By DANIEL XUE (and SHIRIN SHABAN)

Disclaimer: Advice mostly relevant for 1st years (and some disoriented 2nd years)

So…you’ve come to seek the answer to P+ studying. Well, you’re in luck! Read The Jugular’s golden advice on having Type A time management skills, perfecting old and new study techniques, the time-tested way of tackling each medical discipline in exams and the unspeakable phenomenon of cramming.

Broad Points:

  • The only way to guarantee a high score on any exam is to literally know ALL of the content in each course.
  • There will always be some exams that ignore traditionally “high-yield” content in favour of niche bits of information.
  • Reviewing the past papers before you begin proper revision can help you figure out what disciplines are commonly tested in each course, and what type of questions tend to show up (warning: the exams can still be drastically different though, don’t @ us!)
  • If you want to avoid death and destruction in the last week of term, the best way is to stay consistent;
    • Stay up to date with lectures, especially important ones (attend them live/ stream them live, watch them on the train, etc.). You don’t need to memorise all the information as you go: having just seen it once helps!
    • Develop an understanding of big concepts over the term. Higher yield, more complex content e.g anatomy diagrams or specific diseases can be revised on a weekly basis.
    • Use the last few weeks before exams to synthesise what you know, and take advantage of short-term memory for the wordier but less complicated sections e.g public health, drug details.

Being organised: Study/revision planner

  • If your timetable is anything like some students, you will have massive breaks between lectures and classes each day. If you are that rare breed of human who goes to lectures, write a list of things you need to do in order to consolidate those lectures after attending them. If you can’t fit that consolidation into your breaks, put them into other free time slots. Keeping a timed daily planner will help you visualise how much time is at your disposition and plan accordingly.
  • Before exams:
    • MAKE A REVISION TIMETABLE! We’ve all been there; sitting down to study for a big exam only to get way too overwhelmed with what we need to get done. Start with a table like the one below and a list of all the lectures in the course:
  • First, pencil in your exam and any commitments that are permanent, like work or extracurriculars.
  • Decide how much preparation you can realistically do. You mightn’t have time to revise all lectures/classes. Cut out what you won’t have time to cover and leave these topics for light bedtime reading or for a quick skim before you go into the exam.
  • Pick out the highest yield lectures/topics; you want to fit these in first. Revise lectures in groupings based on discipline, to see how the concepts connect to one another.
  • Day by day, go through and fit in specifically which lectures you want to cover. Sometimes it’s hard to foresee how much time certain concepts will take, so leave a somewhat free day, e.g. Sunday where you can catch up on anything you haven’t completed throughout the week.
  • The final product should look something like this:
    • As you complete lectures, cross them off using strikethrough. Trust me on this one. It feels damn good.

Exam Technique:

  • 10 minutes of reading time:
    • Solve some multiple choice questions in your head.
    • Scan the entire content for the exam.
    • Preplan answers to short answer questions.
  • Multiple choice questions (MCQs):
    • You want to get through this section as fast as possible so that you can spend more time on short answer questions later.
    • Shouldn’t take too long (no more than like 15-20 minutes).
  • Short answer questions (SAQs):
    • Structure is really important. Don’t start writing until you know what you’re writing.
    • Full sentences aren’t necessary, dot points are fine, especially for anatomy or pathology tables.
    • Keywords = marks

Studying Techniques:

  • Flashcards:

Extremely common in medicine. You can use programs like Quizlet/Anki to create flashcards of important, or all, content covered. Most effective for consistent studying and allows you to keep up a knowledge of content throughout the term. Not the best for cramming.

Caution: You can get a little bit carried away with this when you find yourself making 2000+ flashcards for just one teaching period that you end up hardly ever using for revision week (or even for future reference), eventually realising ‘boy, what a waste of time’. The key is to create flashcards that target the high-yield concepts that you really want to burn into your brain so that it is ready to be instantly regurgitated in the exam. Learn to be OK with the fact that you (and anyone else, for that matter) will never be able to remember every single nitty-gritty detail in medicine, and that’s OK.

  • Flashcard alternative: The Google Sheets Method

This trumps Anki in one respect: With the google sheets method, you can visualise all your concepts under each discipline to see how they relate to one another, which is great if you like learning where a string of concepts fits in place, like this for anatomy:


And then proceed to put the second column with all the answers (to the questions you created) in white font to create a modified flashcard system:

To understand this technique in more depth, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIyDJK_SAjs&t=583s

  • Old Notes (Nick Chang, Bonita Gu, etc):
    • This saves a lot of the effort of writing new notes, however, lecture content can change over the years (new lectures can be added and/or old ones removed). So it does require reformatting.
    • One recommendation is editing a copy of Nick Chang’s notes as you watch each lecture, so it’s faster than writing your own from scratch and still up-to-date.
  • Lecture Slides:

Useful for lecturers that read purely off their slides (e.g. Karen Gibson), and good for learning important diagrams (e.g. anatomy).

