Articles and Case Studies

Study Tips for Medical Students - 2013

20 Sep 2013

by Dr Mark Hassall and Dr Alexander Dobranowski, interns and MDA National Members. End of year medical exam preparation is both a tremendously rewarding and stressful time of your university life. One thing for certain is that you can survive all these exams and you do not need to sacrifice everything to succeed. If we can pass all these exams, so can you! We are both interns now and remember what it was like to slug it out during swotvac and pore over textbooks for hours on end. To make life easier, we thought we’d share some of our study tips.

Below: L-R Dr Mark Hassall and Dr Alexander Dobranowski.

Start with a plan

  • Charting a road map for your swotvac or the few weeks preceding exams can be a very valuable tool to minimise stress and keep you on track. Emulate senior year students – be confident with your plan and stick to your timeline!

Choose your best location

  • Do you prefer the comfort of your own room or do you need to be at the library away from distractions? Be honest now… email and Facebook can be a HUGE time waster!
  • Do you study best in silence or with music in the background (no TV!)?
  • We both recommend studying in a quiet environment with minimal distractions.

Group or solo?

  • Choosing whether to study with a group can be tricky and can be less efficient than solo work unless you avoid mates who love talking and stick with your more “focused” friends.
  • Be clear about the purpose of the group. Groups are often better for OSCE and clinical skill practice or discussing answers to practice exams. Simply going round to someone’s house to sit and read through your notes often leads to distractions and lost time.
  • Everyone has different study goals. Sometimes studying in a group can actually lead to additional stress due to conflicting plans. Be wary of this and develop your own strategy.

Understand your learning style

  • You will probably know by now whether you learn best from visual, auditory or tactile resources. Stick with your strength; prepare your notes to suit your style; and use study aids (books, 3D models, online lectures) that work best for you.

Plan your timetable

  • Don’t leave planning your study until swotvac. You should actively find out what topics you need to cover before exams. Ask previous students, your peers and your tutor or supervisor.
  • Create a timetable for the coming days or weeks to get a sense of how best to fit everything in. This helps avoid “the great panic” typically felt in the final week and avoids you cramming information that you inevitably  forget well before you can use it in internship!
  • Stick to your timetable. Simple idea, but often the hardest part.

Focus on your weaknesses

  • You know which exam you got a borderline grade in last year and you know which one makes you the most stressed. It is easy to avoid this weakness and focus on your favourites instead. Unfortunately, this will lead to only one (bad) outcome!
  • If, for example, you struggle with anatomy then you need to commit extra time to it each day. It should be the first study topic you cover each day while you are fresh and motivated.

MDA National’s Live Well
Study Well Program

MDA National Live Well Study Well Program helps students achieve work/life balance throughout your studies. Contact your Relationship Manager or visit the website for more information.


MDA National’s Charity of Choice provides a suite of practical online resources for medical students and doctors dealing with depression or anxiety on their website.

 Keep a balance

  • Studying dawn until dusk without any fun will make you that twitchy and baggy-eyed student everyone else stays away from at the exam hall.
  • Make sure you schedule time for activities that you normally enjoy like watching TV or catching up with family. By making it a specific time of the day, you won’t feel guilty…
  • It is especially important to keep up your exercise during swotvac. It will help with your motivation and getting rid of that extra energy from sitting at a desk all day.
  • Healthy eating and adequate sleep should not be neglected!


Focus your study towards the end

  • You'll begin your swotvac by studying broad topics and concepts, but it is a fatal error not to focus your efforts on the specific exam closer to the big day.
  • Get a hold of past exams or practice exams that cover similar topics. Sit these papers in mock exam conditions. Time yourself. Don’t look up topics halfway through and avoid distractions. Mark yourself honestly at the end and use the results to direct further study.
  • Congratulate yourself on correct answers and read widely on the answers you got wrong. In can also be useful to discuss the answers with your study group if you have one.
  • You should practice for clinical skill exams in a similar way, using real exam conditions (including clinical clothing) and previous exam stations.

Ultimately, it's hard work, but well-planned preparation will get you through exams. Anyone who is intelligent enough to get into medical school has got the brains to pass the assessment. Leaving your study plans too late, not investing enough time, getting distracted often or not studying the right topics are the real reasons you’ll have troubles with exams.

So get stuck into your preparations and get yourself ready to sail into the summer holidays.

Good luck!



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