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Study tips for medical students

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 11 April 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:k663
  1. Anna Richmond, PhD student in medical education and specialist trainee year 4, obstetrics and gynaecology1,
  2. Thomas Cranfield, second year medical student1,
  3. Nicola Cooper, honorary clinical associate professor2
  1. 1University of Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK
  1. anna.richmond{at}

Examples of evidence based revision strategies

Studying and revising for exams is a major part of medical school success, yet students do not always receive coaching in how best to learn or revise. Many students begin by using the same techniques that worked for them at school, such as revisiting material and making notes. Research has shown, however, that these techniques alone have a limited impact on long term knowledge retention and academic success.1234

Successful students use a variety of learning strategies, which include5:

  • Retrieval practice

  • Elaboration

  • Concrete examples

  • Concept maps and dual coding

  • Interleaving.

Retrieval and spaced practice

Successful performance in exams relies on being able to retrieve information from your long term memory. Accessing your long term memory is like rediscovering a path—if you have been down it many times before, the neurological connections are stronger and information is easier to remember.

Retrieval practice helps to build these connections, giving you practice at remembering. The three main ways to build retrieval practice into your study are:

  • Spacing your revision of topics

  • Practising recall before you revisit your notes

  • Using practice questions and preparing flashcards to test your recall.

People tend to study a topic in one block before moving on to the next topic, and this is often how students revise. However, spacing out the revision of a large topic over several weeks can benefit your performance and ability to recall information in the long term.6789 This is because you have to start each session by retrieving knowledge from the last …

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