1. Understand how you learn best
Are you a visual learner or can you pick up information by listening?
Does reading the chapter the night before help or is it better to read afterwards to add details?
Personally, I am part visual and part auditory. Put a good diagram in front of me and partner that with a good explanation and I'll definitely be able to retain the information. When I started med school, I tried to read the relevant chapters the night before a lecture but it was overwhelming. Instead, I opted to skim over the next day’s lecture notes to have an idea of the lecture topic, took notes in class, THEN read over the chapter to pick up details I felt were necessary for my understanding. Once you determine which type of learner you are (visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic), figure out how the best way to prepare for/learn in lectures.
2. Re-read your notes every night
If you don’t get anything else from this post, this is the most important thing! Do your best to read over the notes you took either during or after lecture every night. At this point, this is the third time you’re reading over this information and something should be sticking. I know it’s a big request, especially after a long night of studying, but it’s so easy to blindly copy notes and not actually comprehend what you’re reading/writing. Re-reading your notes ensures you've seen the relevant information altogether and will point out any gaps you need to fill in at a later time.
3. Ask for help immediately
It’s easy to procrastinate at the beginning of a new class.
“The test isn’t for a month, I’ll have time to study. Right?” Wrong!
Learning is a process and you have to first learn the information, then understand, then apply it. The longer you wait to learn the information, the longer the other phases will take. If you’re lost or don’t completely understand a concept find a new resource (textbooks, youtube videos, google) or ask your professor. The best way to test your application is to explain a concept to someone else and answer any questions they may have.
4. Try to ask one question per lecture
This was really difficult for me because I was always worried “what if this is a stupid question and everyone one is laughing inside their heads?”
First of all...who cares! How much does college/med school/grad school cost? You’re spending too much to misunderstand anything.
Second, this forces you to pay attention and at least grab one thing from each lecture. When all else fails and you don’t remember anything from this lecture, you’ll remember your professor’s explanation to your question.
Third, this will grant you some serious class participation points. Your professor will know you’re always involved and attentive. I’ve been told from numerous professors when a student is on the cusp of two grades (e.g. 89.5), this could swing it to a higher grade.
1. Don't waste time
Honestly, don’t go to class if it’s not helping you learn. I know this is rarely advised but you don’t want to waste time. If the way your professor explains concepts doesn’t help you learn and you would much rather read textbooks by all means go for it. HOWEVER, I wouldn’t suggest missing class until after the first exam. Sometimes professors pull test questions from things they spoke about in class knowing students who didn’t show up will get it wrong. You don’t want to miss easy questions like that. Figure out how the exam is structured, then feel free to use class time for studying if necessary. Also if you are going to miss class make sure you make occasional appearances to gain those class participation points. (Don’t only show up right before test! Professors aren’t dumb, they know that trick).
2. Don’t copy the words on the slides in your notes
The purpose of writing notes is to fill in info that’s not already there. Sometimes we get sidetracked and rewrite info already on the slide. What a waste of time and energy! The best way to prevent this is (1) read the slides the night before to see what’s already there and (2) pay attention and write key words/phrases that will help you remember when you’re re-reading notes.
3. Don’t stay on your phone
You knew this was coming. It’s so easy to look at your phone, get caught on Facebook for 5 minutes, look up, and miss 5 really important slides. Then you get confused and start asking everyone what the professor said. Just avoid it all together and turn your phone off! Yes it will suck, but you’ll be present during the lecture and won’t need to catch up later.