what are the most effective study strategies for the premed classes? i take notes and stay on top of lectures but it’s often hard for me to retain the information i learned especially when it comes to exam time. how do you remember content you learned at the beginning of the unit through to the end of the unit? i would really love any suggestions.
Studying organic chemistry is very different from studying for pchem, physics, or biology heavy classes. I’ll just give you a brief description of what worked and didn’t work for me for these classes.
Orgo Chem – Coming into Orgo chem 1 I didn’t have a very strong understanding of Orgo, so office hours and SLC study group ended up being too fast paced for me for the first half of the semester. I ended up taking notes in class and then attending SLC drop-in peer tutoring 2-3 times a week to go over the course pack problems I had difficulties with for that week, or just work through problems besides a tutor. It was important for me to do all the assigned problems within that week to keep track of the content. I would also read through all my notes right before an exam.
Orgo Chem 2 – By this time I had a much better understanding of Orgo so I would still aim to finish the assigned coursepack sections on time but only occasionally attend office hours or drop in peer tutoring by SLC. I also had access to practice exam answer keys that helped me study close to exam time by giving me an idea of my score range and what to focus on.
PChem – I stayed on top of all of the assigned work and took detailed notes that would be easy to go through. I also aimed to go through the coursepack within 1-2 weeks of it being assigned and went to the GSI or professor’s office hours for what I didn’t understand. I would highlight the especially difficult problems or concepts for me after covering them, and restudy them in detail before the exam. I wouldn’t have time to study everything again so this let me know what to focus on. I would also go through piazza and check that I knew how to answer the questions asked on piazza as a review.
Physics – For physics, it helped me to review the content taught in class right after it was taught. I never took notes in this class but if note-taking helps you I would recommend you do it. I also tried to do as much practice as I could and sometimes went to office hours for help. I used problem roulette to assess if I was ready for the test and what concepts to review.
Biology – I’m using this as an umbrella term for all Biology based classes. Since these classes were memorization heavy, I would spend a lot of time rewatching the lectures. A lot of the time I would just never take notes (aside from a few key concepts), and just rewatch the lecture recordings 3-4 times sometimes at 1.5X speed. Note-taking is often very time taking and was a passive learning process for me because I didn’t even understand a lot of what I was writing while I was writing it. I’m also a better auditory learner so this worked for me. However, you should do what works best for your learning. I know note-taking and note cards worked for many students. I would also take note of any concepts I had trouble understanding and ask the GSI to go over it with me. Depending on the class I sometimes preferred going to GSI office hours to learn concepts, because they simplified it better than the professor and were more available.(Disclaimer: It is still important to go to professor’s office hours to see how they are and build a relationship for a LOR.)
For classes where I already had a strong understanding of biology content ( later on in my major), I did take notes. For these classes, I would take notes for the first time, the second time I watched a lecture. I would still rewatch the lecture two times as well.
For a lot of these classes, I didn’t always study the same way that the professor recommended or other students might have studied, but it worked out for me. I recommend you look into the highlighted strategies, consider carefully what works for you for that specific class, and assess your performance after each test. If you need help making a personal study plan, please feel free to come to our drop-in advising hours. We would love to see you!
PMH Website Manager
I figured I could tell you about what I did in my premed classes/ what I wish I had done to give you some variety from what Ruchira said!
Orgo I/II : I took notes during lecture and later in the day or within the next few days, I would rewrite them and try to understand what we did while doing so. This helped keep me organized and deepened my understanding even before opening the course pack. I joined an SLC study group and attended regularly, and through that I met two people who I started doing course pack problems regularly with. I highly suggest finding a couple of friends to do this with because discussing the problems and how you got to where you are is extremely beneficial! You’ll start understanding why you’re doing something right or wrong rather than just guessing. Finally, I created study guides for myself based off of what was in the lecture notes, tips I had learned along the way, etc. Two things I wish I had done are taking advantage of drop-in tutoring through the SLC and attending office hours- both the professor’s and the GSI’s.
PChem: My experience with this class is a little different because I took it over the Spring semester, but whatever I did proved to be effective so I’ll give you the rundown. Pchem works in a flipped classroom manner, so I watched Dr. Gottfried’s videos at home and took detailed notes on everything she said. This honestly took a lot of time and I spent nearly 2-3 hours per 1 hour of lecture videos in order to get everything down. I worked early on our online homework, which is much simpler than the actual exams. These problems allowed me to figure out what I needed extra review on and what I was on track for before starting the course pack problems. I chose to do the course pack by myself but met up with friends in the class to discuss the problems I had worked on and then do more together. The night before the exam, I created a study guide for myself, consisting of the concepts that I had the most trouble with as well as the other information in more general terms and read that before taking my exams.
