How To Study in Medical School

Hi guys!

So I know I’ve promised a blog, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I figured I’d have time during fall break, but here we are 🙂 A lot of you have been asking for new study methods, how life is in medical school, and how I’m managing my time, etc. so I figured this blog will be a hodgepodge of sorts hopefully covering everything. My study methods and habits have changed dramatically and by this I mean completely different from what I’ve ever done before. I took a class that teaches you specifically how to study for medical school and pharmacy school, whichever pertains to you and I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to schedule, take tests, study in general, organize my space and time, and balance my life so that I can spend time with my friends and family and do well in school. I’m gonna give you a bit of information of how this all works.

Before every single class or directed study, which is basically a lecture or reading we have to teach our self (any assignments in general that aren’t lectures), I do a process called frameworking. Frameworking takes about 10 minutes for every hour lecture, or 20 for a 1.5-2 hour lecture etc. You get the picture. Basically all you’re doing is decoding what the presenter is trying to teach you. You’re figuring out the basic and main ideas of each lecture, the highlights and most important points, and where the bulk of the information is coming from. You set your timer to 10 minutes and begin by flipping through the lecture to see the flow, how it’s organized, and what will be talked about. There are several different types of frameworks – I use outlines primarily but I’ve used webs and cascades more here recently. Some people use only webs and cascades, others use only outlines etc. It depends on the lecture and format and how your brain is designed to perceive this new information. Once you get the basic idea down, depending on the type of framework you’re using, you get to work. With an outline, you put the main idea in black or whichever color you choose. For a web, you put your main idea in a bubble in the middle of the page or the top etc. The key for choosing a color will show you the layers into the presentation and the levels of detail. Your first pass should always be the same color, second pass another, third pass another color. You won’t get more than 3 passes usually within those 10 minutes looking over the material. The idea with this is it’s giving you a guideline/map before you ever go into lecture. How many people see a packet of 100 slides and get overwhelmed and have no idea how anything fits or relates to each other and then have a hard time differentiating the details between all of this mumbo jumbo? THIS GIRL. But with my framework, if I ever get off topic I go and check my map and see where we are in lecture. Every “ping” I make back to my map while taking notes on the handout solidifies information. Back to the colors, for example if our main idea of a lecture is bone diseases, that would go in black. Our second pass tells us that there are different types – osteogenesis imperfecta, osteoporosis, achondroplasia etc. those would all be in blue (again or whichever color you use, I’m just showing what I do) then your third pass which is more detail would be in red, and your fourth in green etc. The key is to NOT READ the slides! YOU ARE NOT READING TO LEARN. You are reading to decode and find main key points, how it all ties together, and the BIG OVERALL PICTURE. Your active learning will be in class the next day (or if you stay at home, during the audio). You want to do this as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Back to the layout, bone diseases are our black bubble in center of the page, in blue are the bubbles around it which are the types of bone diseases. In red coming off of those blue bubbles are the etiology, risk factors, etc. & in green is even more detail. I’ll post a picture online of examples if need be. This is NOT A CONCEPT MAP. Let me be clear. Concept maps are done after you’ve studied, been to lecture, read, etc. and make connections and big elaborate pictures. You are getting the basic layout of every lecture or handout you’re given which can be HUGE for detail people like me. Take home points: e is fast and you should have a physical timer in front of you, frameworking is NOT reading in advance and it’s NOT about learning, you must concretely write them out on a blank sheet of paper and it CANNOT BE MORE THAN ONE PAGE, cannot include details only categorical placeholders, you are finished when your timer goes off, and do not bog it down with any details since this washes out the organizational structure, if your framework is wrong or unclear – fix it, if you don’t know where something goes – put it in its own separate box and figure it out during lecture, this MUST be done 24 hours before the lecture – either the day of or night before. Pictures below: of outlines and a web.


