How much time should I devote to current material versus pervious material?


Medical school is cumulative… every new concept you learn is building on top of previous concepts. You are eventually going to be tested on ALL of this information! You need to figure out how best to balance what you’re studying so that you can master all of the old material PLUS the new material. Upperclassmen are an excellent resource to ask about which material is the most important and relevant. You should spend the majority of your time studying the medical school curriculum. Trust that your medical school has your best interests at heart and is teaching what they think will best prepare you for your future endeavors. While you’re studying the new information that’s being thrown at you, you also need to make time to review the prior information you’ve been taught. Remember, you’re going to be tested on ALL of this stuff eventually so it’s best to be prepared.

One of the hardest truths for medical students in this second phase is the fact that everything you learn in school is cumulative, and at some point you will be tested on every bit of information you’ve been taught in your pre-clinical year(s). Yes, everything! Some students realize this right away, while others realize it later on. The sooner you come to terms with this fact, the better…

Current information you’re learning can often be connected with past material, and help remind you of concepts you haven’t thought about in months… Use this fact to your advantage! Even so, as you learn about (for example) male germ cell tumors, it is hard to keep information such as the various trunks and roots of the brachial plexus fresh in your mind. However, there ARE ways to stay on top of your current material, keep an eye out for board-heavy concepts, and maintain a mastery (or familiarity at least) of old material, and we’ll explore them here.


Talk to upperclassmen about relevance of material…

The first and perhaps most obvious resource for deciphering what is most important for long-term knowledge and what is superfluous is one (or more) of your upperclassmen. These students have gone through the curriculum, taken the USMLE Step1 exam, and thus can tell you what prepared them best for the exam and what the medical school curriculum tended to overlook. They’ve been in your shoes before, so you should definitely seek them out! However, upperclassmen are busy, and can have fuzzy memories as they navigate clinical rotations… They may not always be your most dependable resource, but they should be some of the first people you seek out when trying to determine WHAT is most important looking forward.


Spend a majority of your time on current curriculum…

You may sometimes feel the need to pull away from the curriculum to spend time studying material independently. This is an individual decision, but students should consider the synergies of engaging with the current curriculum as well as using the curriculum to pace your studies. The first reason of course is that you have to pass your courses, so you have to invest some effort regardless. The curriculum has built-in assessments which may help you accurately gauge your level of understanding of a set of material. Finally, your involvement with the curriculum allows you to maintain contact with student peers. This involvement will also help you in your professional development as you go through medical school.

While medical school curricula are not perfect, they are intended to provide you with a depth of knowledge that will allow you to perform well on board exams and on your clinical rotations. This requires some level of trust; after all, you did choose to go to your particular medical school… Each medical school is seeking to best prepare its students for success on the boards as well as for future clinical practice. They want you to succeed as much as you do because it reflects on their school rankings.


Part time on prior curricular content…

The concept of spending part of your time studying prior content in the curriculum is a lot easier said than done. There is so much information being thrown at you on a weekly (really, daily) basis… How can you possibly be expected to review material from months ago? Though it is important that you learn current material in a way that maximizes long-term retention, at some point you will have to begin thinking about material that you haven’t seen since first year… This is one of the biggest challenges of being a second year medical student. Medical school progresses in a predictable way, but the realization that there will be a cumulative exam on EVERYTHING your school has taught you in your preclinical years comes, essentially, whenever you’re ready to accept it. It’s better to accept this fact sooner rather than later, so that you are at least prepared.

Once you have a clear-cut studying method down, then you should be ready to take on some long-term review. When a topic comes up in class that relates back to things you’ve learned before, explore them. Go back over these topics and review everything you can find about them. Also, think about topics that gave you trouble in the past, things you know you learned but don’t remember much of, and begin a slow but purposeful REVIEW of those topics. The earlier you begin to re-familiarize yourself with old information, the better off you’ll be when you eventually have to sit down and study for your boards. Oh yeah, and it’ll help you be a more competent physician! Isn’t that our main goal with this whole medical school thing?


Part time on curricular gaps relating to Step 1…

Your medical school’s curriculum is unlikely to include everything that is covered on Step 1. That’s OK! You will ultimately study the information before the exam no matter what. The question you have to ask yourself is WHEN is the right time to fill in those curricular gaps? In an ideal world you can review BOTH the material covered in your curriculum AND topics that are included in various recourses (First Aid, Pathoma, etc.) that you may not cover in class. But this is medical school! If you want to use all of your free time to review both, then go for it! More power to you! For those who still want to enjoy all that life has to offer outside of school, give that excess information a bit of time and attention as you go through systems just to familiarize yourself with them. You will go through it more thoroughly as you get closer to Step 1.

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