A concerned reader recently sent me this question over on Ask.FM:
I just don’t know what to do. There is so much information and no one tells you what you need to know and what is excess fluff. I’m really confused about what I should be doing and no one is helping.
-Med School failure
Deep breathe my friend, but not too deep, what you are experiencing is the proverbial “fire hose” of medical school. The material comes at you fast and it is initially nearly impossible to keep up. As you have alluded to, a large part of the difficulty is determining what is THE important information and what is just verbal diarrhea present by your professor to make themselves sound smart, interesting, important or some combination of the above. In short, medical school is tough because you have to figure out what is going to be on the fucking test. Here’s how to do it.
It’s simple actually: Review Books
Sometimes it helps to take a step back and look at the big picture. What is the number one most important thing to the medical school and in turn the professors? That you pass your board exams and secure a residency position. No one wants to go a med school with the reputation of producing shitty students and this is how schools are subjectively judged (I’m looking at you Caribbean!).
Where am I going with all of this? There are a number of core concepts that WILL be tested on the boards and that you WILL be tested on throughout the basic science years of medical school. How can you discover what these core topics will be? Review books. Check out my post on books every medical student should have for the basic science years for some direction on which books are best for each subject area. Use the subjects presented in these books as a place to start. If you know them cold you WILL pass.
So if all the information you need to succeed on medical school and the boards is in a set of review books you can get half-priced off of Amazon.com then why are you paying 50k per year to go to medical school? That’s a delicate question but I like to think it is your professor’s job to guide you through these concepts. Most of these review books will look like hieroglyphics until the principles have been broken down to you in lecture (or more realistically at home in your pajamas while you listen to the previously recorded lecture).
Other ways to cut out the fluff:
- Get friendly with some MS2s. They will be able to tell you what each prof finds important.
- Does your school allow you access to old tests? USE THEM. Professors test on the same thing year after year and it is a good way to test YOUR knowledge as well.
- Mentioned more than once or over multiple PowerPoint slides? It will be on the test.
- Go ASK the professors what is going to be emphasized, you will be surprised how forthcoming they are.
Is it really that simple? I dare say it is. Sure, knowing the material in review books won’t get you that bonus question about the professor’s cat correct but it WILL get you a solid pass and keep you on track throughout your studying. Medical school is tough, don’t try to fight the fire hose on your own!