Updated: Sep 27, 2020
Studying at Medical School can be difficult and very different from studying at college, sixth form or for a different degree. To be able to study most effectively it can be helpful to be aware of your own learning style so that you are able to engage as much as possible with the approach to teaching that each Medical School takes.
We are five different Medical Students from five different Medical Schools across the UK hoping to offer you five different perspectives. For each of us we have our own colour to help to guide you through our article!
We hope to be able to provide you with our own personal approach to our learning styles as every single student can differ so much! We are all individuals and it is important to find what works best for you so you can excel!
Hi, my name is Nesta Baxter and I am a 3rd year Medical Student at Newcastle University (NCL). At Newcastle, we have a Case-Based Approach to our course with a patient case to focus our learning around for each module/topic. Outside of Medicine, I enjoy sports especially Kickboxing, Running and Boxing.
Hi all I am Seb, a 3rd year medical student studying at Imperial College London. Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to study medicine, as basically I loved science and people (how stereotypical aha). On the side of things here I like to play rugby, cricket and do musical theatre.
My name is Hithin Noble, and I’m a 3rd year Medical Student at the University of Manchester (MCR). The course at Manchester is PBL-oriented, and our lectures, anatomical dissections, and clinical skills sessions are designed to supplement the case for the week.
I am Shanmathi Mahesh, a second-year medical student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). I feel that UCLan has a supportive multi-cultural environment as the majority of the students in the course are international students. We also get the opportunity to practice skills on volunteer patients and attend clinical placements in the NHS from year 1.
Hello! I’m Varvara and I’m a 3rd year medical student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry (Queen Mary University of London). Barts uses the integrated system of teaching through lectures, as well as case-based learning. Here, I’ll share with you how I have adapted my learning style to suit the teaching at my University.
Q1 - What would you say your main learning style is and why?
For me, summarising information is key. I like to be able to have summarised hand-written notes on all of the content (even if they aren’t the prettiest at times) organised together. I then go through each set of notes create a single A4 page on the content in a simple, colourful and even more summarised (and prettier) way. I am a visual and kinaesthetic learner so being able to see something on paper, a video or see and practice with a real-life patient or volunteer is great for my learning.
There are a couple of different learning styles I have used, but the main one that works for myself is questions mixed with active learning. It encourages thinking rather than just reading and means I will go through that thought process in a lot more depth when coming to an answer. This allows a greater understanding on the topic and knowing where I went wrong. Although medicine is not just about passing exams, it helps to practice topics in a question format as the exams are in that format.
Certainly, my main learning style is oriented around my whiteboard: when I learn something new, rather than making fancy notes, I would rather take the time jotting down roughly the key words from the resource I’m using. Further, I try to use a variety of resources for information. To get an initial understanding for a topic, I use YouTube Videos, then build this on using lectures, textbooks and to further my curiosity with research publications. To really test whether I have fully comprehended and memorised the information, I will try and teach my friends: this certainly highlights be weaknesses and is a fantastic way to learn a huge number of topics in a short amount of time. THEN I WILL REPEAT THIS PROCESS!!!
The lectures are usually uploaded 24 hours before class, so I refer to the slides that are uploaded, and that gives me an idea of what the content is going to be. I take a few notes during class and after I return home, I revise the lecture again and make proper notes that include points from the slides and reference books. I also include flowcharts and tables while making notes as it seems to be organized and easier to understand while revising them over the weekend and before exams. I also study along with my friends, especially anatomy and clinical skills.
Flashcards!! The material in Medicine is so massive and I feel I always need to test myself. I listen in lectures rather than making notes in order to understand the material before actually studying it. It makes learning a lot easier. I then make flashcards as I go over the lecture. I use Quizlet as you can even download your flashcards and practically have them anywhere: on the tube, in a long queue or even at the gym. If I find a lecture particularly difficult, I may write notes on it, but flashcards are definitely my go-to.
Q2 - What would you say influences your learning style most?
The main thing that influences my learning style is how I am able to best retain the large about of content that Medicine consists of. This is why I like to use a method of breaking down the vast quantity of information into summarised chunks – this allows me to not only retain information for exams but hopefully in the clinical setting as well.
Two main factors influence how I learn: 1) how hard is something to learn 2) how is that something going to be tested. Normally I would put everything down in question format but if it were a very complex topic, I would watch videos online, look at multiple sources for notes and go over questions. For something such as OSCEs we would learn in groups as that is the best way to practice and learn from your mistakes (rather than just reading notes over and over).
I certainly am someone that cannot study one topic for the entire day: so, when I am having a study sesh I plan to do a multitude of topic areas in one day in short bursts. So, I will study pharmacology for 45 minutes, take a 15 mins break and continue on to the study anatomy, for instance. By the end of the week, I would have aimed to have covered all the topics comprehensively.
