I will never forget what a wise upperclassmen said during my orientation: “College is like drinking from a water fountain, medical school is like drinking from a fire hydrant. They’re both water, but coming at you at different velocities”. This analogy adequately sums up what studying in med school is like; the subjects in which you are enrolled in, especially in first year, may not be much different than what you studied in college, but the amount of information that you are expected to learn is much more in much less time. It may seem daunting at first, but with a bit of time management and organization, it should be a smooth transition inshaAllah.
First, expect to put in a few more hours per day than what you had previously done in undergrad. Cramming won’t work here, contrary to what some may boast and claim to have done. It’s absolutely impossible to neglect the material or to push it off for several weeks then expect to magically memorize and comprehend it all in twenty-four hours. The best approach is to preview the material before going to class, then reviewing it right after. In this way, you’ve actually studied three times, which is what legend says will help you retain info. It may take more than three times for you to score above average on exams, but in this way you have a head start and are familiar with the material already.
Granted, this system will work until exams start piling up on top of each other. It’s perfectly normal and fine to leave the other subjects for a few days while focusing all your energy into the material that will be tested on. However, you must look back at that material as soon as possible to avoid having new material to learn upon old stuff that you still have no idea about. I was put into this unenviable situation in my first semester; I put all my energy into the histology exam and neglected my physiology and anatomy. Once the histology exam was over, I began prepping for the physiology exam and still had not reviewed the anatomy. As a result, I was completely lost in anatomy lab and had to put in many extra hours just to keep up, as the practical exam was right around the corner. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.
As I mentioned earlier, you need to put in more hours than you thought possible. What works for me is studying after Fajr prayer; its the time of blessings and when most of the world is still asleep, so enjoy the peace while you can! After that, I study on my commute to school, look over my notes during lunch, and study after class and on my way home. Once I reach home, unless I have a major exam the next day, I do not study and instead enjoy some time with my family. With this system, I am able to achieve my goal of 5-6 hours of efficient studying, enjoy some down time, and sleep early. You can study for twelve hours, but emerge with only a few facts worthy of an hour. Make the best of your time and focus on what’s important so that you will be able to have some time for yourself and said going insane.
Once you find your niche and find your groove, it gets better. It really does. The hardest time is adjusting to the study load and figuring out your best method and mode of studying. Whether its group study, flashcards, rote memorization (not recommended), or discussing with yourself the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the circulatory system, whatever works for you is what you should do. Although I’m only halfway through medical school, I like to tell incoming first years that the first semester is the hardest semester, not because of content but because of the transition. The second semester and the second year itself cover more difficult subjects, but the workload is easier to manage because you have been exposed to it already. You are going to be a doctor; facing challenges and overcoming the impossible will be your middle name. And always remember that it will be completely worth it at the end.