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Study tips 2: Revision essentials

The internet is full of advice to help you improve your focus, ‘crank out’ more work and increase your productivity, but you will already know that you should be taking regular study breaks, staying hydrated, doing exercise and avoiding the cycle of procrastination. What else can you do to learn medicine effectively and so reduce your work load?

The things you must get right:

Firstly, planning your work is hugely important. I’ve often sat down to study and only afterwards realised that I had a more appropriate textbook to look at than the one I used, or that I’ve made written notes when diagrams would have been much clearer. Avoid this by planning the work you’re going to do the evening before, then you’re beholden to your past self and less likely to change your plans based on what you feel like doing. It's difficult to force yourself out of the habit of avoiding things you don't want to do, but this one step will make the most difference to the effectiveness of your work!


Your study space:

I love the library! It’s a place designated for work and that’s important: we all have one-track minds. In the kitchen, we think about food, in our bedrooms we think about sleep and in the library, we think about work! However, if you must work in your room sometimes, remember to keep it a clear work space. A cluttered room and desk will just provide you with loads of distractions.


Spaced repetition:

This, in my view, is the best way to learn. Spaced repetition relies on the fact that our brains forget information quickly after we see something for the first time, and then slower each time we are reminded of it. Many apps use spaced repetition to help you learn while focussing your attention on the facts or concepts you're less familiar with, making more efficient use of your time. You can use this method yourself by piling your revision cards into one of three boxes. When you go through them, sort them according to how well you recalled the learning point, and revisit the ones you struggled with sooner.


Some different tips:

Let’s talk OSCEs. Lots of us only ever do OSCE practice in two settings: mock exam conditions and muddling through on the ward. My OSCE skills improved the most at the beginning of third year, when we were thrust into doing lots of OSCE stations whether we’d prepared or not. We all know that OSCEs represent a significant proportion of our exam marks (and also aid clinical reasoning), yet we still spend a proportionately tiny amount of time practising these skills. Perfectionism is a trait endemic among medical students and I think it stops us practising OSCEs together as frequently as we otherwise could. Students who strive for perfection will inevitably fall short; student who strive to improve will succeed every time!


Trying to do too much at once:

Don't divide your attention between different study methods. Stop switching topics halfway through, and definitely stop trying to study from your textbook and Youtube at the same time. Learning requires focussed effort and you can’t take in information efficiently if you're juggling different thought processes at once.


…And my number one tip for studying is: stay positive! It's easier said than done, but try to ignore negative people and your own negative thoughts. Insecurity around exams is natural, but it leads to stress, which often leads to complaining. If you try to do one enjoyable thing for yourself every day and keep this in mind when you feel like moaning, you’ll make the whole process easier to bear and avoid a negative spiral of emotions and motivation!


All the best for this exam season!


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Guest Blog: Alastair Coulson, 18.12.2018


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