Hard Exam Coming Up? Same.

Updated: Mar 7, 2019

Right now, this is my last semester of undergrad (and I’m actually really sad to be graduating). What this means is that I’m taking all the hardest classes for my majors right now. I major in Biochem and Neuroscience and my three hardest are Neural Mechanisms of Disease, Nutrients, Enzymes & Metabolic Flux (grad-level biochem course), and Neuroanatomy. 

When I first encountered a hard class, I had no idea where to start. I was the kind of student who barely had to study in high school, and my intro college classes were also very easy. So when I had to take Neurobiology sophomore year, I was genuinely at a loss for how to study. Some of these study habits I developed then, and some of them are what I learned through MCAT studying. 

I think these tips are very helpful and they have helped me score in the top 10% for all my exams after I implemented these methods. This is also pretty similar to how I studied on the MCAT and I scored in the 99th percentile. I am not a genius or smarter than anyone else, I just make sure that I put the work in to score well, and you can too! I really want to share my tips with you guys so that we can ALL get into amazing schools and be caring physicians because that is the goal! 

So without further delay, here is how I study: (note, these classes do not have textbooks, but just make sure to read and outline chapters in a similar way to the “capturing” phase if your class has a textbook).

1) Every Class Day: “Capturing”

I take handwritten notes on my iPad and print them out right after class. I highlight the important material the professor mentioned in class and add other things the professor said in handwriting. Then I print out these notes full-size and put them in my “Exam Notes Binder” (see other post).

2) Every week: “Condensing”

This is the phase where I start to form a study guide from the material. I read over the notes in my Exam Notes Binder and start a new “study guide” document on my iPad. I write down anything that:

· I highlighted in class

· I wrote down in class

· I remember the instructor emphasized

· I do not understand 

· I need to memorize

After that, I have a nice condensed study guide. I like to print this out after I am done. I try to add to it each week because it can get overwhelming to do right before the exam. My study guides usually range from 10-50 pages. 

Note: If your class includes math, you should include practice problems in this stage, as well as the “Prioritizing” and “Solidifying” stages. 

3) 1-2 weeks before the test: “Prioritizing”

Before the test, I sift through the study guide and read it 1-3 times to absorb the material. After that, I make a new “priority” study guide of only the information I really don’t know and still need to grasp. I hand write all my study guides because it helps me learn the information. 

Sometimes I just make one “priority” study guide, and sometimes I go through and make multiple, depending on how hard the class is. I try to get all the information I don’t know for the test down to less than 3 pages so that I have a clear idea of what questions I will have the most trouble on during the exam. Prioritizing is so important because it laser focuses my studying leading up to the exam. Additionally, Compare Medical Schools does a great job of this step to prioritize the important information for us med school applicants (

4) 1-2 Days before the test “Solidifying”

Right before the test, I make sure to master everything on the highest priority study guide. If the test includes math, I try the practice problems a final time. I then go back and read the long version study guide again just to make sure I fully grasp everything, but by this time I usually do. 

If I don’t have it all down, I make flashcards (less than 20) for the material that I must get in my head. I think flashcards are a last resort because they promote brute memorization and not understanding and connecting the different concepts.

Another thing I like to do during this phase is to talk out loud about the concepts! By activating many parts of the brain, memory is enhanced. I also talk out loud when reviewing flashcards. I pretend to teach the material to myself as well. 

Thanks so much for reading and I hope that these tips will help you improve your GPA and study for any sort of exam that might come your way! 

spread love & study hard