If you got through high school, college, medical school, internship, and you are now a resident, fellow, or attending physician it is safe to assume you’ve developed your own study techniques that are effective for you.
That said, studying for exams such as the boards, especially when you have not taken a major test in a few years, can be a massive and even boring (but hopefully helpful) experience. It is nice to have fresh methods and change up your habits to keep your brain active and interest levels fresh. Below you’ll find a few study methods to help release you from the monotony of exam prep.
Sadly, none of them are procrastinating by deep cleaning your kitchen or napping on your books. Sorry.
Method 1: The Tomato Timer/Pomodoro Technique ®
Having gained popularity in the last few years, you might have heard of the productivity system inspired by a little tomato timer called the Pomodoro method. This system breaks studying down into small increments with built in breaks, which is typically a 20-minute focused work session, followed by a 5-minute break.
Why we like it: It is a simple set-up and you can use your phone. it is good for getting right into what you are studying and perfect for people who get distracted easily. It is also a good social contract construct for group study, as everyone agrees not to talk for the work time and there is built in time for socialization/questions.
Possible Negatives: The official system itself is simple in theory, but is a copyrighted system, so it does involve buying a book or web license to learn. You will also need to have some kind of timer with you (watch, phone, clock, etc). If you use your phone, it could be an additional distraction to yourself or those around you.
Works best if: You have a hard time focusing for long periods of time, have a hard time getting deep into work quickly, you’re studying with a group, and/or are studying in a place where an alarm or walking around will not be an issue.
Method 2: Distraction Blockers and Filters
What it is: Distraction blockers are apps or programs that you can download onto your computer or phone to eliminate distractions in your work. They will often only allow you to access the websites on your ‘yes’ list or will not allow you to visit specific sites on your ‘no’ list. There are dozens of distraction blocker programs online that have different features and costs.
Why we like it: Distraction blockers are great if you are using a web-based study tool (like PathDojo) and get distracted by auto-checking social media sites or email. They are often minimalistic and have a high-level of user control.
Possible Negatives: Many of the apps do cost something, though most are cheap. They also require installation and a bit of set-up on your end. They only work with your devices.
Works best if: You study or do focused work on your computer, are willing to set-up parameters before beginning study, and want to train yourself to focus on what you’re doing.
Method 3: Online tools for subject-matter specific learning
What it is: Full disclosure. Yes, PathDojo fits in this category, so it is a bit of shameless self-promotion. However, we created PathDojo because we love using question banks and digitally portable apps to learn.
Why we like it: Apps are available 24/7 on your computer or phone. Most automatically track your progress and are customizable, you don’t have to carry around large books or other materials. They are usually much easier to organize, search, and manipulate than paper, and you don’t have to spend time creating questions and cards. Additionally, you can also set them up to quiz you only on problem areas or places you want to focus.
Possible Negatives: These apps are not usually free. Like with PathDojo, hundreds to thousands of hours of work go into the creation and care of these apps and there is often a use or subscription fee involved. We try to keep our subscription costs low so we can help out with your knowledge, preparation, and your budget.
Works best if: You want to be able to fit quick study sessions in during down-time (waiting in line, on the bus, etc), as well as more dedicated study time at home, the library or the coffee shop - you have to memorize many facts and recognize many patterns.