Helpful Study Aids

"Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose."-G. K. Nielson

It can be hard to maintain a certain level of momentum throughout the semester in medical school. I honestly do no know how the gunners amongst us do it. There are times when my understanding of basic medicine simply leaves me as I read and study Pathology, and that alone can be discouraging as it requires having to revisit the notes I complied from the first two years of medical school, in order to understand a new concept or idea.

In this post, I will discuss some study aids I have found helpful over the years and how I have adjusted my studying to incorporate new aids.

  Top 4 Study Aids.

Visual Study Aids

1. Mind Maps/Summary Maps

The sole purpose of a mind map is to allow you to visually organize information, generally around a single concept. It can be drawn multiple ways, however, I find starting in the center and working out to work best for me.

Personally, mind maps can be  time consuming especially if they are done neatly and properly and manually. Due to this, I tend to do them at the end of a topic as a means of review and a way to gauge my level of understanding on a particular area.

The option does exist for those of you who may be interested in trying this form of study and are more computer literate. There are multiple apps specifically designed for the creation of mind maps. I use Mindnode, the 'lite' free version which can be found in the App store. 

If you are more interested in mind maps you can learn more about them here

2. Flashcards

Flashcards are used to exercise ones mental recall. Some people like them, others detest them. I for one find them useful for certain subjects of study such as Anatomy, Hematology and at times Diseases based on organ systems. 

During years 1 and 2, flashcards were my go to study aid. They were quick, colorful and easy to tote. I could test myself on during my daily commute and I was able to sort the cards into piles based on the concepts I understood and those that I needed to review a little more in depth. 

The only disadvantage of manual flashcards is that at the end you're stuck with a collection of cards that you may or may not use again.

Personally, I have a hard time going over my pre-made flashcards mainly because it is easier to use quizlet and most times I have to spend time sorting through the cards to find a specific thing. If I am not studying however, and would just like to refresh my memory on certain concepts they do come in handy in that regard as it is easier to review a set of cards rather than reading a chapter in a textbook. 

For those of you, that prefer using your computer, phone or tablet there are numerous sites that would allow you to create flashcards; namely Quizlet and Cram. There is also Kitzkikz that allows you to   create your cards online and have them printed. I haven't tried out their service so I cannot rate them but I am interested in giving them a try.

3. Color Coding

Did you know that color coding can be linked to making you an efficient thinker? Well apparently it can.

By color coding your notes, you automatically correlate certain colors with specific things. For example my main color codes specifically for my (lecture) notes are as follows:

* orange: locations
* pink: specific features/characteristics
* yellow: general information that I should know
* blue: things that I MUST know and commit to memory, either for examples or overall practice of medicine. 
* purple: headings/names
* coral: definitions
I must admit, it makes me all warm inside to pick up my binder of notes and to be able to identify certain things such as special features of specific bacteria all based on my choice of highlighter. It also makes finding certain things easier especially in a 20+ page printed lecture.

4. Folders/Note Storage

This is the ultimate must in proper organization of my study materials. For me, planning what I will study on certain days and sorting my notes in color coded folders or a big tabulated binder does wonders for keeping me focused. 

I recently came across Ellen's blog on Tumblr, where she has free printables that can be downloaded, printed and used for any student. Since I've been using her study planner, it has helped me tremendously keep track of what tasks I have to do, gauge my understanding of a topic, and it offers other ideas for ways to remain motivated as I study.
I found a few colored page protectors for $4.00TTD that I have been using mainly to keep track of my pending lectures to be read and annotated etc; and so far that seems to be working. The thought occurred to me to try assigning certain tasks for example: answering objectives, working on PBL, and practicing questions etc certain colors and assigning those colors to certain days. If I decide to switch to that method I'll be sure to let you all know how it's going, but in the meantime I'll stick with my current set up. 

So there you have it. What aids do you utilize when you study? How is it working for you? Do you lean more towards flashcards or mind maps? Manual or computerized? Share your study aids in the comments below. 

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