The question that I get asked most often is how I study in pharmacy school. Especially for P1 students, the pharmacy curriculum can seem quite daunting and impossible to master. Being now in my tenth and final academic semester of pharmacy school, I can certainly attest to the struggles of learning how to study effectively and managing all of my courses. Over the years I have tried a lot of different studying techniques and tips/tricks, I am compiling all of my best studying advice into one place for you guys!
Know how you learn best – Everyone is different. We are all good at different things and our brains all learn differently too. Therefore, the best way to study for YOU might not be the same way your best friend studies. I know personally I study differently in at least some aspect from most of my friends and Conner. This might not seem like the most helpful advice and I get it its not a quick fix but learning how to study best for you in the long run is necessary. As future pharmacists or any healthcare member we know the field is always changing, new drugs will be developed, new guidelines, new procedures, being a lifelong learner comes with the territory. For me it took two years of trial and error in undergrad to see which studying techniques worked best for me and I have adapted those a little year by year.
Put things in your own words – When I have a ton of material to learn and its just page after page of slides I can’t just sit there and read them. My brain starts to blur everything together and I have a hard time remembering what is what. If this sounds like you, the biggest piece of advice I could ever give you is to put things into your own words. Depending on the amount of material I have, I will either type or handwrite a study guide. For Therapeutics last year and Advanced Therapeutics this year most of our slides already have a lot of material and I take small notes here and there. What I end up doing is hand writing a small study guide with only the most important information that I really need to memorize (this is usually things like treatment guidelines and specific drug info). I do think hand writing should be preferred, your brain is more active when you are physically writing out your notes versus hitting keys on a keyboard, but in some cases hand writing just isn’t possible. Take my pharmacology class last year for example, my genius professor just stood at the front of the room and spoke for an hour, four times a week. Massive overload of information and his slides mainly had diagrams and with a few drug lists. For those of you who find yourself in the same situation, here is how I survived: every class I would type some notes down on notability while recording the audio for the lecture, preferably that same day I would sit down on my laptop and listen to the lecture, this time I would type up perfect notes including all the stuff I didn’t have time to write in class and then before a test I would print all of these and compile the ultimate study guide that I highlighted, underlined and read over and over. Not kidding, it was like I could hear my professor talking in my head when I read my notes and it is hands down the only way I did well both semesters (well that and flashcards, see below).
Flash cards – Flash cards have always been a go to of mine, but I saw just how vital they were for me once I got into the bulk of pharmacy school. My Intro to Practice Management course required us to make flashcards for the top 200 drugs during our P1 year. They were really helpful for trying to remember all the details of a particular drug (brand name, class, MOA, side effects, dosage forms, etc), so I carried on the flashcard tradition into my P2 year. I made flashcards for almost every single class, but the most important were Virology/Anti-infectives and Pharmacology. Making flash cards was always something our Pharmacology professor stressed to us to help students improve their grades and honestly I really don’t believe there is any other way to learn hundreds of drugs in that much depth. It is so easy to tell yourself you know the information or you could pick it out from other options on the exam when the answers are staring you in the face, but the second you have only the generic name (which probably sounds exactly like at least 20 other drugs) in front of you on that notecard is when you truly realize if you know the material or not. My flash card pile for Pharmacology was so tall it would probably give you nightmares just looking at it (from personal experience I can attest to these nightmares). I would keep going through the flashcard stack, the ones I really knew I would set aside into another pile, until eventually I knew them all.
Prioritize – Learning to prioritize your different courses is so important. This may be hard to do in the very beginning of a semester before the first round of exams because you never quite know what to expect. However once you’ve had an exam in each course you have a much better idea of how well you know the material, what the exam questions look like and most importantly what is needed from you for the next exam. This also goes with my first point that everyone is good at different things and therefore some classes will come more naturally and require less work than others. Take pharmacy law for example, it is so boring to study in my opinion and there are so many things to know, but my professors exam questions were so straight forward and I did very well on the first exam. The next time time our law exam was scheduled for a Monday two days before an advanced therapeutics exam. Advanced therapeutics exam questions are by no means straight forward and require much more in depth knowledge compared to law, this is where prioritizing comes in. I dedicated my entire Sunday and Monday morning strictly to studying law, while the week before and after law, leading up to Wednesday was left for the much harder advanced therapeutics exam. I only got a few questions wrong on my law exam and my advanced therapeutics average went up, I will call that a win in pharmacy school any day.
I am currently two weeks away from being done with didactic college classes forever and I cannot even believe it! These past 5 years have been so challenging but so rewarding and the light at the end of the tunnel is shinning bright. Like I said before, being in pharmacy or any part of the medical field requires life long learning, I will be using these same study tips with me while on rotation, studying for boards and during my career. These are my top 4 study tips that I believe can help you no matter what your major or current class load looks like. But, as always there is so much more to be said on this topic than just 4 tips, so please comment below or message me any questions you have. I wish you all the best in your academic endeavors, study smart!