This was a blog topic given to me by one of you, and I absolutely love it! I can say with certainty that a lot of my study habits have changed from my undergraduate schooling to PA school.
If you have a topic you want me to cover – shoot me an email over on the contacts page! I’m always looking for ideas and I can honestly say that I probably would have never thought of this!
So, I would say that the biggest change in the material that I am learning in PA school versus Undergrad is the shear volume. We have more than a dozen lectures for each exam, with each lecture being roughly 100 slides. That’s a LOT of information, and this is in a two-or three-week time period. I don’t think I learned that much information in a class for some semesters during undergrad.
I will also say that the complexity of our learning has increased. When we take a test, we’re proving to the faculty that we could diagnosis a patient based on their symptoms, and come up with a management and treatment plan; additionally we need to know the etiology of the disease. Because of this, our exams are a lot more thought provoking and less straight forward. It makes studying more time consuming. Probably the most important difference between undergrad and PA school that has effected my study methods is that in PA school – I need to actually retain the knowledge. I’m not studying for the exam, I’m studying for life.
My plan is to break down how I prepped for each exam during PA school and then tell you how it is different than what I did in Undergrad.
Studying from Day 1
There is SOOOO much material in PA school that I try to always do something from the first day that I get taught the material. This could be anything from making flashcard the day of for Pharmacology classes to simply re-reading the notes I took in class and marking down any questions I have to either look up or ask a fellow classmates or the professor about.
Looking at the material when I just learned it less than 24 hours ago helps me to cement it in my brain and remember any special tips the professor said that I didn’t write down moment of. I personally didn’t record lectures to listen to the audio or watch videos. That’s not my style of learning! I’m very much a read/write learner.
Yeah…I definitely didn’t do this. Unless I was having weekly quizzes, I normally started a week before the exam with reviewing of the material.
I try to at least skim through the lecture slides for every class. Sometimes this isn’t possible because the lecturers don’t post slides until right before class or after class (THIS is the worst thing ever – I feel so lost without slides now because we’ve become so used to them). Also, sometimes I’m just exhausted and don’t do my pre-reading for the day. But I really do make an effort to pre-read in PA school.
When I do pre-read, it helps me know what topics are going to be covered in the class and gives me a kind of base knowledge of what it going on. Also, if I do see something I don’t understand, but that doesn’t seem to be covered in depth (normally a word I don’t know what the definition is), I look this up beforehand. I also mark down slides that I know I’m going to have questions on so that I can make sure I’m paying attention during that part of the lecture.
Yeah…I didn’t do this is. One small thing is that I would print out the slides beforehand, so I would glance over them a little bit. But I wasn’t actually reading anything printed on the slides, more just giving a rough feel for what I would learn in class that day.
In Class: Highlighting and Note Taking
They “give” us iPads at my PA school and pretty much all of us use them for note taking. I use Notability to import the slides as PDFs and then mark up the page by highlighting, writing, and typing around the information on it. Depending on the lecture will determine whether I’m writing or typing. Typically for pharm or lectures that have really in-depth information printed on them (like the lecturers who read off their slides), I stick to writing and highlighting. If it is medicine class and the lecturer has like one word per slide, I type because I’m able to do that faster and get more information down. If it is something really important, I write it because I feel like it sticks in my brain better than way. No matter what, I try to always do SOMETHING in class. Even if it is something I feel confident about, I am always highlighting.
I did actually do this! Definitely not to the extent that I do in PA school, but I did take pretty detailed notes in class. In undergrad I tended to make word document outlines as the teacher was talking, something I have tried in PA school. Problem now is that there is so much information that I cannot type fast enough to fill out the information given on the slides and additional things the professor is saying before we move onto the next slide. In Undergrad this was no problem. For classes that I did print out the slides and do handwritten notes, I didn’t do any highlighting (I hated changing pen to highlighter) and stuck to just filling in little one liners.
Now to the nity-grity of actually studying for exams!
I’m going to do this a little differently since my study methods have changed more drastically here. First, I’ll go through the things I did in undergraduate, and then I’ll list the things I do now in PA school (a much longer list!)
- Started actively studying 1 week in advance. Before this, I wouldn’t have done anything for the class that wasn’t assignments or going to lecture.
- Re-read all of the lectures. I tried to re-read all the lectures at least twice. As I was reading I would write down topics that I was still confused by.
- Went to Office hours and asked questions. I didn’t care how many questions I needed to ask to feel comfortable before the exam. I mean, that’s why office hours exist, right?
- Read the book and mark it up! Here was were I did a lot of my studying in Undergrad. I would read and highlight the book while taking notes in the margin or writing outline notes on a piece of paper. Normally it was only 1 or 2 chapters for the exam, so it was easy enough for me to do the week before.
- Did practice problems. I was the Queen of practice problems in undergrad. I loved them, especially for classes like the biologies or chemistries and math. The more I did practice problems, the better I felt.
- Went to tutoring. My undergrad has this awesome thing called Study Edge because, well, a lot of our professors were horrible and our TAs did not speak English. So they would do weekly reviews of the material covered in class, as well as a final exam review. This was for classes like Chemistry, Orgo, Statistics, and a bunch of business classes.
- Start actively studying 1.5 to 1 week in advance. Before this however, I have done a lot of simple reviewing, pre-reading, and interaction with my peers and professors.
- Re-read all of the lectures. Normally, I only get through reading each lecture an additional time in my week of actively studying. BUT, while re-reading I am creating notes. I have a couple different methods I use here:
- Breaking down the important concepts with simple explanations
- Completing the objectives given to us. These are normally questions or completing some form of compare and contrast chart.
- Creating “One Pagers”. This is my way of condensing the lecture in such a way that it fits on one sheet of paper and lets me quickly review the key points.
- Class Outlines. I have this one classmate who creates AMAZING outlines of the material on the slides, as well as adding in what the professor said. I print these guys out and then mark up the crap out of them. This means highlighting, underling, writing my own notes on top of them, drawing pictures, etc. Every additional time I review them, I use a different color pen to take notes. By the time I was into the test, I have read them a bunch of times and they are covered with my own notes.
- Class Objectives. As a class, we normally fill out a google doc with the objectives on it. Additionally, some people write their own objectives and then put them on the drive for others to read. I try to read as many of these as possible as everyone words things slightly different and it may help me understand something better.
- Reading the book. I do this a lot differently than I did in undergrad. Now, we have multiple, multiple chapters to read for each exam so I end up skimming the book. The notes I make are pretty basic and just hit main points without a lot going too in-depth. Normally I just highlight while reading.
- Talking to my classmates. If I’m stuck with something, there are people I reach out to and ask for help from. There is always someone who really gets it.
- Study guides!! My FAVORITE study/review method. There are a TON of great books out there for the PANCE. Since our exams are supposed to help prepare us to take the PANCE, these are great to read because they hit the main points we need to know.
- Practice questions. There are a bunch of different question banks out there for you to explore. Personally, I used ExamMaster a lot during Didactic year, and then Rosh Review during Clinical Year and studying for the PANCE.
There are a lot of different study methods out there, and I have definitely worked my way through quite a few of them. From the time I started school to know, I have really changed up my methods and figured out what works best for me. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to be able to change and explore new options. What worked for you in undergrad is definitely not going to work for you in PA school.
I hope you enjoyed this little look into how my study habits have changed from undergrad to PA school! I would love to hear your thoughts on this and how your own study methods have been adapted. Be sure to subscribe to get more posts directly to your email and follow along on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)