Study Habits and Strategies From a Yale MD/MBA Candidate

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PMY 398: Study Habits and Strategies From a Yale MD/MPH Candidate

Session 398

Prerak is an MD/MBA candidate at Yale. He joined us for National Premed Day to share his top strategies and study habits for premeds and med students. Listen!

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:55] Mappd is Available for Preorder! is a technology platform that I’ve wanted to do forever. I’ve partnered with Rachel Grubbs who has about 20 years of experience in the test prep world and student world.

We are bringing on Dr. Scott Wright, whom I’ve had on this podcast before. He’s the former director of admissions at UT Southwestern and the former executive director of TMDSAS. He’s our VP of Academic Advising helping us shape what Mappd is. With Mappd, we’re going to change the premed landscape. It’ll be a communication tool with your advisors. Eventually, your advisors will be able to log into Mappd and see students who they work with.

[03:29] What It’s Like Being Premed in a Big UC System

Prerak says there’s no straight shot scientific method, really. Prerak went to a UC school and being in that environment, he admits it took a lot of adjusting.

“People see the end result and assume that the path to getting there was easy or fun or great. And that’s not necessarily true.”

Prerak had a pretty bad impostor’s syndrome in his first two years at UC Berkeley. Part of that was the fact that there are over 800-900 people in your chemistry class. And that’s the first thing you walk into to see 900 people sitting there. You’ve probably never seen that many people in a room before.

Prerak thought part of it was figuring out how to fend for himself in the sense that if he had questions, he really had to pull himself up by the bootstraps. He had to figure out how to answer those questions. And going through those things and getting everything figured out and learning how to pull yourself up is the hardest part.

[06:04] Premed Struggles

Transcript-wise, you wouldn’t see that Prerak actually “stumbled.” But he admits stumbling a lot mentally during his first two years. There would be days he would call his parents, crying to them and feeling freaked out over a test. He didn’t think he even had any friends until his third or fourth year of college due to impostor’s syndrome. He didn’t feel like he deserved to be there.

He was spending three to four hours a night sleeping and then the rest of it was spent studying. He didn’t even bother trying to make friends.

“It took me a while to realize life isn’t just all about school.”

Prerak knew he had to learn to balance things. He had to learn to balance his family and friends and the people he cares about. And that was one of the things he learned the most in his first three years.

[07:12] Balancing Life and Priorities

Up until college, Prerak was so sheltered. It was a privilege to have caring parents who took care of a lot of finances. And so he was very sheltered. He went into college thinking he just has to study. And especially when you have the mindset that you don’t deserve to be at this university. He needs to work so hard to be exactly at the same place where someone else may not need to work as hard.

“Going to medical school, there are so many things in life that will continually throw you off and there will be things that you have to prioritize consistently.”

Even when you are studying for your board exams or something crazy, you just have to figure out a way to make it work because studying is going to be a part of the rest of your life.

[08:42] Dealing with Impostor’s Syndrome

There are only 100 people in Prerak’s class. And so, to walk in and know there are 99 other people in his class, he knows there are literally people who have done crazier things. The other odd part is that Yale has 20 MD/PhDs. So they have a 100-person class with 20 MD/PhDs. So there are 80 MD students and everyone has almost done something crazy, miraculous.

It’s great to be around people who inspire you great to be around people who you can take inspiration from, but they should not put you down.

“Hearing experiences of someone else should not make you feel like your experiences are any less valid.”

[10:59] Figuring Out How to Become a Better Student

At UC Berkeley, Prerak had to build in a lot of strategies that he got to refine starting from his first year to now 7 years. And every year, he’d put an input, see what works and what doesn’t, take everything out that doesn’t work, refine, and redo. He was also using Quizlet a lot, which was his main method of studying.

Quizlet is basically an online flashcard app with an easy-to-use user interface. He did that for every class he ever took at UC Berkeley. And then leading up to the test, he would have this deck of flashcards for every class. He would just finish that whole deck and know it inside-out and then he would do a lot of practice exams. For him, it was a very surefire way to solidify concepts that ended up doing really, really well academically.

For medical school though, it was just too much. They’re putting more into a day in medical school than he has ever done in a month during undergrad. So you have to rely a little bit on both your own flashcards and what you think will be important for the test, but also on tried and true validated methods from other people.

For the board exams, you actually have to have a macroscopic view, but you won’t have that until you’re done with the first two years.

So Prerak has switched to using Anki. And the reason most medical students are using it is because it has a lot more premade decks. They can make their own cards and modify them. There’s a lot of a lot more customizability, which is definitely needed for medical school. And although Anki was the first one to solidify the concept of spaced repetition, which there have been multiple papers about, all these other flashcard apps are slowly getting into the game as well.

