway.
I want to be specific with this list, i.e., if I was trying to understand the heart, instead of just writing “understand the heart” I would write something more particular. Like “understand why aortic regurgitation is harmful, and what valves are involved, what heart sounds are made from this, etc.”
Day 2 / 9
Repeat day 1/9 for second half of content.
Usually by the end of these “scoping” sessions I will have ~40 topics in red.
I then divide the number of Rongies by 4, so every day I need to cover that amount of topics (10).
Day 3 / 9
Attack on the Rongies begins!
I need to cover 10/40 topics today.
So I will look at my first item, aortic regurgitation, hmm…
I don’t really understand that at all, let’s go to the notes, a powerpoint, write down a few things on a seperate notability workspace.
Now try and explain the topic as if you were trying to explain it to a friend who knows very little about medicine, that studies underwater basket weaving, would they understand it? Would they go away more knowledgeable from your amazing teachings?
Ok aortic regurgitation is when blood from the biggest artery in your body, the aorta, flows back into the left ventricle of the heart. This is not good as the left side of your heart is sending out oxygenated blood to your body and has systemic effects such as…
Bam, done. That’s 1/10, so I will continue this until I have done 10/10. This may take some time. That’s ok.
This is where the big changes happen.
You are identifying your knowledge gaps and learning that information.
Remember, Understanding >>>> Memorization.
Once I have completed 10/10 topics I take a look back at my red list and start at topic 1. Going through the list, pretending I am explaining each topic to a friend until I can get all the way to item 10 without looking at notes, or PowerPoint slides, or anything.
Day 4,5,6 / 9
Rongies 20/40, 30/40, and 40/40.
Importantly on each day, before I cover the new Rongies, I review yesterday’s Rongies; a form of self-imposed spaced repetition.
Day 7 / 9
These last two days are practice testing days.
I make sure that the last two days of studying before my exam are focused on practice testing.
Each practice test should:
- Mimic your actual exam as close as possible
- Be taken in exam-like settings
- Be reviewed thoroughly
How do you mimic your exam as closely as possible? Well I try and emulate what the test will be like. In general, in reviewing for an in-house exam, I give practice questions the following priority:
- Professor made questions (who right the exam)
- School provided practice questions of practice tests
- Self-made questions that try to “guess” questions
- Fellow classmates / alumni question banks
- Textbook question banks written by professors that write the exam
- Online, third-party, Resources
Also make sure you are taking it in exam-like conditions. So, for me, that means a 3 hours of uninterrupted 120 MCQ test time, with no phone, no notes, and wearing the same clothes I will take the exam in.
Then I will review my exam, and add topics I got wrong to Rongies.
I will then review and try and learn the Rongies from the exam.
Day 8 / 9
Review all Rongies.
Another 120 MCQ practice test, that I made for myself, using selected resources.
Add incorrects to Rongies and understand.
Day 9 / 9
How to Get the Most Out of Practice Testing
Post in-depth about this incoming… But for now:
- Mark every question you don’t understand completely while taking the exam. This stops you from missing content you got right off of a lucky guess.
- When reviewing the exam identify why you got the question wrong:
- A lack of basic understanding?
- A nit-picky piece of specific information I didn’t memorize?
- What material don’t I understand?
- Why are the other answer choices wrong?
- Add to Rongies
The Rongie method has improved my grades by one to two letter grades.
If you are studying by rereading, highlighting, or re-summarizing, I urge you to try the Rongie method, maybe just for one exam, and see what change it has in your exam score.
Some final exam taking tips that I have learned through trial and error:
- Get a good nights sleep every night you are studying, not just the night before your exam
- Avoid caffeine and energy drinks after 2 pm* this will help you sleep better.
- Treat it like a game! It’s not some awful test that will determine your life, it’s a game that you can, and will, beat.
- Exercise and take breaks. I like to use the Pomodoro method for studying so I have breaks built-in and not just when I “feel like it.” I also exercise every day. Do whatever you like, I do yoga, lift weights, and play soccer. I don’t skip those no matter what. Even if I feel overwhelmed I find that after I come back from any of those activities I study better, and sleep better.
So that’s it! Thank you so much for reading, and I will see you at the 99th percentile.