Let’s be honest, studying is not the ‘most fun’ thing to do and especially not when it comes to medical school. It requires immense focus, dedication, consistency and a huge reservoir of energy. Even with the recipe laid out for you, since our frail humanity gets in the way of limitless energy, exhaustion is almost always inevitable.
But don’t fret! Trust me, I have gone through the same tedious hours myself. At times they did get the better of me, but I managed to survive the ordeal with a few invaluable lessons which I’ll be sharing with you. So without further ado, let’s have a look at our 7 hard-learned, tried-and-true study ‘hacks.’
- 1. Know why you are studying
- 2. Have a clean, dedicated workspace
- 3. Short sessions over lengthy ones
- 4. Don’t compromise on your sleep
- 5. Eat the right food
- 6. Reward yourself upon completion of tasks
- 7. Self-testing is key
- Know Why You Are Studying
This is, indubitably, the most important part of the study equation. We have all heard of the famous ‘He who stands for nothing, falls for anything’ quote and now is the time to put that into practice. So many of us lose track of the reason(s) that got us started, especially when we have been studying for a long time. At times, the constant academic pressure drains us and renders us hopeless. But that is not going to happen to you again. Here’s how: Make a clear list of your goals i.e ‘the things you stand for’ and stick that list in a place where you will look at it daily; ideally your work station. Doing so will keep on reminding you as to why you are in the run in the first place and on the days when you are low on motivation fuel, a simple glance will be enough to put you right back in the game!
- Have a clean, dedicated workspace
The huge impact that a clean work station has on your psyche is criminally underrated. When you are surrounded by pages, books, files and registers which are sprawled across your desk, you are bound to be stressed out by the subliminal message of ‘God, this is so much work!’. Try clearing out your space and neatly organizing everything so that only the task at hand occupies your desk. Not only will this have a much less intimidating feel to it, but this will also greatly boost your productivity levels. A cluttered desk is the hallmark of a cluttered mind! And a very nice way to go about the ‘uncluttering’ is organizing and prioritizing your tasks. Along with eliminating potential distractions, doing so will further maximize your concentration.
- Short sessions over lengthy ones
Studying, especially when you are a med student, is akin to a marathon. People who mistake it for a sprint, more often than not, end up subjecting themselves to extreme mental fatigue. A very novice studying error that most of us are guilty of is leaving a lot to cover at the last minute and then planning long tiring hours of cramming to get done with it. This is a very counterproductive approach to studying as it leaves little room for retention. A stand-out among the well-researched alternatives to these lengthy spells is the Pomodoro Technique. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks of 5 minutes. After 4 rounds, you take a longer break of 30 minutes to unwind. The underlying idea is that the timer instills in you a sense of urgency. It shatters the illusion that you have limitless time to get the task done, thus cementing that you only have a fixed number of minutes to make as much progress on a task as possible.
- Don’t compromise on your sleep
Arguably, the most common mistake that I have observed among medical students is cutting down on their sleeping time in order to squeeze out more time for studying. They will gleefully sacrifice a good night’s sleep to buy themselves a few extra hours of cramming. Although this might sound like the most normal thing to do, especially during examination season, it is in fact extremely unhealthy. Sleep deprivation is extensively researched to be responsible for diminished neuronal activity and poorer recall ability. A 2007 research article published by the acclaimed Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment Journal builds heavily on the importance of ample rest and sleep and how their inadequacy is directly proportional to poor cognitive performance. So the next time, you find yourself unable to overcome that study slump, try improving your sleeping habits and you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Eat the right food
This might elicit a smirk from most of you, because just like you guys, I never bothered correlating food with my studying patterns UNTIL I came across credible medical literature which forced me to make lasting changes. The stress that med school induces makes many of us resort to comfort food (read junk food) or worse yet, scores of energy drinks, in order to overcome our anxiety levels and feel a little better. In reality, all this poor eating does is add bricks to the already thick concentration barrier that is keeping us from reviewing those final chapters. According to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consumption of junk food has a positive correlation with bouts of focus loss, fatigue and a loss of concentration. Try substituting these items with healthy alternatives like almonds, apples, berries and dark chocolate, which elevate your focus levels and actually get the concentration job done.
- Reward yourself upon completion of tasks
The human mind these days is programmed to be on the lookout for instant gratification and cheap dopamine hits which makes it much easier to push your textbooks aside and spend the time scrolling through your phone. However, such practices not only result in chronic procrastination but they also leave you reeling in disappointment at the end of the day when you fail to live up to the expectation. This is why the students who excel in the academic field swear by an extrapolation of Pavlov’s conditioning. The crux of this method is to reward yourself with something upon completion of every task which releases endorphins in your body that make you feel good about yourself. In addition to boosting your confidence, this little incentive-based learning also initiates a lovely cycle of positive reinforcement. My go-to approach is finishing one task, watching an episode of my favourite sitcom and resuming my work immediately afterwards. This method is quite effective in making studying a lot more fun than it actually is.
- Self-testing is key
“Man is the happiest when he is drunk off the illusion of grandeur.” How does this correlate with studying? After you’re done with your revision, having sat through long and arduous hours, you might be feeling as if you are on top of the world and the next sensible thing seems like taking your exam right away, but this is exactly the ‘illusion of grandeur’ which needs to be shattered through self-testing. Even when you have gone through your syllabus, the most important step still remains; evaluating your retention levels through ‘active recall’. This can only be done when you actively practice before your exam. You will be amazed at how this method helps in pulling all the pieces of information residing in the nooks and crannies of your brain and stitches them into a fine, indelible fabric. Self-testing not only highlights the topics which you might be weak in but also mentally prepares you for your exam by honing your mental prowess. The final nail in the coffin is appraising your preparation by challenging yourself and, believe me when I say, there is no sweeter a fruit than the one your diligence yields.
Truth be told, these study slumps are an ugly part of every student’s studying routine. They are, in fact, inevitable, but surely not unassailable. These slumps often get the better of even the best of us, but with the knowledge that we have equipped you with in this article, you are now ready to minimize their impact and maximize your academic potential!