Membership information 0800 225 677
Medicolegal advice 0800 014 780

Re-examine your ways to study

26 August 2021

Exams and studying for them are just a part of life in medical school, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get a little overwhelming sometimes. Mokotjo Sematlane, a second-year medical student at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, shares his tips for approaching this tricky stage in every med student’s career. 


Studying for any exam is usually a daunting process regardless of how many times we go through the same process year-after-year. Fortunately - and unfortunately – for success in exam prep there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ technique. It demands that each of us of know how to get the absolute best out of ourselves with the least amount of effort.  

However, there some extremely great methods and processes that one can follow regardless of how they prefer to study. Here are a few ideas that helped me recently…

Spaced repetition is essential

Known as a study hack to make your brain store information according to The Guardian, it helps keeps everything you’ve learnt within ‘touching distance’. By introducing ever increasing time intervals between study sessions, you can remember more with the use of flashcards or special spaced repetition study apps. 

Stimulate your memory

Active recall is better than just reading your notes or textbooks, while education platform Brainscape claims that active recall is much more effective than either recognition or passive review at consolidating information in your long-term memory. By using active recall, you force yourself to extract the information you have absorbed, instead of just trying to take it in and hoping for the best.  

Utilise past papers

Make past question papers the cornerstone of your preparation. These will guide you in how the course content is tested and will test your knowledge and understanding…you might even come across the same questions in your own paper! Knowing about the format of the exam and what might be expected of you can go a long way in helping you feeling prepared.  

Start studying as early as possible

Ensure you have time to cover everything more than once and try to finish with enough time to allow yourself some breathing space to relax. Last-minute cramming is always a stressful experience, so give yourself as much time as possible to review everything you need to. 

Have a schedule

This will instil some direction in your studying and allow you to hold yourself accountable for what you do on a daily basis. The feeling of finishing the tasks you set out to complete also serves as good motivation to carry on, day after day.  
When is the best time of day for you—morning, afternoon or evening? Create a timetable that’s realistic, making sure to look after yourself by eating well and getting plenty of sleep all the way.  

Most importantly, please note that we all have our own ways of working that suit us best, so do not worry if some of these methods are not for you. Once you have found your study ‘groove’, you’ll soon feel a lot more comfortable with exams…even if we can never learn to truly enjoy them!