- Study every single day - Being a good student requires developing good study habits. As cliche as this is, it is really really important in medical school, much more so than in college or high school. There is a huge volume of material being presented, and it is very easy to fall very far behind. Even if you can't study every single day, try to read at least a little bit whenever you can.
- Translate the notes you receive into your own condensed, easy-to-read version - This helps you internalize the knowledge in a way you can easily access. If you find yourself having trouble doing this, it is usually a good sign that either the material was not presented well or you are not fully understanding it (or both). Besides, such study guides will help immensely down the road when you have to study for USMLE Step I.
- Use visual cues - Imagine 10 years from now (or even 2 years), you are participating in a gastric bypass bariatric surgery procedure. The procedure is being doing laparoscopically, and the attending physician points to a section of the GI tract, asking you to identify it. If you study visually, this will trigger images from your basic science years, and such identification should be easy. However, if you only study via text or via one view of the abdomen, such identification may prove very challenging.
- Take study breaks - I know, this contradicts the tips that came before. But it is really important to maintain balance in studying, and to take appropriate study breaks. I would suggest taking a 2 to 5 minute break every hour, and a 30 minute break every 3 hours. And, in general, have one day a week where you study only an hour or not at all. Your mind needs time off to process all the information you are trying to cram into it.
- Study in a group - Again, somewhat cliched advice, but I think the key here is to choose your friends wisely and to strictly limit how much time you study with them. Ideally, you should do all your studying on your own, and use group studying time as a review or to clarify confusing points. The sessions should be rapid fire and limited to no more than an hour or two a week. I studied with friends much more than this amount, but looking back on it, I am not sure how efficient such studying was. The ideal study group is one with similar views on studying and work ethic that complements your knowledge base well.
- Study what matters - A lot of minutiae will be presented to you during these early years, and the ideal student will learn it all. However, pragmatically, this is not possible for most of us. What is important to remember is that most of your examiners are clinicians first, so focus on what the clinically relevant questions will be. In fact, looking at USMLE Step 1 books and review guides can be very helpful, as these are the types of clinical vignettes people use to test basic science material. For example, in infectious diseases, knowing the structure of the bacterium is ultimately not as important as knowing how the disease presents and how you treat it. When push comes to shove, focus on clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment over the more 'basic science' aspects of the material.
- When in doubt, ask - Simple advice, but sometimes, we are all averse to asking questions for fear of looking dumb or inconveniencing the professor. However, in this age of email, it never hurts to shoot off an email with well-phrased questions than you have already tried to answer. Whenever I did this, I usually received a thoughtful response. In retrospect, I wish I had done this more. This not only helps academically, but it helps to also develop relationships with people in fields you may be interested in in the future when you have to choose a specialty.
- Enjoy what you are doing - If you find yourself getting bored while you study, stop. Take a break, and think of a way to make what you are studying interesting, whether that is by turning it into a game, making it interactive, more visual, or even reading interesting case reports online of a related disease. Sometimes, pegging the knowledge onto a case report or vignette can make the information much more "sticky" in your mind, which is all that matters. The New England Journal of Medicine has many such case reports, most excellently written, as do many other journals.