After frameworking, which I refuse to go into lecture without one ever again, I attend the lecture. I take notes, although I do not take very many. I only take those deemed important. NOT EVERY WORD THAT THE PROFESSOR SAYS IS IMPORTANT. Note that. I used to be a crazy note taker trying to write every single word that they say. If you do this, you are not learning anything actually. You’re basically a typewriter. and you’re not getting hardly anything out of lecture. Sit back in class, really try to absorb and think about how it all makes sense and what is being discussed. Usually you’ll have clues about what’s really important and what you need to study for tests. Also, a  lot of the information they are talking about is on your slide just in different words. I pay attention, I leave my phone in my bag or away from me to avoid distractions and really clue in on what’s important. After lecture, I go home and dynamically read and mark what I’ve done for the day. This is step 3! First step is frameworking, second step is attending lecture or listening to it. Also, dynamic reading and marking  is not highlighting willy-nilly. This is also an active process. I only highlight what’s written in red, underlined, or bold by the professors or I highlight in layers according to my basic framework. You shouldn’t have more than a couple of points highlighted for each page. You are not trying to decorate your lectures. AVOID EXCESSIVE HIGHLIGHTING!! Another point some people miss inadvertently, if professors took time out to underline or bold anything, you better believe there’s a reason. KNOW IT. I underline in red what’s important, numerate things in blue for example if you’re given a big paragraph of symptoms, I’ll number all of them. What’s KEY for me is marginal questions. From each slide I’ll pick a question, sometimes two, on what’s most important. For example: going back to bone diseases: my question on a slide would be “What’s the mechanism of achondroplasia etc.” I’ll have about 3 marginal questions per page (usually my slides are 3 to a page) but no more than 5 questions because you don’t wanna get crazy with it. Also within your reading and marking you can create character maps – for example: maybe making a superhero out of Calcitonin and calling him Calvin and drawing how he affects blood Calcium etc. To sum up dynamically reading and marking: underline what’s important in whatever color you choose (for me it’s red), numerate (for me it’s in blue), annotate (in green for me), make maps, highlight, draw things, write marginal questions for yourself, and summarize. It takes some time, but it’s a much more active process than re-reading pages from a book over and over and not getting anything from it. This REALLY works for reading assignments they give us. It also is more beneficial than just going through the lecture material and highlighting anything.

After dynamically reading and marking, I’ll go back to my original framework and retrofit it. This means I’ll add anything I missed the first time around, which is usually a good bit but the key here is to not write everything down. For example: the types of Osteogenesis Imperfecta – you wouldn’t write out all 4 types and everything about them because that gives you a FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY. You’re reading over the information being “Mhm, yeah ok I know that. I got it” then you’re put in a testing situation and you’re like “ummmm, what was that again?” Instead of writing all of the types out, you’d write Types (4) and leave it at that so later on when you self test, you can force yourself to recall the different types and distinguish them from one another. I do this for every framework I make. Once I’m done with frameworking, attending, dynamically reading and marking, then retrofitting, I’m done with the material and just self-test daily before the exam. Self-testing is key to everything which brings me to my last point in the process.

PRACTICE RETRIEVAL: WHAT TAKES A B TO AN A. There are 4 basic types I’ve learned: basic self-test, timed self-lecture, framework self-test, and voice flash cues. I don’t use voice flash cues but those are simply making questions on your phone or ipod and pausing, trying to answer them and then checking to see if you’re right by listening to the answer. These are great for workouts, commuting, anywhere on the go when you don’t have any notes handy. Basic self test is just choosing your material – a chart, concept, etc. and writing it down on dry erase board, paper etc. then checking. The timed lecture is taking 3 minutes and writing down everything you know about a certain item, topic, lecture etc. and then self-checking to see what you missed. It is the same as the basic self test but with a timer and under pressure like in a test situation. The framework self test is doing what I mentioned earlier – writing the causes down of a disease for example there’s 4 causes, and then going through and trying to remember those causes, but you do it for each slide of the lecture or point on your framework. You can use any of these 4 methods of practice retrieval at any time during your study block – so if you’re falling asleep because you hate immunology and are bored, start a self-test. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS SELF TEST! It’s better to figure out what you don’t know now and force yourself to recall versus getting to a test and it showing you what you do not know. Trust me.

That is my basic study sequence. Framework. Attend lecture. Dynamically read and mark. Retrofit/Condense/Make notes or maps. Self-test. It’s done wonders! This brings me to time management. Each study block should be 50 minutes, no more or less. You should have a timer and have zero disruptions during this time. No cell phone, no web surfing, no social media, no not even playtime with your puppy. Those 50 minutes are devoted solely to trying to learn new information and make it into long-term memory. This cannot be accomplished with multiple distractions. With every ping of your iphone, even subconsciously your thoughts are being directed elsewhere even for a split second. This causes problems when trying to encode new information into your memory. Do not go more than 4 study blocks of 50 minutes and make sure you take 10 minute breaks after each 50 minutes. This keeps you on track, lets you know how much you’ve accomplished in less than an hour, and also gives your mind a break. The breaks are crucial. Don’t skip them and think you’re fine because if you do you start to not be as focused and lose minute details when encoding. I recommend keeping a schedule. Some people do, some don’t. I have my days marked down to the half hour. I keep an IDEAL vs. REAL schedule and have tables set up Sunday through Monday. Do I follow it rigorously? I try to yes but I don’t kill myself if I don’t. I mark down what I did instead – so if I went grocery shopping instead of my study block I was supposed to have, I’ll mark it down. Here’s an example of color coded ideal vs. real schedule. Note: I have abbreviations for everything. PS: Personal study, EX: exercise, S: Sleep, LEC: lecture, R&R: rest and relaxation, M: Maintenance – getting ready, and traveling to and from places, etc.


