I really like learning, which means I usually enjoy studying + being productive. Sometimes I think I don’t, but when I have long breaks from school, I get super antsy. My brain craves knowledge. And now that I have started studying for the MCAT, I am kind of thankful I wrote out the amino acids a gazillion times, internalized reaction mechanisms, and drilled on the sarcomere until I was sure it was something I just made up. Throughout my years of learning and schooling, I’ve learned what works well for me in order to maximize my time and education. But, remember, what works for me may not work for you, but I love implementing new tips and tricks when I am in a rut. I hope these may help!
- STUDY SHEETS. These are my lifeline. These sheets are just copy paper that I take notes on…but not my first round of notes. I first take notes in a spiral bound notebook, then, closer to an exam or quiz, I rewrite topics the professor stressed, things I don’t remember learning, and the little details I still need to memorize on the copy paper. Then, a day or two before the exam, all I have to do is reread the sheets as many times I need to to feel confident. I usually will underline things I keep forgetting in red. The best thing about these sheets? FINALS. Omg it is so much easier to study for finals. All I have to do is go back to the sheets I made for each exam. If something seems foreign to me, I reread that section in the textbook or look at the topic in the lecture notes. These sheets really make starting finals studying so much less daunting.
- phone out of sight + reach during dedicated study/work time. This sounds like a no brainer, but how many times have you had your phone sitting next to you at your desk and found yourself reaching for it multiple times within a given study session? If my phone is not in the same room as me, I don’t reach for it when I am craving distraction. Sure, if it has been a long stretch of studying, I will take a break, but if my phone is within arm’s length, I will pick it up often. And even checking it for just 2 minutes every 30 minutes really adds up.
- Write down exactly what you want to accomplish during a given study/work session. For example, today I knew I wanted to read 3 MCAT biology chapters and do a couple of CARS passages, so I wrote them down in my little notebook that I keep for lists, and I checked each off as I went. Without a goal in mind, my study time can become distracted. I find I really struggle to not think too far in the future/worry about problems that don’t even exist yet. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all I need to get accomplished, but if I have a couple of goals for each session, I know I am working towards decreasing my overall workload instead of sitting there half studying the whole time because I am wondering if this is really what I should be doing with my time.
- Movement! This one is huge for me. I try to get in some form of activity/exercise/workout/movement/whatever word you fancy almost every day. I find tiring my body often makes my mind sharper (but don’t take my word for it: exercise + brain plasticity, exercise and improved cognitive function). I work out in the mornings, but find what works for you!
- Routine/schedule. Another huge one. Try to keep the same routine when you can, without being too rigid of course (some advice I could take). For one, studies show that a regular sleep wake cycle is great for your health on many different levels. What does this mean? Don’t wake up at 6am every day of the week and then sleep until noon on the weekends. This behavior can throw off your circadian rhythm, which is super important for hormone regulation. Your sleep-wake cycle regulates insulin, glucose, leptin, grehlin, growth hormone, and cortisol levels, and if these hormones are thrown off, you won’t feel too hot (side note: I think hormones are the coolest). Now, if you feel great sleeping the way you are and feel maximally productive + happy, then keep on sleeping how you sleep, even if it goes against all scientific evidence. Everyone is different! A bit of a tangent there, but, basically, having a schedule allows your body + mind to easily transition throughout the day without wasting a lot of time wondering what to do or how to do it, including a sleep schedule.
- Ponder/create weekly and monthly goals. These really keep you on track and focused on the bigger picture, especially during extra stressful times. If you feel overwhelmed in the moment, looking at your goals for the month may ease your mind and remind you of the big picture.
- When times are especially busy, I often schedule out my whole day, hour by hour. If you just don’t feel like you can fit it all in, try, and figure out how to maximize your day. But be sure to schedule in meals, sleep, and a couple of conversations with other humans! Then, think about your schedule as a visual of everything you get to do that day! Something to truly be thankful for.
- MCAT Specific
- Kaplan Flashcard App..studying wherever you go woo!
- Writing pesky equations/facts on your mirrors. Can’t remember if the kidney is derived from the embryonic mesoderm or endoderm? Write it on your mirror. Then, brushing your teeth isn’t some seemingly useless activity anymore!
- I am not so great at reading quickly and taking efficient notes…so, I have been setting a one hour timer and trying to get through one MCAT chapter in that time. This forces me to only write down important facts and big picture concepts instead of rewriting the entire chapter.
- Something new I will implement this semester:
- Putting my phone on airplane mode by 8-9pm unless I am specifically using it for an important communication reason. I don’t want to lose time + sleep scrolling through an endless Instagram feed.
All of this to say, everyone is so different, so none of this may work for you at all. My number one tip? Find what works for you, and stick with it! Hard work and dedication is never wasted.
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