In this episode, Ryan talks with Amit Mathew, an entrepreneur and creator of the Cram Fighter, a personalized study scheduling tool that helps students develop a better and more effective studying habit regardless of their studying style.
Married to a physician, Amit watched his wife (who was a medical student at that time) struggling as she was studying for the boards and coming up with a plan and schedule to study for the boards. With all the different materials she’s using, Amit thought there’s gotta be a better way of doing this and so this sparked his entrepreneurial mind that led him to create Cram Fighter.
Cram Fighter is a software that enables you to plug in all of your study materials to help you create a custom schedule based on the day you’re taking the test, the day you’re starting to study, along with several other variables.
My conversation with Amit Mathew, creator of Cram Fighter:
Being a spouse of a medical student:
- Started dating her spouse while a premed student
- Having a unique perspective from the outside
- Seeing his wife preparing for her tests with colored pencils and big sheets of paper
What Amit has seen in people preparing for tests:
- Everybody studies differently with a lot of overlap
- The need for a day-to-day plan
- The commonality of successful students is having a plan
- The importance of having steps in order to achieve a goal
- The power of having a calendar
- There’s no one perfect schedule or one perfect schedule for any student
- Products should be personalized and adapt to your study style
What is Cram Fighter?
- It helps you build a personalized, detailed study plan so you know what to do each day to prepare you for your exams.
- Based on the information you give them, Cram Fighter gives you a very detailed daily checklist of what to do and builds a schedule for you.
- If you need to make changes, Cram Fighter re-calculates and re-balances your schedule on the fly (add resource, switch around subjects, etc.)
- It serves as a task management and scheduling system.
- Cram Fighter also has a pre-populated list of resources that you might be using
The benefits of using Cram Fighter:
- Detail specificity
Habits that keep students motivated and stay on schedule:
- Starting your preparation and adding it up little by little each year
- Course correction
When you need to start looking at using Cram Fighter:
- Have an idea first of what resources you’re using
- Cram Fighter maintains a list of popular resources many students are using
Links and Other Resources:
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 195.
Hello and welcome to the two-time Academy Award nominated podcast, The Premed Years, where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I am your host Dr. Ryan Gray, and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement, and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.
Welcome to the Medical School Headquarters and The Premed Years Podcast if this is the first time joining us. My name is Dr. Ryan Gray, I’m the host of this podcast as well as the Old Premeds Podcast and now The MCAT Podcast, and I have two more secretly in the works. Not so secret, actually. If you go over to www.MedEdMedia.com, you can see the artwork for the new shows with a ‘Coming Soon’ banner on those. Again that’s www.MedEdMedia.com.
I’m excited to talk today with a guest who is not a physician, he’s not a PA, he’s not a healthcare person. He is an entrepreneur, a software guy, a business owner, and he is married to a physician. And watching his wife struggle studying for the boards, and coming up with a plan and a schedule to study for the boards with all of the different materials that she was using gave him an idea. He said to himself, ‘There has to be a better way,’ and out of that idea came Cram Fighters. Cram Fighters is an amazing piece of software that lets you plug in basically all of the study materials that you have, and it will let you create a custom schedule based on the day you’re taking the test, the day you’re starting studying, and lots of other variables that Amit will talk about here coming up in a second.
I want to let you know that there is a special coupon code for The Premed Years listeners that I will tell you at the end of this podcast. So listen through to the end and I’ll let you know. Let’s go ahead and say hi to Amit.
Amit, thanks for joining me here on The Premed Years Podcast, how are you doing today?
Amit Mathew: I’m doing well, thanks for having me.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Not a problem. I’m interested to learn obviously what you’re doing now with Cram Fighters, we’re going to dig into that, but I want to hear kind of your story leading up to how you got into the test prep world and helping students with their test prep. Were you a premed student growing up?
Amit Mathew: I was not, no. It was kind of a random story actually. So my background is actually in technology and my wife is currently a physician but at the time was a medical student, and she was in the process of preparing for her board exams. So I was looking to take on a new project and she was preparing for her boards, and I watched her try to create a study plan by hand, so she spent hours with colored pencils- true story, colored pencils and big sheets of paper, and had to divide up all the pages she had to go through, what subjects she was covering and when, and I was just watching her and I was like, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” And so that was kind of the genesis, was trying to develop a software that could help automate that process, and better use that time for studying.
Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s always the entrepreneurial spark. ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’
Amit Mathew: Yeah, and a wife that’s frustrated and tired is a good incentive to spark some creativity.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So talk about that. Talk about being a spouse- or maybe before you were married if she was a medical student at the time, or you were married at the time. What that was like seeing it from that side?
Amit Mathew: Oh man I could talk about that for hours. It’s definitely an experience. So I got married before my wife started medical school, in fact we rushed home after our honeymoon- we had a one day honeymoon so she could rush back home to check her med school applications, like coming back in her acceptance letters and stuff like that. So since then it’s definitely been a journey, and I don’t know, I always felt like I should start a support group or something for premed and medical spouses and significant others. But yeah, no it was really interesting going through- being a spouse and watching her go through medical school. Actually we started dating when she was a premed so watching that process in college, and then through medical school, and then through residency, and now she’s an attending. Just seeing it from an outsider, it’s definitely really interesting. You see a lot of the- kind of the highs and lows, and the amazing things about becoming a physician, and just the really broken parts about becoming a physician in I think a very unique way because you’re not like in the thick of it yourself.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah, yeah you definitely get a unique perspective being on the outside and not having to struggle going through that process, which is good and bad. So interesting. So talk about your wife. You had talked about her sitting there with her colored pencils, and papers, and everything. As you started working with Cram Fighter, and developing this thought in your head of what Cram Fighter would become- and again we’ll dig into more about that a little bit later, but the way that your wife started preparing for her tests whether it was for the boards, or for the classes, whatever it was, how do you see how she prepared versus how other people prepare for tests?
Amit Mathew: So having done this for a number of years, we see- everybody studies differently but there’s just a lot of overlap and it comes down to really do you have a day-to-day plan? And do you know what you need to do each hour of your day basically? And no matter how you study, or what strategies you use, or if you like to listen to lectures, or watch videos, or read; no matter, what we find the commonality, the common thread is really the students that are successful have that plan and know, ‘This is my goal, this is what I’m going to do every day to get there,’ and that’s something that we really emphasize, is it’s not enough to know, ‘I’m taking the MCAT, or I’m taking my biochem finals or whatever on this particular date.’ What’s really important is do you know what steps you need to take in order to achieve that goal? And really I mean that’s applicable with everything in life, but we see that most acutely with students studying for very difficult exams.
Dr. Ryan Gray: In the entrepreneurial world that I’m kind of dipping my toes into, obviously now not working as a physician and doing this full time, I often hear if you want to get it done, put it on the calendar. And it sounds like that’s what you’re talking about.
Amit Mathew: Oh absolutely. I mean even if it’s on the calendar there’s no guarantee it will get done but at least it has a chance. I mean for me personally, if I don’t have it in a task management tool or in my calendar, it just never happens and it might as well have never existed. So the process of having something in front of you, something that you check off is really important, and that satisfaction that you gain from checking things off, and completing a day’s worth of tasks, and then a week’s worth of tasks, it really helps build that confidence and helps build that momentum so that you build those really good habits on how to study effectively, or to accomplish anything effectively.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So as you were watching your wife create this study schedule for her boards, did you ever go down the path of wanting to create more test prep material to help her study? Was that ever a thought, or were you trying to solve something totally different here?
Amit Mathew: Actually something very different. You know- and I don’t know how I missed this because I feel like we’re the only company that helps students with test prep that doesn’t really think of content at all. But from day one the idea was always there’s a lot of great material out there, the problem has really become how do you manage all that- manage your time most effectively and get through all that material? And when I got started, there was really nothing like Cram Fighter out there, but on the flipside you’d see every month- and you still see this, there’ll be some new online question bank, or a new lecture series, and a ton of new resources out there, but I always felt that the idea of scheduling all that time and effectively going through those resources was a problem that was unsolved, and that was what I was really interested in solving.
Resources to Use for Studying
Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s hard having all of these new companies pop up, if they’re good or if not good, because as a premed student I think we’re under the- we have this mentality of the more material, the better. And so ‘I need to buy the new book, the new course, the new class, and then I will be good.’