Physics: I’m not going to lie, lectures for this class can be tough to listen to but I did my best to truly stay alert and take as many notes as possible. Afterwards, I would go through the slides and try to do the problems that we had done in class by myself and truly understand the concepts. When it came closer to exam time, I would do as many practice exams as I possibly could. I’d also like to note that I think a lot of concepts in Physics 2 are explained really well and in a concise manner in MCAT books, so if you know someone who has them (I used Kaplan), read through their explanations because they really clear things up– or at least they did for me.
Biology/Biochemistry: I did a post a couple of months earlier where I broke down my process into a series of steps which I’ll link here. In order to succeed in memorization-heavy classes, you’ve got to review consistently. Like you stated, I would stay on top of lectures and take notes during class. After that, I would re-write my notes (this just helps me understand the material and make sense of it all) and rewatch lectures if I found it necessary. I would constantly review old material as I learned new stuff so that I wouldn’t forget anything. This helped solidify the old material as weeks passed by so that I wouldn’t have to worry about memorizing a ton of new information near an exam. I also joined a study group, which helped me a lot and I went to office hours with the professor every week. Even if I didn’t have any questions, I liked listening to other students’ and hearing what the professor’s explanation was.
I hope this helps and feel free to ask for clarifications!
Tina, PMH Advisor
Hello, I can also provide some insight on studying for pre-med courses:
Orgo: In terms of retaining information, I found it helpful to do practice course pack problems throughout the exam unit so that you remember how to tackle problems that may be related to earlier material. Mechanisms and other core information is important to know before/while doing the problems, so a way to review them is to write the information off the top of your head onto a piece of paper/whiteboard, or to explain the concept to a friend. A lot of the time, once you have the grasp on core information like the type of reaction, electronegativity, etc, it’s easier to understand and logically explain why certain mechanisms occur.
Pchem: To do well in this class, you have to understand the concept and also apply it to novel questions. Going through the lectures is just half the battle. I highly recommend doing the PREPP problems (past exam problems) that the professor provides. They’re ordered from earliest in the exam unit to latest, so reviewing earlier problems in PREPP can help to retain information. Something that worked for me was making a review sheet for every topic. Being able to compact the information into a way that best suits you not only helps you know what you don’t know, but also serves as a helpful guide to look over before the exam. Going through problems with a friend is also useful because you can take turns explaining different approaches (this ultimately results in a better understanding of the concept). Finally, if you have any questions on course content or on PREPP, piazza is a great resource. It’s used heavily in pchem, so if you have a question on an earlier concept, another student would have likely already asked. You just have to read the answer!
Bio/biochem: Since these classes are memorization heavy, I would recommend making review sheets, especially for the pathways for biochem. It was also helpful for me to make a study plan of which lectures I’ll study on which day before the exam. For example if there are 6 days before an exam and 4 chapters, I’ll make the point to rereview and entirely understand at least one chapter per day, leaving the last two days for a final overview of all the chapters and for doing practice exams. For this method, it is important to stay on top of the chapter you planned to do or else, they’ll compile to an overwhelming amount.
Physics: This course is similar to pchem, where being able to mathematically apply the concepts is important to know how to do. As with any class, reviewing material intermittently would help with remembering information. The way I studied for this class was by making study sheets for every lecture and leaving at least the same amount of time to do practice problems. Doing practice problems for earlier lectures before the ones you are more familiar with can help with retaining information.
Overall: If you’re having trouble retaining information, I would recommend dedicating time everyday to review past lectures so that the information is fresh in your mind. The more times you’re exposed to the material, the more familiar it’ll become. However, remember that familiarity doesn’t equal mastery. Identifying what information you’ve mastered can come in the form of explaining the concepts out loud without looking at your notes and doing practice exams. Additionally, the Science Learning Center has study groups that can help with reviewing and understanding lectures. They also provide study resources like worksheets, kahoot, and practice exams that you can look back on to review.
I hope this guide helps—good luck on all your classes!
-Elizabeth, PMH advisor