Student life

5 Things I Wish I knew: 1st year ND school

1. How to take notes

Taking notes during first year lectures is absolutely crucial, but can be an overwhelming feat. Why? Because lectures are very dense. You receive massive quantities of information in very little time. Do not make the mistake of expecting to understand all the concepts by the time the lecture is over. Instead, aim to take notes on things that do not appear on the slides.

I strongly recommend using Evernote or Onenote, for a number of reasons.

  • Allows you to download lecture slides and organize them in a way that you can refer back to them for years to come (which you will, guaranteed)
  • You can access your notes from multiple devices, including clinic computers by logging in through the web
  • Typing notes is much more realistic than hand-writing them. If you like to hand-write your notes, save that for study time (see suggestions below).
  • Allows you to keyword search, which comes in very handy when you’re looking for a specific slide you remember seeing about, say, the cardiac cycle.

During lecture, my advice is to take a glance at the slide, take note of what information is there as you listen to the instructor speak about it. Add notes to fill in gaps where need be. No need to type every single word the instructor speaks since most of the data is on the slide already.

Many instructors will give clues about information that is significant for exam purposes. Do yourself a favor and indicate that in your notes somehow so you remember that as you’re studying.

Don’t ever assume you’ll remember something! There’s no harm in typing it in your notes. Even if you think it’s obvious, or significant enough that you’ll never forget – do it anyway! Trust me. You’d be surprised how easily things are forgotten when your brain is taxed with information.

2. How to maximize study time

Review lecture notes within 24 hours after the lecture. You can do this in 30 min by skimming through the slides, or you can take 2 hours to do this and re-write your notes on paper. No matter how you do it – you will save yourself hours of headache later in the semester if you do this simple task. Take a look at the forgetting curve below. After one day we forget over 60%, and by day 7 we’ve lost almost everything. Imagine if you didn’t review your notes until finals week – you’d have A LOT to catch up on and that would be unnecessary stress. Please don’t ever do this to yourself.

Everyone studies differently, so I’m not going to give specific study tips in this post. You can see my other posts if you’re looking for help in a specific subject. What I will tell you is that it can be very beneficial to re-write (or type) your notes. This give you a chance to reorganize your notes in a way that makes sense to you, and then this can become your primary study tool.

What worked well for me was opening the powerpoint slides and a google doc and creating my own outline with bullet points. This condenses the material and makes it less daunting to review.

3. How to prepare for a test

There’s the ideal way to prepare for a test, and there’s reality. Let’s start by accepting the fact that you will never feel fully prepared for an exam. Don’t be hard on yourself, don’t doubt yourself. Study the best you can and go into the exam with conviction, trusting that what you know will be enough to pass.

Ideally, you will have reviewed your lectures within 24 hours, and then also spent some time creating your own notes (unless you’re more comfortable with the slides). Reviewing the notes once or twice a week is also ideal.

Realistically, you will likely not look at your notes that frequently – HENCE THE IMPORTANCE OF REVIEWING WITHIN 24 HOURS! Begin exam preparation 2 weeks prior and start by dedicating time to review your notes. This is a good time to get out scratch paper and write out flow charts for biochem and physiology. For anatomy, you can do flow charts or rough sketches.

The goal here is to study ACTIVELY. This means digesting the information by translating it into your own words, or charts, drawings, etc. Reading slides is PASSIVE STUDYING works only for a very small percentage of the population. Most people need to study actively in order to perform well on exams.

4. How to take care of myself

You’ll hear people say the words, “self care” over and over again – and they’re not joking. If you don’t nurture yourself you will quickly reach your burnout point. It is up to you how you choose to take care of yourself, self care looks different for everyone. Some suggestions include:

  • Keep up an exercise routine
  • Going to walks outside during lunch time
  • Drink lots of water
  • Try to minimize caffeine dependence. If you’re tired, there’s a reason. Listen to your body
  • Regulate sleep. Pick a certain time to be done studying every night and stick to it
  • Engage in healthy relationships. Pick a time/day of the week to be social and not study
  • Eat well. Plan your menu so you have groceries on hand and don’t have to eat from the snack bar

5. How to find balance

This is an ongoing challenge for every human being, so mastering this art during year one is next to impossible. We live on a teeter totter, where there are times of excess and times of depletion. Med school will constantly try to nudge you toward depletion, so it’s up to you to be ready to counteract that. The best way to do so is by establishing a routine.

Take a look at your schedule right now, today. Decide what times are dedicated study times, and what are personal times. Where will you have time to focus on relationships? Exercise? Cooking? Make that commitment now and work to stick to it. You can make changes to your routine as you find what does and doesn’t work.

Recognize there will be periods where imbalance is expected (i.e. midterms and finals). You can be resilient in these hard times if you build up your energy stores when you have the opportunity. In other words, your routine is likely to somewhat fall apart during exam weeks, but then you can bounce back into your routine and this will serve to help you recover more quickly.


When all else fails. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Reach out to me if you have specific questions, or reach out to someone else you know who might offer support.

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