HealthFebruary 07, 2024

Five steps to more effective medical school exam prep

Feeling overwhelmed with too many study resources for your medical school exams? This guide will help your choices make sense, simplify your study prep, and introduce you to a globally available resource to help you study now and succeed in your medical career.

How much time have you spent searching for hacks and tips for medical school tests?

Preparing for your exams can be easier. With the amount of information you have to absorb, there are ways to make sense of all the study tools and resources.

Take a breath and give yourself time. If you approach things from a nonjudgmental perspective, you’ll be in a better place to move forward — and get a head start on the key resources (like clinical decision support and international evidence-based medicine tools) that will follow you through from medical school into clinical practice.

1. Work through the excitement and exam nerves

If your head isn’t in the right space, you’ll have a harder time connecting theory to practice and memorizing complex information. Reducing stress and anxiety is critical—everybody from Japanese food researchers to the American Medical Association acknowledges this. 

First, all exams are challenging, so take a second to remind yourself why you’re going to be an excellent doctor. Think about your strengths and choose a few of your favorite positive affirmations. Spend some time with them when negative thoughts take over. 

Second, don’t let procrastination win. Procrastination just means you’re probably more focused on managing negative feelings than your bigger goal of preparing for your exams.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. From the beginning, remind yourself that everybody runs across questions they don’t know.

And if you want an early confidence boost? Access Anki (with the UpToDate® for Anki add-on) and know you’ve done your future self a favor.

2. Find your exam prep community

Finding support and community as you prepare for medical school exams will be critical to:

  • Maintaining mental health
  • Tapping into the knowledge of other students
  • Implementing active learning tactics
  • Augmenting individual study

A community can help you find reliable resources and vet sources (like medical school influencers or online threads) that might not be a good fit for your goals. 

Communities can also be helpful for group study. Look for groups that focus on a single subject (like mastering pharmacology or conquering anatomy), or groups that assist with general study tips. Also look for groups specific to the tests you’re taking, like understanding the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) syllabus or preparing for the Australian Medical Council (AMC) Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) Examination.

3. Stay motivated and set goals

As exams get closer, you should move slower and more intentionally, cleaning up weaker areas. Keep your goals reasonable, especially in your final prep period, where it’s tempting to go all out. You need breaks for breathing exercises, food, even some physical movement.

Also, use practice tests. Put your phone on DND (do not disturb), turn off background noise, and make sure everything in your physical environment is as close to the real thing as possible. But most importantly, rest before test day. You want to go in refreshed and ready.

4. Establish the best learning tactics

Science can help you pick the best study tips for increasing retention and improving your study outcomes. Some strategies have solid research and proof behind them in helping you stay organized and focused and overcoming information overload. 

Harness your daily rhythms

Don’t fight your body when creating a study schedule. If you absorb information better later in the day, don’t try to become an early-morning person. 

Use spaced repetition to streamline your prep

Your brain needs some time to make the connections that turn short-term info over to long-term memory. Flash cards are a great tool here (the UpToDate for Anki add on is a student favorite around the world).

Build your time management strategy to stay focused on your goals

You’ve got a few methods and principles to choose from, so look for approaches that work for you and don’t make too many changes along the way. These include

  • Pareto Analysis
  • Pomodoro Technique
  • Eisenhower Matrix
  • Parkinson’s Law
  • Time Blocking
  • Getting Things Done (GTD) 
  • Rapid Planning Method (RPM)
  • Pickle Jar Theory
  • Eat the Frog Technique

5. Look for the right study prep tools

You’ll find Anki on almost every list of recommended tools for exam prep on the planet. Anki study aids integrate directly with UpToDate content, the leading tool in point-of-care clinical decision support. The integration provides quick access to comprehensive, evidence-based information available right on a flashcard — you’ll save time and effort even as you deepen your knowledge of key medical concepts.

Improve your results with the UpToDate for Anki add-on and you’ll be a step ahead of students and even doctors who don’t — UpToDate is used by over 2 million clinicians globally in a range of clinical settings.

Most importantly, celebrate your wins! Every milestone you reach and plan you make is something you should be proud of. So, give yourself credit for taking a step closer to great scores and accomplishing your future goals in medicine. 

Learn more about the UpToDate for Anki add-on and how it can boost your study skills.

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Over 2 million clinicians worldwide trust UpToDate to make the best care decisions.
UpToDate is the industry-leading clinical decision support resource associated with improved outcomes.
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