  • Make your own notes:
    • Most up-to-date, relevant and understandable. However, can take A LOT of time.
    • If you do this during live lectures, it can be hard to actually process the information as you’re being told it.
  • A note about passive VS active recall:

Passive recall is when you read a set of notes and expect to remember it afterwards. Active recall is when you try to recall what the notes actually said, without looking. What’s the difference? Active recall is, by far, more effective at committing things to memory. Writing out your notes (from memory), teaching your peers or trying to recite stuff you’ve read are good ways to do this. Most people practice some form of active recall, but this is just a heads up for those who don’t. Give it a try!

Disciplines:

  • Anatomy:
    • SAQ typically composed of diagrams and additional written information.
    • Know how to draw and label ALL line diagrams. They don’t have to be perfect, but it should be recognisable to the marker. Majority of marks come from a proper, well-labelled diagram (even without quality writing)
    • Additional information (e.g function or random features) can be found either from the additional notes attached to each anatomy lecture on eMed or are spoken by the lecturer during the lecture.
  • Pharmacology:
    • SAQ that involves providing information on drug names, mechanisms of action, side effects, resistance, etc.
    • Questions can ask for a specific drug or a broader drug class.
    • The difficulty comes from the large number of drugs and features that are taught. Lecture slides can also be a real mess, so it pays off to have/make a summary table.
    • The only way to guarantee full marks on any pharmacology question is to know literally everything about every drug (borderline impossible).
    • The most efficient way is to know the full details for 1-2 drugs under each class.
  • Embryology
    • Questions usually require regurgitating content from anywhere within Mark Hill’s lectures.
    • Can range from broad topics to specific facts.
    • Difficulty comes from the insane amount of detail and the chaos that is the embryology website.
    • Past notes can also be really difficult to understand, and there’s a large number of diagrams that may be absent.
    • A great approach is to create/edit a summary table. This lets you synthesise all your information (main terms, details, dates, diagrams) into an easy-to-read format, while also developing an understanding of seemingly gibberish concepts as you go.
    • YouTube videos (e.g. Khan Academy) are also good for visualising embryonic processes.
  • Physiology:
    • Questions usually involve regurgitating lecture content onto the exam paper.
    • A few marks are commonly dropped on 1-2 markers, which require extremely specific knowledge to answer.
    • Difficulty comes from the large amount of content that needs to be memorised. However, relatively easy to score if you’ve learnt everything that’s relevant.
    • The best strategy is to keep in mind what’s commonly tested and learn to understand, not to memorise.
  • Pathology:
    • Questions commonly involve being able to regurgitate lecture content, either in a table format or just written.
    • Keep in mind what diseases are commonly tested, and learn any tables that come up.
  • QMP:
    • Questions commonly follow past trends, which involve statistical analysis and data interpretation or understanding of key concepts.
    • The big thing about QMP that confuses everyone is the fact that the lectures are just a BIG mess of words and numbers, and the website isn’t much better.
    • The most effective teaching/resources for QMP learning come from the prac classes. There are activities and guides (on QMP moodle) that you’re supposed to look at (but few do) that tend to explain things to a decent degree, at least enough to answer exam type questions. Tutors are also very accessible and willing to help.
    • The biggest thing is being able to do past questions because they tend to always follow the core concepts taught each course.

The Cramming Method:

If all else fails and you find yourself in the last week before exams having no firm grasp of any knowledge in your brain besides ‘collagen’, here’s the tea:

It is impossible to fit a whole course worth of content into a single week. That being said, it is possible to receive a decent mark by doing so. If you find yourself in this situation, you’re not in for a lot of fun. Prioritise past papers, and figure out which key disciplines are likely to come up. Make sure you know enough from each discipline to be able to scrounge up like at least half of each questions marks. Leave out anything deemed “low-yield”, and send a prayer to Medfac to go easy on ya.

Note: It is NOT advisable to use cramming as your main study technique for the exam as it can leave a dent on your physical and mental health. Also, good doctors vs good exam-takers.

Final Words:

Despite all this, the most important thing you can do is try to find some sort of balance in your lifestyle. First off, exams aren’t even the only thing academic aspect of the course; don’t forget about those pesky individual and group assignments! On top of that, uni (and life as a whole) has this tendency to be chaotic and ever-changing. The most important advice we can give here is to know your priorities. Different things will become more important at different times (like near the due date), and it’s perfectly fine if you take some time off of studying to keep the rest of your uni life afloat.

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