I prefer taking notes as it is easier for me to revise and when important points from the lecture slides and reference books are put together it is quicker for me to go through them before exams. Moreover, I often feel motivated by my friends as we discuss what we have covered over the day.
I believe it depends on the character of each student. I want something quick and convenient (typing vs handwriting) that I can also use to test myself. I tend to do a lot of extra-curricular activities, so flashcards are a lifesaver as I can always use them wherever I am and learn from them.
Q3 - What learning approach do you take towards learning in different environments of Medical School?
- For lectures, I find it important to pre-read all of the slides beforehand and to jot down some brief notes underneath the slides on points which I really don’t understand. This helps as in the lecture I am able to focus more on what the lecturer is saying and begin to be able to process the information instead of trying to google everything. This also helps as I know what slides are coming up so can keep me focused!
- For seminars, I like to interact with the other students to allow me to discuss and consolidate topics.
- For anatomy dissections, I personally think it is so important to have a good base of knowledge before going into the session to be able to make the most out of it and ask questions.
- For OSCE practice and Clinical Skills, it is important to be hands on and I try to practice as much as I can on volunteers, course mates, house mates and patients when I have the opportunity.
Most people would go to lectures and either edit notes they have written the night before or type them there and then. However; I go to the lecture and listen to the lecturer and rather than writing/editing notes I use pre written notes from years before (this does have a risk as lecture content can change slightly but it saves valuable time at medical school), Seminars is more aimed at group discussion learning rather than notes - it is a way of encouraging to think about a topics concepts rather than facts. For dissections I do recommend looking at the content the night before, otherwise in the dissection you will have no clue what is happening as it is very self-directed (it was the day after sports night for it so sports people were not normally in the best of states to learn aha).
- With lectures, I personally prefer to watch them as podcasts, and write notes alongside the slides. This is, because I can pause, and take some time to let the information to really soak in. Also, it lets me search up points of doubt, as the lecture goes on.
- With clinical examinations, practice is so key. I usually like to plan study group sessions with friends, and practice our technique on one another, and further complement with Youtube Tutorials.
- With Anatomical Dissections, it’s important to truly visualise what you are learning, and is why I use a 3D Human Anatomy Atlas, so whatever terms I come across, I can then properly identify them on a cadaver or prossection.
During lectures, I am used to taking notes on the slides and highlighting important points.
During anatomy classes we do not have dissection, however, we use models that can be broken down to see different parts and I usually label them. We also use anatomy tv during anatomy practical and I find that helpful as you can zoom in to what you want and explore the veins, arteries, nerve innervations, muscles, and bones in a particular area.
In clinical settings, the medical demonstrators first explain the topic that we will be learning, during which I usually make some notes and after that, we practice with fellow-students or on volunteer patients. Furthermore, different seminars are organized by various societies in the university and I focus on what they have to say more than taking notes as it is more of quizzes and fun activities rather than studying something.
In lectures, I sit and listen. I want to focus on what the lecturer is saying without being carried away typing notes. I may sometimes type out the first side of the flashcard and then listen and try understanding the material rather than just write down every single word the lecturer says.
In seminars and PBLs, I prepare for them beforehand. I find this helpful, as it means I can engage in discussion and by “teaching” the material to my fellow students I can memorise it more easily. I type out my notes and make sure to add on anything I have missed that the rest of the students point out and research on it later.
When it comes to clinical placements, I keep a document that I update every day after placement with everything I’ve learnt or seen, as well as any research I do on the topics. I prepare beforehand for dissections, too, as it helps me keep up with everything taught. I do this by going over anatomy flashcards or just opening my anatomy atlas and studying the related photos.
Q4 - How do you adapt/change your learning styles to prepare for exams?
Whilst preparing for exams I like to re-read and go over my summarised sheets. If there is anything on these that I do not understand or where I struggle with the concept then I spend more time looking back through that lecture. Other than this I like to revise with my friends where we can teach each other and ask each other questions, this really helps with revision whilst keeping us all motivated.
Exams are either single best answer (SBA), written or practical at medical school. For SBA it is making sure you know the content weeks before then just steam rolling through practice questions and practice questions; as that is the format of the exam. Being able to learn from what you get right and wrong is the key to understanding your weaknesses, then being able to target those areas to improve. Written is writing essay plans beforehand, memorising them (as they mainly come up in some sort of way) and executing it in the exam. Finally, for practical we practice in groups or have mock exams under exam conditions where we act as if we are in the actual station with a patient.