Amit Mathew: Right, yeah no we see that a lot. We get questions like, ‘Oh what should I use to study?’ And we maintain lists of the most popular resources just to give students a starting point, but we never come out and say, ‘Oh you should use this particular resource.’ I mean we always do our best to remain independent and help students schedule with whatever they prefer to use, because in the end it’s all a personal preference. And even when you talk about study schedules, it’s the same way. Like we get- actually from faculty we get this a lot, where they’ll ask us like, ‘Oh so you guys can build the one true perfect schedule?’ And it’s always difficult to tell me, but what I always say is like, ‘That doesn’t exist. There’s no one perfect schedule and there’s no one perfect resource for any particular student. It totally depends on your study habits, and your learning styles, and things like that.’ And so really the important part is understanding that every student is different and that products should be personalized and should adapt to however you like to study.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright so I think we’ve beat around the bush enough about what Cram Fighter is. Let’s go ahead and just talk about it, and exactly what a student should expect from Cram Fighter. So we talked that it’s really not new content, it’s not test prep material; how does it help me as I prepare for the MCAT, or for the boards?
Amit Mathew: Cram Fighter helps you by building a personalized detailed study plan so you know exactly what to do each day in order to be ready for your exam, your boards, whatever. And the way we do that is very simple, you tell us what resources you’re using to study, how many hours a day you’re studying, if you’re taking any days off, things like that and what order you want to go through subjects. And we use all that information to generate a very detailed daily checklist of exactly what to do. And so we save a lot of time up front so you don’t have to calculate all that by hand like dividing up pages, and questions, and things like that. But the real benefit we see is that when you need to make changes, and inevitably you need to make changes, we’ll recalculate, rebalance your schedule on the fly so you can add a resource at any time, switch around subjects, if you’re falling behind you can push a button and we’ll recalculate your schedule and give you a new schedule. And we do this just to save you time and so that you stay organized and you know exactly what to do each day.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Let’s say I’m a student, I use Kaplan for my test prep material, I bought a course from them and I also have a couple extra books from Examkrackers, or Next Step Test Prep. I can go into Cram Fighter and tell you guys through your system all of the materials that I have, and give you- I’m assuming I give you my expected MCAT test date and you create that list for me.
Amit Mathew: That’s correct, yeah. So we have- in our system we already have the table of contents of the majority of resources out there kind of pre-populated. And so you just tell us which chapters you want to cover, if you just want to cover the entire book, what kind of questions you’re doing, practice tests, and we’ll build a schedule using that information.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What’s the benefit of Cram Fighter over someone taking an afternoon and trying to figure all this out on their own?
Amit Mathew: Two main benefits. So one is really about time. Typically we see students have to spend a minimum of a few hours to build a detailed study plan, because you have to calculate how many pages are you covering, how many hours are you studying, what days are you taking off, and we do that leg work for you. So if you spend a couple hours building a study plan that’s a lot of time that could be better spent preparing. We also save time later on as you need to make changes, trying to re-do everything can take another couple hours every time you need to re-do it. Often what we see are students kind of give up on their study plan because they’re like, ‘Oh I’m so far behind,’ they just abandon it rather than spending time to re-do everything. The second benefit I’d say is really around the idea of the level of detail. A lot of study plans that we see floating around on the Internet and that students share, the problem we see with those are often it’s very high level. It’s like for this particular week, cover this topic, and that doesn’t really give you a concrete idea. Like when you wake up in the morning and you’re studying for the MCAT, you really want to know what specific pages do you need to cover? How many practice questions should I do today? And that specificity will really guide you and give you concrete goals so you can tell yourself, ‘I accomplished my goals for today or I didn’t.’ Whereas if you just have to cover a topic in a week, it’s really hard to gauge how your progress is during that week.
Task Management & Scheduling System
Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s interesting, the more you talk about what Cram Fighter is and does, the more I see it- and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong, the more I see it as a task management system and not really a scheduling system.
Amit Mathew: That’s a good question, I mean I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean it’s scheduling in the sense that we give you tasks to do on specific days, but a big part of it is the fact that these are tasks so these are things that we want you to check off, and we give you little notes of encouragement as you check off tasks to build your confidence and things like that. But I’d say it’s really a combination of both and that’s really what’s unusual about our system, is it’s not just a calendar and it’s not just like a to-do list, it’s kind of a hybrid.