'You actually have to start relying not only on your own ability to make flashcards and understand concepts but also what is the bigger picture here.'Click To Tweet

[16:47] How Spaced Repetition Works

The idea of spaced repetition is by visiting the concept over time, you won’t need to see it again until three days. But then if you visit it in three days, you won’t need to see it until one week. And if you see it in one week, you won’t need to see it again for three weeks.

“The whole point is you're strengthening that initial neural network to the point where now you can actually rely on your head without you needing to consistently refer back to it.”Click To Tweet

Spaced repetition algorithm is brought into Anki with the flashcard design. You’ll see a flashcard initially on the first day, and then you’ll see it again on the third or fifth day. If you know it, you’ll see it again in maybe two or three weeks. And so the whole point of this is you are training your brain.

It’s all based on science to take this information from short term to long term retention. That way, when you come to take your board exam, you go in and you can actually get a score that is purely based on everything in your head. It’s really impressive because you pretty much have converted everything to long term retention.

[19:05] Advice to Those Studying for the MCAT

It doesn’t even have to be flashcards because you may be able to do flashcard-based learning by even going through your lectures. Maybe you’ll go through all your lectures one day, and then go through them over in three days and in a week, but doing some form of consistent learning.

Prerak explains that our education system is based on this binge and purge approach. And that’s kind of how education works. Because unfortunately, you have a test. And then once you’re done with the test, you feel like you don’t need to know this anymore.

For medical school, what you’ll really need is some sort of long-term mechanism, because you’ll definitely need it again. So find a way to make it stick.

'Just because you're done with it in school doesn't mean you won't need to know it ever again.'Click To Tweet

Prerak thinks that it does help to have that perspective that you’re studying because you’re going to save someone’s life. But that’s way more applicable to certain types of things they learn in medical school, like clinical medicine for instance. It’s actually really motivating to try to make sure you have a long-term mechanism of understanding it. Because you really can apply them once you go into practice.

At the same time, it can sometimes be discouraging for other facets of information, where you just have to realize that you’re probably never going to use it in your life again. But you need to learn it to get a good exam score and get into residency.

At the end of the day, always try to relate it back to the bigger picture. You may not need to ever know the specifics. But knowing the specifics will still help your broader understanding of clinical medicine. You’re actually one step higher. Because now when you’re actually giving these meds, you actually understand the small details and nuances behind how they work.

And then you’ll be able to teach it to someone else, which is great. And if you love teaching that’s positive because you get to understand the nuances of what’s happening at the molecular level or at a very scientific level. So it does definitely help to put things into perspective sometimes.

“You don't need to know the small details to be a good physician. But by knowing it, you will be an excellent physician.”Click To Tweet

[25:01] Study Resources You Could Use

For undergrads listening to this, Prerak would not recommend premade decks. Because if you go to undergrad, the classes you’re learning will more often than not cover everything for the MCAT. But they’re often so different from one another that premade decks will actually hurt you a lot. 

Undergrad classes are letter-graded. And most medical school classes now are pass-fail. You can take a lot more risks in medical school because all you need to do is pass. And the whole point of that is because they know there’s so much information so just get most of it.

Prerak recommends making your own flashcards for undergrad. Your grades do matter, and they matter a lot. So there’s no reason for you to use someone else’s notes. First of all, they’re not relevant to you. Secondly, classes vary so much from one school to another.

There’s also this misconception that you’ll be ready as long as you do the flashcards. But they’re only your foundation. Prerak emphasizes the need to do a lot of practice questions. Whether that’s in the form of every practice midterm your class gives you or that’s in the form of previous practice materials. Or whether that’s in the form of a QBank for the MCAT.

“Flashcards will give you the foundation. But the thing that will really take you to the A+ level is making sure you get in a lot of practice questions.”Click To Tweet

Do not ever think that you know your flashcards and therefore, you’re ready. Just doing flashcards is not enough because you need to understand how those flashcards will be integrated into a vignette.”

It’s important to have an idea of how they’re going to ask you questions about the things that you already know. But you don’t even know how they’re going to ask you about it. So doing a lot of questions is definitely huge.

[28:53] How to Keep the Fire Burning

Prerak is in his third year of med school, and it’s even harder when you’re in med school because you realize you still have residency. And residency is supposed to be harder. One thing he does is just take one day at a time. Most importantly, enjoy the journey!

“Don't focus on this end result of becoming a physician and then you'll be done. Because that's such a big misguided myth.” Click To Tweet

Becoming a physician one day may eventually help solve a lot of these problems you’re seeing. But if you’re not enjoying the day-to-day journey and that journey is at least 10 years after undergrad, you need to figure out a way to live in the moment and enjoy the day-to-day. It doesn’t become an easier job when you’re a physician. That extra time does go somewhere else because you have more responsibilities. 


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