LET’s TALK: How to Learn Better during the Semester and for the Exam

Methods and advice on better study techniques and planning

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In today’s society, there’s a great sea of knowledge to obtain after decades of studies and research. That’s a tremendous advantage for a student like myself to become a more competent educated person. Although there’s much to learn, it takes planning and a specific strategy to obtain much knowledge in a short amount of time and in the end to succeed at exams.

As a medical student at Copenhagen University, Denmark, and a published author in medical science, I get most of the knowledge I need to pass my exams in the books recommended by the university. Throughout the different semesters, I read and learn about many subjects from cardiovascular diseases, in-depth anatomy to basic cell function and medical psychology, and of course many other subjects. With at least two exams per semester, I need to plan out the semester and when studying for the exams begins. Throughout my time at the university, I’ve talked to many fellow students and found the best methods of learning quickly and effectively. This has helped me tremendously, and by applying these methods and pieces of advice to my approach to learning I have received better grades than at the beginning of my time at the university. My latest exam in medical statistics resulted in getting an ‘A’.

Note-taking is of course alongside preparing for and attending classes key to learning, and when it’s time to study for the exams they will be the material for repetition and memorization. By preparing for classes you gain developing memorization that will help you understand new information. But the question for many students is; how do you remember and understand better and effectively without using too much time? In other words, how do you study better and smarter instead of harder? This especially applies to studying for the exams when there are no more classes to attend.

These methods don’t apply to medical school only but also to many other types of studies. How you take notes and organize your studies is as said key to learning. The notes you put together should be organized in such a manner that you understand the subject without having to read the different chapters in-depth again. This is not something that is the main focus of this paper but rather the different methods of learning better and perhaps faster. I don’t claim that this will help every person that reads this. Another factor to take into account when learning is the passion for the education in which you study. Wanting to learn and become smarter allows your brain to absorb the information more easily. As Anthony J. D’Angelo has put it:

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow

But these pieces of methods and advice have certainly made a difference in my learning process. And I want to share them with you.

1 — plan out the semester. Plan ahead.

Know when the different classes are. Know the timeframe for them all and when the studying for the exams beings. This is important to know from the beginning to look at the calendar and plan out when you read and prepare for class and organize your notes for the different classes. Knowing when the exams are can help to make a plan; how many days do you have to prepare in, how many subjects are there, which subjects require more attention and time when memorizing and understanding them, and so on.

2 — read for 60 min, take a 15 min break.

Although it is possible to study for a long time, to not get tired mentally it is wise to take small breaks. Get some fresh air, make some coffee, something that does not require brainpower. That way you can return to studying and not get tired as fast mentally.

Usually I study for an hour and then I take a mental break away from the books. Great advice is to not look at your phone on your social media. You might get stuck and use time and prolong the need go study that day. That will in the end affect your ability to obtain an understanding and memorize what you’ve read.

3 — teach / talk about it.

When sitting in a study group you realize how much you know and what you need to study more. Being in a study group with fellow students will allow you to actively think and talk about a subject. Questioning each other is a tool to learn and adding to your memorization. This can be done by solving older examples of the exam, by flash cards or by making your own questions. Picture yourself being the professor teaching the subject; What should be said? How should it be explained? Go through every subject with that mindset.

4 — rereading your notes.

Another good memory trick is to reread notes about previous subjects. Remember, your notes should summarize the subject. They are meant to give you an understanding from a shorter description. You can go through the notes quicker and therefore remember the subject relatively better rather than reading the whole subject.

Repetition is crucial. During the semester, before studying for the exams, reread the notes 2 days and 5 days after.

Also, make a to-do list and give each subject enough time to go through. This especially applies to studying for the exams. Maybe you need two days for one subject and one for another in order to remember it.

5 — do previous tests for the same exams.

If there are tests from the previous years for the same exams I can highly recommend doing those for practice. Especially written exams.

This is a good way to use what you’ve memorized without your notes or books by your side. This is a great practice concerning the real scenario and can help you sort out your strengths and weaknesses.

If possible, do these tests a week or two before the exams. That way you still have time to practice the weaker subjects and boost your memory of knowledge to its maximum potential.

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These simple tips have helped me and my fellow students. They may seem obvious or you might have read them elsewhere but all in all, it comes down to planning and dedication. Without an overview of the following semester, you can’t plan how to study properly. Many fall off the motivation wagon and begin very late on studying or they simply don’t continue reading and follow the classes. These tips can perhaps make it more achievable.

So to sum up:

  • Get an overview of the semester.
  • Sit down and plan ahead.
  • Study for the classes by reading for 60 min then take a 15 min break.
  • Organize your notes.
  • Reread your notes about the subject every 2 and 5 days.
  • When studying for the exams, have the mindset of a professor educating the subject. This works better in a study group.
  • Make a to-do list: what to have gone through by each day’s end.
  • Do older tests from previous years if there’s some available.

Thank you for reading this. I hope that you’ve found it helpful to some degree. Good luck with your studies!

Medical Student. Working as medical staff in fighting COVID-19 and at Rigshospitalet. Come join my ‘LET’s TALK’ series regarding education and health.

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