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Striking a Balance: Studying for Medical School Exams vs. Mastering the Material for Real-World Application

By Dr. Kat December 15, 2023

Step, Shelf, COMLEX, USMLE, EOR — we get it: you wanna pass the test. 

It’s a tightrope to walk. Of course, you want to master the material for practical application in the clinical setting (isn’t that why you went to study medicine in the first place?). But there's no ignoring the truth that exams are also important in your educational journey. After all, they might make or break your progress onto the next step. 

While these two aspects of studying are interconnected, there are some differences between studying for exams and striving to develop a deep understanding of medical concepts that extends well beyond the confines of test day. 

The good news is, we’re here to show you how to do more of both! 


DON'T: Forget About Going to Class

Yeah, yeah, we know you're rolling your eyes right now. But seriously, go to class whenever you can! It's a place where you can ask questions, contribute to discussions, engage in critical thinking, and build relationships with both your peers and your future advisors. Even if it's just another mode of learning and listening, it'll help the information stick for both your exams and rotations.

DO: Focus on the Exam (to start)

There is a certain reality that M1/DO1s might spend a lot of time focusing on the exam. It's natural when the exam is a blocker to the next step of your life and when there is so much context that you need to understand before moving to something like clinical reasoning. That phase of your education won't last forever!

We know that there's immense pressure to perform, which usually turns into a memorization approach, focusing on what's likely to be tested. If you're going simply down that route, there are some things you can do to be more efficient.

1. Understand the exam format.

2. Identify your key concepts from the beginning and focus on them.

3. Make flashcards (or use OnlineMedEd's lesson-coordinated Anki Flashcards!), choose a number a day that you can get through, and stick to it.

The small details that you're being tested on and the big picture of providing quality care both matter. And you don't want to just focus on the exam forever because obviously, studying for a test while a patient is waiting for care during rotations might not give you the best outcome.

DON'T: Get Sucked Into Resource Overload

Paring down your resources will actually lead to more success. Resource overload is a real thing. Find one review resource and one question bank that works for you (of course, we'd recommend checking out OnlineMedEd). 

DO: Choose a Resource That Understands Both

We know you want to pass the test. We want you to pass the test.

But even more than that, we want you to move beyond memorization and regurgitation to be able to excel in practicing medicine. 

The early days (heck, all the days) of medical school can feel like drinking from a fire hose. Just getting absolutely clobbered with the sheer amount of information you have to consume and recall. The reality is that learning the foundation of medicine doesn't have to be like that. 

Health and disease are modular. By working to really understand the context of core basic science concepts from the get go, you're building a foundation that will lead you to learn more, faster, with less effort. 

OnlineMedEd knows where you've been and where you're going because we've been there too. So instead of having to sort through the context of what's important and weigh it for yourself, we've done the hard work for you so you can stop strategizing and start studying.

Understanding medicine just got easier

The ultimate goal of medical education is to produce competent and compassionate healthcare professionals.  OnlineMedEd's unique educational methodology goes beyond memorization,
helping you to excel and rise to the top of your class.


Deep dives into real issues impacting medical education, brought to you by OnlineMedEd.


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