Best Habits for Students
Dr. Ryan Gray: What have you seen as far as good task management habits, and actually getting that momentum going and students that stay on schedule? What are those habits that keep them motivated and stay on schedule?
Amit Mathew: Yeah so we’ve collected a lot of data. So we’ve had thousands and thousands of students using Cram Fighter, and through that we have a really- we’ve seen some interesting trends. One really important thing is we’re noticing students are starting their preparation earlier and earlier each year, and there’s kind of some pros and cons to that. Obviously it’s good if you start early, but one strong way of studying that we’ve students do is to start early, but just starting a little bit each day and kind of ramping up over time. So maybe if you’re busy with classes or something like that, if you’re in the middle of a semester, even doing a couple practice questions a day can make a huge difference. And watching that add up and watching your knowledge build so that when you’re in your dedicated study time maybe during a summer, you’re really preparing for the MCAT, you’ll have such a head start if you’ve just done a little bit, maybe thirty minutes a day prior to that. That’s one really important thing. Another really interesting trend that we’ve kind of discovered more recently, I’d say in the last year or so, is we start looking at students’ scores and trying to see- comparing how students using Cram Fighter, how they stick to their study plan and things like that, and one really interesting thing that we saw is that even very successful students make a lot of changes during the course of their studying, and they most often fall behind. So some students when they fall behind, they don’t know how to handle that, they think that’s really bad, and then they kind of get- they lose their motivation and lose that momentum. But what we find is it’s really understanding that students fall behind that they should kind of push through that and that’s okay, that’s a normal part of the process as long as you keep trying and keep- have an up to date schedule that reflects the changes and how you’ve fallen behind, but that you can still succeed even if you’ve fallen behind a number of times.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah we call that course correction here, I talk about course correction all the time and a program like Cram Fighter, the application is perfect for that because it will almost immediately tell you if you’re falling behind, that you’re off course, and it allows you- it seems like from the push of a button to recalculate what you need to do to get back on course. And I always use the analogy of airplanes and flying from New York to Los Angeles. An airplane that flies from New York to Los Angeles is always under the influence of winds, and different factors, and needs to course correct hundreds of times on its flight. It doesn’t get off course and the pilot doesn’t go, ‘Okay let’s just turn around and go back to New York, we need to figure this out.’ They course correct, and they move forward, and get to Los Angeles eventually. So it sounds like Cram Fighter does an amazing job at helping people figure out that course correction so that they can just keep pushing through without kind of dwelling on the fact that they’re falling behind.
Amit Mathew: Absolutely, yeah.
Future of Cram Fighter
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Where do you hope to see Cram Fighter be as far as a tool for students to use? Is this something that students are just using for their MCAT or just using for their USMLE? Do you see this growing into something more than just test prep?
Amit Mathew: Yeah, absolutely. So we have a big mission here at Cram Fighter, and that is we really believe that within every student there’s a really organized person, a very disciplined student, and really the idea of Cram Fighter’s; one, we want every student to discover that organized version of themselves. And as part of that mission, standardized exams are part of that, but we’re really looking much bigger and that is how can we help a student build a plan to learn anything? And we’re starting- that’s a big mission, but we’re starting in small steps. We recently just launched at our first school actually, a tool to help them with their day-to-day coursework, and that’s something that we’ll be working on refining so that eventually we’ll make this available to college students in general so that if they’re taking their premed classes they can build a study plan to help them with that, and scheduling time for their MCAT, and whatever else they’re learning. So that’s kind of the overall mission of Cram Fighter.
Dr. Ryan Gray: If a student is listening to this and is using it for their MCAT, and they wished it was available to them as an undergraduate student, should they go ping somebody at their school to get in touch with you guys?
Amit Mathew: We’d love to talk to them. We’re rolling this out initially with medical students, but our next step will be premed, so we’re hoping in the next six to twelve months we’ll be doing that. So it may be a little bit late for maybe the upper classmen who are graduating, but hopefully for anybody else, yeah we’d love to be on your campus, have all your course information and then be able to just spit out a schedule. And we just rolled out with 110 students and it’s been phenomenal so far. I mean just watching them build a study plan for just their day-to-day we think is going to make a huge difference.