Exam season is all about really trying to memorise all the information that you have spent the entire semester trying to understand. I plan effectively, what I need to cover and with my trusted whiteboard, essentially try and teach myself each topic in the head, by jotting down everything I believe is relevant: active recall method. I also allocate more time to topics I know I struggle with, or require more effort, due to their intricacy.
When an exam is coming up, I sit down and go through the lecture slides a couple of times to make sure I understand everything. You can’t possibly remember everything in Medicine but can definitely draw conclusions and reach the answer if you have a clear understanding of the background. Then I use my flashcards to test myself just after I’ve gone through the lectures to see what I remember. I do this mainly over weekdays and if I feel comfortable with covering the material, I go over everything another time over the weekend of that week. In general, I have realised that the more times you see something, the more likely you’ll remember it.
Q5 - How did your learning style change from what it was in school, college or sixth form?
In school I studied and revised mainly from a single textbook, one YouTube channel and each subject’s learning specification! I made vast quantities of notes and mainly copied from these three resources. At Medical School, I quickly found it impossible to find one perfect resource and learning guide to cover everything and definitely not enough time to have detailed notes on every concept. Now, I use a wide variety of resources; lots of textbooks, websites, revision resources, apps, question banks, YouTube channels and without following an exact learning specification!
School seems such a long way back, but not going to lie I was quite lazy throughout. Most of the exams could be passed by just learning how previous past papers were used or reading notes over and over again - as the level of content compared to medical school is tiny. However, for medical school you realise you cannot learn everything, so you have to spend more time learning higher yielding concepts rather than a single very specific fact (aka the whole of metabolism). Next the exams are not based on facts rather applied concepts, so you need to have an understanding of the topics.
My learning style in Sixth Form was just writing very comprehensive notes, and then makes these notes concise, and concise again. The problem with this method, for me, at medical school was medicine is so vast and there was so much of it, I just found that this wasn’t efficient. For the time, it took to cover an entire topic, I wasn’t effectively understanding and retaining the information. That’s alright though: I took one month to really find out what worked out for me, which was hugely valuable.
The size of the material is incomparable. At school, I used to pick up everything from class and then use past papers to prepare for an exam or a test. Not only can you not pick up everything in a lecture where everything is only said once, but the past paper and practice resources are very limited, if any. That is why I find flashcards so helpful. Before having flashcards, I was unsure of myself and my knowledge walking into an exam. But now, every time I turn a flashcard and seeing I know the right answer I feel reassured and more confident.
Q6 - How does your Medical School teaching style compliment your learning styles?
The case-based approach at Newcastle nicely compliments my learning style as it really allows me to be able to link together the concepts that I am learning back to a patient case. This allows me to make more connections and actively learn from the case so that I can understand how the information is clinically-relevant. From my summarised sheets and notes I am able to better understand the case that links to the information and use the questions attached to this to improve my knowledge and find gaps in my learning. This is also aided by a teaching style at Newcastle called integrated learning where we are presented with a case and allowed to take a history and examination from a volunteer, work in a group to come up with differential diagnoses, select investigations and management options and follow the case through. This is great for avisual and kinaesthetic learner like myself as I am able to actively learn the concepts and cases.
Imperial is mainly traditional based with the exception of some case-based learning. It follows the structure of pre lecture learning, lecture, then a seminar/tutorial based on the lecture content on the day. Out of all 3 pieces of learning, the one that favours my learning style the most are the tutorials. They’re a great way to apply the knowledge you have learnt in a real-life scenario, work out what areas you do not understand and also learn what other students think about the topic at hand (whether it be easy/hard/weird). Lectures can be quite tedious (even though the content is interesting) as it is just someone speaking to you for an hour so you may start to fall asleep sometimes aha.
The fact that Barts and the London has an integrated teaching style, rather than traditional with just lectures or only case-based learning, can benefit all students with different learning styles. I personally enjoy doing my own research for PBLs as it also helps me memorise the material. I like sharing the information I have gathered with the rest of the students and have small-group discussions which greatly improves my understanding. At the same time, case-based learning makes me somewhat anxious, as I am never entirely sure whether the information I have collected is enough. That is where the integrated system compliments my learning style, as lectures reinforce my knowledge and reassure me about the depth of the curriculum. They also help in pointing out any areas I may not understand or have done enough research on.
At Barts, we are taught clinical skills and go on GP and hospital placements from year 1 (definitely not as rigorous as from year 3 though). I find that seeing something in practice is very effective for me as I have a vivid image in my mind of different cases that I can associate with the material I am being taught. Let’s not forget that medicine is also about communication with the patient and professionalism in the healthcare setting. I believe Barts, from my very first 2 years, has achieved that and has just made me more excited for the years to come.
Thank you for reading our article and we hope that you are able to take away some pointers that could help with your own learning style in and preparing for Medical School.