I also recommend keeping a personal study agenda. This is different from a to-do list. It only has things to do concerning academics. You have a daily agenda – get a small notebook from wal-mart or something and write things you need to do for the day or after lecture. Do not put anything that doesn’t have to do with school! Attached is a picture as your example. My notebook is sparkly, obviously.


As for other methods such as memory palaces and character maps, these can be saved for another blog. This is already lengthy enough and covers all the basics. I’ll send the other blog out pretty soon. Plus you guys will really enjoy my crazy character maps for biochem intracellular signaling – the JAK STAT pathway involves jack in the boxes in case you’re wondering but I didn’t miss a question on that quiz so it works 🙂 if you’re current study methods are working, don’t change them! But if you need a boost, need different methods, are struggling etc. try these and don’t ever hesitate to get help –> Promedeus or the STAT program are 2 great programs I recommend! All of the above methods are courtesy of Ryan Orwig from the STAT Program. I did not make any of these up, these are his that he created and has designed specifically for medical and pharmacy students as well as pre-med, pre-vet etc. All credit goes to him. If you’re interested in his program, google him and his site will pop up. It was the best money I ever spent. Never in life do I ever worry about failing a test because I have the proper tools and techniques to keep me from doing so. Now I only try to get A’s 🙂 Hope this helps anyone out there!

Until next time,


Med. school queen.


45 thoughts on “How To Study in Medical School

  1. Which of the Ryan Orwig STAT programs did you use? I see the $750 one for students. I also see the $2500 one that seems to be the standard.

  2. What a great post! Thank you so much for being so thorough. I am definitely going to try some of these tips. Reblogging on my blog – check it out if you have time 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on DOctor Dogma and commented:
    I have found that my grades in college were not reflective of my intelligence and interest in my classes. This is because I did not have the proper tools to study. If you need tips and tricks, read Med. School Queen’s new post about studying in med school. Best of luck to us all to get to the point of DO or MD!

  4. Hello,

    Thanks so much! This was super helpful. You mentioned—“To sum up dynamically reading and marking: underline what’s important in whatever color you choose (for me it’s red), numerate (for me it’s in blue), annotate (in green for me), make maps, highlight, draw things, write marginal questions for yourself, and summarize. It takes some time, but it’s a much more active process than re-reading pages from a book over and over and not getting anything from it. This REALLY works for reading assignments they give us. It also is more beneficial than just going through the lecture material and highlighting anything.”

    Could you please post a photo of your notes with examples of how do you this? Also could you post more about character maps and memory palaces?

    Can you also post an example (photo of your notes) with retrofitting?


    • Sure but tweet me and remind me or send me a message, all of my school work is back at school. Im on break and not back until jan 4!

  5. Also thanks so much for this post—I have one more question, how are you able to self-test the same material everyday? There is just SO much material that it’s hard to find time to do this IMO.

    • I dont self test same material everyday. I know. It’s too much. I usually self test the day’s material and save all other self testing for weekends and before exams! Hope it helps 🙂

  6. I’m currently a freshman and I originally read this days after you posted it. I couldn’t see how I could fit it to work with my classes then, but I just checked back to see if you have posted anything recently and I reread this post. This time, I can see how it will apply to my classes and I’m so excited to start using your techniques. I’m really hoping that they get me from where I currently am to where I want to be with regards to my grades! When you read through your chapters in the book, do you read every single word on every page or do you skim read for the points presented in your instructor’s powerpoints?

    • I read through every word. I do check objectives before hand, but I hardly ever read chapters in a book. We aren’t assigned a lot of reading usually, we just have powerpoints and go to class for the notes 🙂 hope the techniques help you!

  7. Hello!
    I have really really enjoyed your blog and have found it extremely beneficial, so thank you for that!
    I was just wondering if theres anyway you can also send me a template of that schedule? My email is

    Thank you so much!

  8. Pingback: How I raised my test averages by 10% – See, Do, Teach by Jackie O.

  9. Pingback: How I raised my test averages by 10% – See, Do, Teach by Jackie O.

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