I've received a decent number of requests about writing a post with study tips that I have found helpful. I’ve thought long and hard about what to write as the subject is so large, and there are various tips that help with different subjects. I’ve decided that instead of writing this post about studying tips, I’ll begin by writing a post about two things that you need to succeed in any subject. I’m sitting here in my regular coffee shop, trying to study for the MCAT, realizing that these are two things that most people forget about when complaining about how they aren’t doing well in a subject.
What are these two crucial elements you ask? They are motivation and focus, without both you are like a boat lost in the ocean without any power. You are fighting an uphill battle, if you are trying to master a subject without plenty of both. The best analogy I’ve ever heard about this is any subject is like an ocean, there are many ways you can cross it and many places you can end up at; focus gives you a target and a place to land, motivation is what keeps you going forward instead of going out a couple hundred feet and giving up.
Focus is a very important part of studying; it is very easy to get distracted or to focus on something you find easy or interesting. A perfect example would be when I study for the MCAT, it is very easy to spend most of my time focusing on physics, why I enjoy physics, and I find it pretty easy for the most part, but I know that my major weaknesses are in organic chemistry and general chemistry. I can feel good about myself and keep studying physics, or I can focus on subjects that I find a lot harder and struggle a little bit. In the long run it will help me a lot more to focus on harder subjects. Don’t fall into this trap and focus on subjects that make you feel good.
Another method that you can utilize to increase your focus and concentration is to focus on one thing at a time. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amongst premeds who talk nonstop about what kind of doctor they are going to be and have every minute of the rest of their lives planned out. Take one step at a time, calm down, I didn’t start this site expecting it to grow to its current size, I have no clue what kind of doctor I’m going to be, and I certainly wasn’t planning on becoming a doctor until fairly recently. Forget about being a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, and focus on passing your classes, doing well, nailing your MCAT and getting into medical school. Which brings me to my next point, analyze and organize your priorities, no matter how many times I say this people don’t listen. Your main priority as a premed is getting in to medical school, not becoming X type of doctor. Focus on that goal, and for the sake of all that is good, stop procrastinating.
The other key element to succeeding is motivation, many of us are motivated extrinsically, and in my experience most of the highly successful students that I have encountered are extremely intrinsically motivated. While you may be doing this for someone else or to impress someone else, you will have better success and enjoyment if you can internalize this motivation and do it for yourself. I absolutely hate organic chemistry, I just spent 2 semesters struggling and fighting my way through it, and now I’m studying it again for the MCAT, I keep going because I want to master the darn subject, many of my friends say that I’m pretty cocky, and they are right, nothing stops me, and I’m sure as hell not going to let a couple carbon molecules stop me.
Another thing that is crucial in increasing motivation is minimizing self defeating behaviors, stop procrastinating, all three of us here (Brian, Jon, and I) are masters at procrastinating, and we will be the first people to tell you that it takes an unbelievable toll on your body. It is by no means easy, you feel like crap after an all-nighter studying for an exam or writing a paper. Constant procrastination breaks you down really fast. Stop putting yourself down after a mistake, pick yourself up and vow never to make that mistake again. Too many premeds I know spend too much time dwelling on mistakes, what’s done is done, now try to do better next time and fix it. One B isn’t going to keep you from getting into medical school.
I’m planning on writing more detailed posts on both focus and motivation, but I would love your feedback on this post. Make sure to leave a comment, and keep a look out for more posts on the subject.
How do you focus? How do you remain motivated? Post in the comments and help other premed students.