Study Smarter, Not Harder: Tips for Pre-Health Students

Written By Rayyan Ahmed on June 4, 2023


Hey pre-health students, Rayyan here. Whether you're aspiring to be a doctor, physician assistant, nurse, dentist, or pursuing any other medical profession, this short guide will help you explore study methods that will help you crack the code. As you embark on your journey to become a medical professional, it is crucial to select the most effective study techniques and materials to achieve your goals successfully without breaking too much of a sweat. In this article, I aim to provide valuable advice and tips on streamlining your studying methods, choosing appropriate techniques and selecting the right materials.

Learning How to Study:

To determine the most suitable technique for you, it is essential to understand your study habits and preferences. Consider your approach to note-taking and homework. Do you prefer using pen and paper or working with various colored pens and highlighters? Are you comfortable studying with digital devices such as laptops, tablets, or iPads? Perhaps you utilize a combination of these methods.


Find a practical combination of these methods that works best for you. Personally, I find it more efficient to take lecture notes on my computer for faster-paced classes like Biology, while relying on paper and pencil for subjects such as Calculus and Chemistry. I apply a similar approach when studying and doing homework. Ultimately, the best methods are the ones that help you retain information effectively. If you struggle with retention, I recommend experimenting with different methods to discover what works best for you.


I am a strong advocate of using paper and pencil whenever feasible and practical. Studying and practicing with this traditional approach promotes better retention, as it stimulates your neurons, fostering stronger and more extensive connections. This principle, known as neuroplasticity, involves building new neural connections in response to physical and external stimuli, enhancing memory retention.


Finding the Best Study Method; The Internet is Your Friend:

The vast expanse of the internet offers numerous strategies and methods to improve study habits, enhance information retention and maximize learning potential. Take an active role in researching these methods and experimenting with them. While I do not adhere to any single method exclusively, I find the Pomodoro method particularly effective when I need to concentrate intensely. The Pomodoro method involves alternating focused work periods with shorter rest periods. Adjusting the length of these intervals based on your concentration span can optimize productivity. I recommend this method due to its structured approach. Explore various methods and structures for studying, learning, and working to identify the ones that suit you best.



Try Active Recall:

One study method I highly recommend, particularly for pre-medical professional students like ourselves, is active recall. As aspiring medical professionals, we often need to memorize and comprehend vast amounts of information, concepts and details. Active recall is a learning method designed to facilitate the retrieval and recall of information from your knowledge base. Implementing active recall not only aids in understanding but also enhances long-term memory retention. I encourage you to delve deeper into this method by reading articles and watching videos to consider integrating it into your study routine.

Note from Editor:

I am a big advocate for using the Pomodoro technique, active recall, and digital note-taking systems. For the Pomodoro Technique, I use a website called Flocus. It is an online timer that automatically switches between your work time and your rest time. I generally get enough work done for 45 minutes and then give myself a 10-minute break but a more common split is 25 and 5. When studying for an exam, I try to do at least 5 Pomodoros.  

As for active recall, I tried to implement it more into my weekly studying sessions with friends. Side note: Studying with others is a game changer. This is the best advice I have gotten from upperclassmen and students who have graduated. Testing each other with past exam questions often helps reaffirm answers in your brain. You can also go back to your notes and pull key concepts to talk about with your friends to make sure each of you can explain the ideas without hesitation. 

My note-taking system is a little extensive and I will be doing a complete breakdown of how I (Zain) take notes as well as do a comparison between other Cardio members. I use an app called Notion. Notion is this digital playground where you can organize your life, plan your business, or just end up wasting time making your pages look aesthetic. However, there are a lot of tools and free templates to make an organized digital notebook for all your classes. I also recommend Google Docs. I often use it to collaborate with others as its sharing feature is by far the best I've used. It is a barebones writing tool that gets the job done. 

My last resource that sums up my notes is to watch and subscribe to Ali Abdaal on Youtube. He is an ex-doctor turned productivity expert. His content has helped me get on track with my studying and life overall. Some videos I recommend are My Favourite Note-Taking App for Students - Notion (2020) and How my friend ranked 1st at Medical School - The Active Recall Framework. While you are at it, go and check out the Cardio Medical Youtube page too.


Choosing the Best Study Materials:

When preparing for exams required to enter various medical professions, you can opt for either test preparation courses or self-study guidebooks and tools. Before making a decision, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each approach.


Test Preparation Courses:

One crucial factor to consider when contemplating test preparation courses is the cost. Depending on the type of exam and whether the course is offered locally or online, these courses can be quite expensive. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if investing in a course is beneficial for you.



Self-Studying with Study Guides and Books:

For self-studying the most important factor is being self-motivated and disciplined enough to study. For example, to get a very good score at the MCAT, it will require many many hours of dedicated studying and so consider that factor when thinking about self-studying.





In conclusion, choosing between test preparation courses and self-studying using study guides and books involves weighing the factors of cost, structure, flexibility, and personal learning preferences. Test preparation courses offer structured curricula, experienced instructors and access to practice materials, but they can be costly and less flexible. On the other hand, self-studying provides flexibility, personalization and cost-effectiveness, but requires self-discipline and may lack guidance and access to comprehensive practice materials. Ultimately, the decision should be based on your individual circumstances and learning style.

Selecting the most effective study techniques, methods, and materials is crucial for pre-health students aiming to succeed in their journey toward becoming medical professionals. By understanding your study habits and preferences, you can tailor your approach to maximize retention and comprehension. Utilizing a combination of traditional methods like paper and pencil, as well as digital tools, can enhance neuroplasticity and promote stronger connections in your learning process.


Exploring various study methods and structures available on the internet can further optimize your productivity and focus. The Pomodoro method and active recall are particularly noteworthy approaches worth considering. The Pomodoro method provides a structured framework for focused work, while active recall facilitates the retrieval and retention of vast amounts of information.


Ultimately, the decision should be based on your individual circumstances, preferences, and budget. It may even be beneficial to combine both approaches, taking advantage of the strengths of each. Remember that success in your pre-medical journey is not solely determined by the study materials you choose, but also by your dedication, perseverance and the effective application of the chosen methods. So, find what works best for you, embrace a balanced and consistent study routine and stay motivated on your path to achieving your medical professional goals.