#1: How Much Should I Be Studying?

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In this episode you will hear what to expect from this podcast when you subscribe, and learn the answer to the question “How much should I be studying?”

In terms of what to expect, I have two promises to make.  I want to help you succeed in medical school so my first promise is to give you content every episode that you can use immediately to memorize more information, spend less time studying, and score better on your board exams. In short, I want to help you memorize more medicine, faster.  For example, at the end of this episode I will tell you how to download a checklist for troubleshooting your study strategy so that you can start taking action today.

My second promise is that every podcast will be under 10 minutes.  I’ve been through med school myself and I know that you need something that you can digest in the short amount of time on your walk to school or between classes, waiting for your attending, whatever.  And if you’re like me, you’ll be listening at double-speed, so I’ll keep it short and succinct to work with your busy schedule. 

So that you know little bit about me, I graduated from UW-Madison in Wisconsin and matched into dermatology.   I was motivated to create this podcast because I feel like during my four years I learned a lot of valuable information, mostly by trial and error, and I can save you time by passing it along.  I get so many emails from students especially in their M1 year and I wanted to create a good resource for finding real answers.  I guess the bottom line is that, like you, I went into medicine to help people and I hope I can help you succeed by passing along what I’ve learned.

What you can expect from me personally is a sympathetic friend. I feel your pain. If you are listening to this, I imagine it’s because you are struggling with the workload or really want to be more competitive so you have your choice of specialty and more control over your life. That’s exactly how I felt my first year. I struggled at the beginning  but made some changes the summer after M1, and ended up being AOA (which is the medical honor society) and graduating fourth in my class.  My goal is to use this podcast to help you be successful too.  I’m also working on a video series with details about my exact study strategy and how I tweaked it to make it work.  That will come out in August.  Go to sholamd.com and join the email list to be notified about that.

Ok, today I want to launch the podcast with the first question I usually get from medical students: how much should I study?  

I. It Depends

Of course, the answer depends on several factors, and I want to briefly touch on these variables.  

1. Your goals, especially choice of specialty.  It does help to figure this out early. A less competitive specialty means you can study less, whereas for specialties like orthopedics or dermatology (which is my specialty), you will need to study more if you want to match.

2. Your school.  If your school is high-ranking and grades on a curve, then you’ll have to study more to stay at the top tier of students.

3. Your personal speed.  If you are a slow reader, you will take more time.  If you can process information faster, like lecture capturing at double speed, you will take less time.

My point here is that you have to recognize these variables, come to terms with them, and make sure you are holding yourself to appropriate standards.  At the same time, give yourself permission to stop comparing yourself to other students and study the amount that makes you feel confident with the material.

II. For Incoming M1s

Variables aside, my answer to this question depends on who is asking.  If you are an incoming M1 asking this question, you really want to know what to expect.  The rule of thumb is that for every hour of lecture, you have to spend two hours studying.  At my med school we had 4 hours of lecture 8am to noon Monday through Friday.  I spent 4 hours pre-reading, and 4 hours after lecture reinforcing concepts.  So yes, you did the math right, that’s about 12 hours a day.  On Saturday, I would study another 3-4 hours, and I also had a study group that met once or twice a week. I always took Sunday off to spend time with my family. So that meant a total of about 70 hours a week.  I know, crazy right?!?!?  We had small group exercises and labs too, but I count those in the 4 hours of “reinforcing concepts” after lecture – and in a future podcast I’ll talk about how small groups and labs can double as post-lecture study time if you use them strategically.

III. For Current M1/M2s

Now, if you are a current M1/M2 and you ask me this question, “How much should I be studying,” I know you are actually trying to tell me “I’m not getting the results I want.”  Usually, it means you’re studying 70+ hours a week but not doing that great grades-wise.  Then it becomes an issue of troubleshooting.  This is a process many medical students miss – what they are doing isn’t working, but they don’t take the time to systematically evaluate what isn’t working.

If this is you, you need to troubleshoot.  I created a pdf called “Study Strategy Troubleshooting Guide for Medical Students” which I am posting in the show notes on my website, www.sholamd.com/1download.  I strongly urge you to download this 15-item checklist and go through it to see if there are obvious areas where you are not maximizing your study time.  It’s a long list, but I’ll just share with you a couple of examples from that checklist: 

  • Have you tried at least two completely different study strategies?  I hear this a lot from students – they want to know how they can try different strategies without falling behind.  I always say, if you haven’t tried a different strategy, you are starting from behind.  You need to know how you study best and not just be guessing. In medicine we always talk about evidence-based medicine, and we use it to make decisions for our patients.  So if you’re going to preach that, you should practice it yourself.  You need to gather some data, get some evidence, then make an informed decision.
  • Are you using a boards prep book to separate high-yield from low-yield?  This is definitely a whole episode in itself, but that’s a question I hear a lot and it has a very simple answer.  YES, you need to be using a boards prep book (most people choose First Aid), but you also need to be using it the right way.  Episode #2 will be entirely devoted to that.

So those are just 2 of the 15 questions you can ask yourself if you are not getting the results you want when you study.

IV. Summary

In summary, “How much should I be studying”, the answer is: it depends.  It depends on your goals, your schools, your personal speed.  But you can estimate at least 60 hours a week, for me it was closer to 70 or even 80 before exams. If you feel like you are studying too much, check out the troubleshooting checklist.  I promised you something you could use immediately, and I guarantee if you are not getting the results you want from your studying, there is something on this checklist that you are not doing.  If you aren’t sure how to fix it, stick with me – I’ll be covering all of these issues on future podcasts. 

If you have a question from this podcast or something you’d like me to address in future shows, please post it in the show notes.  I’m so happy you joined me in this first episode, and I hope you got some good information from listening.  See you next time!


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