Why Cramming Doesn’t Work in Medical School

Medical student preparing for USMLE Step 1

Despite what undergrad might have taught you, cramming in medical school simply doesn’t work. By cramming before exams, you store the information in your short-term memory rather than long-term memory. Cramming might be effective if you only have to remember something for a few ways, but it doesn’t allow you to retain that information for long.

The course material builds upon itself in med school — you’re tested on the same information multiple times — which makes it crucial that you keep that information in your long-term memory. Although many undergrad courses may have given you time off leading up to exams (or maybe didn’t present new information in the few weeks before major exams), that is definitely not the case in med school. More often than not, you’ll be presented with new concepts daily — regardless of whether there’s an exam coming up — that you’ll have to add to your study plan.

This is a big part of the reason why cramming doesn’t work in med school: You simply won’t have the time to understand — no less memorize — all of that information at the last minute. Plus, if you focus on cramming old material, you won’t have time to learn the new material from the previous few classes.

You may be wondering how to avoid cramming in med school when your schedule is filled to the brim. All it takes to learn how to study ahead is finding a method (no, not cramming) that allows you to add in new material regularly.

How to Avoid Cramming in Med School

The most important thing you should focus on is staying on top of the material throughout your course or block, which minimizes the need for cramming before exams. There are numerous methods to help you do this:

  • Review your notes immediately after class, which will help you better absorb and retain the information.
  • When developing your study plan for each course/block, set your target date to be one or two days before exam day. This way, you’ll have the last few days to do more reviewing. And if you need a little extra time to review certain troublesome concepts, you’ll have it — without feeling crunched for time!
  • Set aside “review days” periodically during the block. Use these days to review previously covered material.
  • Create daily quotas for questions or flash cards.
  • Get a (virtual or in-person) study buddy! Having a study buddy who also wants to stay on top of the material allows you to motivate each other to reach that goal.
  • Find creative ways to retain information. For example, med school podcasts like the Rx Bricks Podcast can be great review tools.

If you feel overwhelmed and think cramming before exams is your only study option, you’re not alone. Every med student goes through that phase. Just take a deep breath, reassess your study schedule, and put together a plan that allows you to stay on top of the material. Someday in the future, you’ll be glad to remember the concepts you learned in M1 microbiology to help determine whether a patient has a cold or pneumonia.

If you want access to study tools that make it easy to stick to your review schedule, click here to get a free five-day trial of USMLE-Rx.


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