Sep 21, 2023

Studying Hacks: How to Retain More Information in Medical School


Studying is a major part of medical students’ lives. They read tons of books (heavy books), review patient files, research for case presentations, and so much more. On top of that, they endeavor to stay on top of the trends in their specific fields or the medical industry as a whole. With all the information they need to take in, it can be challenging to retain some of it. Here are some actionable and science-based studying hacks to help boost your focus, improve your concentration, and enhance your memory.

5 Studying Hacks for Medical School

1. Take notes by hand.

According to research, students who write their notes by hand learn more effectively than those using a computer, laptop, or tablet. Since writing by hand is slower, you are more likely to listen, understand, and summarize the essence of the lessons. It forces your brain to exert focused effort, boosting your comprehension and retention.

In contrast, students who type their notes on devices produce a verbatim transcription of the lecture. There’s not much thought to the content or processing of its meaning. Thus, you’ll tend to struggle to understand or apply the information typed.

To retain more information from class lectures, it’s beneficial to have a pen and notebook/paper on hand. We know this won't always be possible; but when it is, do so.

medical student taking notes by hand

2. Review your lessons regularly.

People take in a lot of information each day. And to decide which information takes priority, the brain pays more attention to things that have been processed several times. That’s why when you review a portion of your lessons daily, rather than last-minute cramming, you can better remember, understand, and apply the information.  

If you’re unable to review every day, actively process a topic multiple times before a test. For example, read your course materials, take notes, review, then give yourself practice tests the night before. Read your notes repeatedly once or twice and then quiz yourself on what you can remember. According to one study, this kind of retrieval practice will create different routes to access your memory.

3. Study in smaller portions.

In cognitive psychology, humans are said to improve the amount of information they remember through chunking. This process puts numerous individual pieces of information together into fewer large blocks, making it easier to retain and recall. Moreover, neuroscientist and author Dr. Daniel Bor posits that chunking forces the brain to see patterns and make connections, which improves memory and creativity.

When chunking your lessons, you get to organize the lessons and group them together based on a pattern you like. For instance, if you’re studying vocabulary words, create smaller groups based on their use or characteristics. Doing this will help you remember better and visualize how they relate or fit together.

woman studying at laptop

4. Get adequate sleep.

In a study by Notre Dame and Harvard researchers, it was found that people remember better if they had learned shortly before sleeping. This is because sleep helps stabilize the memories and information people acquire within the day. Additionally, sufficient sleep improves your cognitive function, attention span, and logical thinking.  

To retain more information, avoid pulling an all-nighter. Instead, get seven to eight hours of quality sleep and schedule your study period before bedtime.

5. Take breaks.

Research shows that when you focus on a single task for an extended period, your mind starts to wander. You begin to go through the motions without thinking about what you’re doing. That’s why taking short breaks during study time helps improve your performance, regain focus, and sustain your mental capacity.  

Likewise, the brain needs time to rest and recover for it to function optimally. During your study session, set a timer for how long you can study without wandering. When the alarm goes off, do another task – go for a walk, grab a coffee, do a household chore – to reboot your energy.

Whether you’re studying remotely, preparing for case presentations, or reviewing for the USMLE, medical school is no easy feat. When you put in the work and invest your time, these five studying hacks can help you retain more information and learn effectively for your studies.

If you need more guidance, C.H.H.A is here to help. Contact us today.

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