Dr. Ryan Gray: I would have loved to have something like that when I was a medical student, so I’m kind of mad that you guys are rolling it out now. Where were you when I needed you?
Amit Mathew: I’m sorry, if we could go back in time we would.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Talk about the name Cram Fighter. What’s the origin of that?
Amit Mathew: You know I wish I could say there was some like deeper meaning. I mean I think it reflects a little bit- I used to be in a previous life, I worked in video games actually, and I guess the name has a little bit of a video game kind of feel. But really the idea is that we build tools to prevent cramming, so we tried to fight cram, and so that’s the genesis. But to be honest I don’t think I spent more than like an hour. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship you’ll see a lot of stories of people getting so hung up on names that they never get anywhere because they’re thinking about the name. So I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to pick a name and then more importantly I’m going to build the product,’ so that’s what we did.
Timeline for Using Cram Fighter
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s awesome. When should people start looking at using Cram Fighter for their MCAT prep? Is this something they should look at before they start getting material, or is it something- once they get the material that they want they should start looking at Cram Fighter?
Amit Mathew: They could do either. I mean having an idea of what resources you want to use can definitely be helpful so that you can- because one of the steps of building the study plan is that you tell us which resources you’re using, and of course you can always change that and things like that. So definitely it helps to have an idea. Alternatively we also maintain a list of popular resources that students are using, and so if you go to the Cram Fighter website you can see what- get an idea of what other students are using. They’re not necessarily the best resource or the right resource for you, but it might be a good starting point.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright is there anything else that I haven’t pulled out of you that you want to let the premed student know?
Amit Mathew: Well I think we’re in a really interesting spot right now for Cram Fighter in that we’re really trying to reach more premeds and really help them with their MCAT. We try to- the way we try to differentiate ourselves is that we do our best to be really responsive, and really Cram Fighter was the output of thousands of conversations we’ve had with students on how they study, and what they like to see in their study plan, and how they make changes. And so I really recommend going on the Cram Fighter site, starting a trial, and just have a conversation with us; we’re often on our chat on our website or just through email, and we really want to find out more about how you study, and how we can better support you during your studying for a stressful exam.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, Cram Fighters. You can go find them over at www.CramFighter.com. The special coupon code that I was telling you, it’s a long one. Let me make sure that you aren’t driving and trying to write this down, you can just go into our show notes, I’ll have the link to it. I’ll have the code there in the show notes. The full show notes probably won’t be up but I’ll make sure to have this code. The person who does my show notes is on a well-deserved vacation, but the code will be there. It’s MEDSCHOOLHQ2017. Again, MEDSCHOOLHQ2017, that’s all capitals. MEDSCHOOLHQ2017, all one word, all capitals. And that will give you 50% off their MCAT study schedule, so do that. MEDSCHOOLHQ2017.
Thank you Cram Fighters for coming on the show, and I hope that you the premed go check them out and see how they can help you prepare for the MCAT which is obviously the goal.
Alright I want to take a second and thank a couple people who have left reviews for us. We have actually just one today which is okay. We have one here from JoshSam8 that says, ‘Fantastic podcast, extremely helpful for anyone on the premed track who is in search of nonbiased information, advice and motivation. One of the best podcasts out there.’ I agree, one of the best, which is awesome. Thank you for that review, JoshSam8.
If you want to leave us a rating and review, you can do so at www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/iTunes.
Alright that is it for today. Again if you are interested in this podcast, you might be interested in the Old Premeds Podcast and The MCAT Podcast. You can check out everything we’re doing over at www.MedEdMedia.com. That’s www.MedEdMedia.com. I also want to let you know that the Guide to the Medical School Interview, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview is now live. You can go buy it on Amazon, and as I’m recording this it will be $0.99 for a little bit longer. So go over to www.MedSchoolInterviewBook.com and that will show you where you can buy the book. Right now it’s Kindle only, I will be publishing a paperback version here soon, and then the official published version through a traditional publisher, because it got picked up by a traditional publisher, will be out sometime in 2017.
So that’s all I have for you today. I hope you have a great week continuing your push towards becoming a physician, and I hope you join us next week here at the Medical School Headquarters and The Premed Years Podcast.
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