There’s an old med school joke that goes like this:

A professor gives a business student, a law student, and a medical student a phone book to memorize. The business student delegates it to someone further down the organizational chart; the law student claims the assignment isn’t legal; and the medical student sighs and asks: “When is it due?”

Yup. There’s a LOT to memorize when you’re studying to become a doctor or a nurse.

That’s a good thing. You don’t want an ER medic quickly googling something in the midst of diagnosing a possible aneurysm.

On the other hand, it means that—if you’re currently studying for the USMLE, prepping for the MCAT, or reviewing for the NCLEX—you have a mountain of information to internalize and master.

Yes, this task has been done before by the thousands of students who are now doctors and nurses. Lots of them did it through brute memorization. However, there is an efficient way to go about doing this, saving you a ton of time, sleepless nights, and prematurely grey hairs.

In this article, we’ll look at the most important habit you’ll need for nursing and medical school and how Brainscape, the world’s smartest flashcard app for web and mobile, can help you cultivate this habit.

The most important habit in medical and nursing school

Studying for medical and nursing school

The results are in and ... (drumroll) ... the most important habit to get through nursing or medical school is daily studying. Just a little each day.

I know, boring right?

Perhaps you were hoping for some sort of learn-in-your-sleep technique or illegal North Korean mind hack. Yeah, sorry: not going to happen.

The truth is, in fact, daily studying IS a ninja-level hack ... just clothed in extremely boring, mundane garb

It’s a story as old as Aesop: the tortoise and the hare. The hare tries to succeed in sprints and ends up losing to the tortoise, who just keeps going—not hurrying or slacking, just keeping a steady pace. Granted, the tortoise wasn’t studying organic chemistry, but you get the idea.

Once an activity becomes a habit, you actually spend less brainpower doing it. For most people, a morning coffee (or three, if you’re in med school) is so automatic, you can do it while semi-conscious. Building a strong study habit will bring the same level of effortlessness to your daily school routine.

Because passing medical and nursing school requires you to absorb a small ocean of facts and data, students who try to cram it all in at the end of each term will end up sinking. Even if this strategy worked for you in high school, it won’t now (unless you have T1000 memory capabilities.)

The smart way to build a strong daily study habit

Math equation that shows strong study habits pay off

Regular studying is the best way to ensure that even if you don’t exactly cruise through your medical exams, you at least look like someone who has things under control.

It’s also a far more efficient way to learn. Our brains are designed to store information in our memories via repetition over time. Crammed information disappears from memory quite quickly, which isn’t a good thing when your knowledge set is your toolkit for saving lives.

So, how do you make your study habit easy? Well, in our current digital age, when one’s mobile phone has practically become an extension of the physical self, it makes sense to take your study time into the mobile world.

With a mobile study app, it’s convenient to study anytime, anywhere. You can make the most of those little in-between times, when you’re waiting for a bus, or sitting on the can. (Just not so long that your feet fall asleep.)

That’s why we created the Brainscape adaptive flashcard app: to help serious students organize their study for maximum efficiency.

How Brainscape helps build strong study habits

Sure, breaking content into bite-sized chunks that you can conveniently study in a mobile app is a great way to facilitate those small daily study sessions we mentioned are so important. But it's the actual cognitive learning principles behind Brainscape that help you really turn studying into a habitual and effective daily practice.

When you use Brainscape to study medical and nursing flashcards, you’re taking full advantage of several important neural shortcuts.

Active recall

Firstly, studying content via flashcards engages your powers of active recall, which is a far more effective method of learning than futile multiple choice drills or simply reading a textbook (even if you're reading your textbook the right way).

When you have to retrieve the information from your brain with no cues in place, you’re creating a much stronger memory trace. You’ll notice the difference at exam time, when the answers to questions surface easily because you’ve already done the hard work of retrieval.

This is because active studying is twice as effective as passive studying. By studying this way, you'll spend a lot less time having to learn. Score one for you getting a little time off to watch Family Guy reruns ...

Spaced repetition

Secondly, the Brainscape algorithm uses the power of spaced repetition to rapidly guide you through new material. Spaced repetition means you’re seeing fresh content at just the right rate to learn fast and avoid cognitive overload, and you’re repeating familiar content at the optimal intervals to keep them firm in your memory. Spaced repetition speeds up your learning rate, as you’re not overwhelmed by new content, or seeing familiar content any more frequently than you need to.

Graph showing spaced repetition cuts study time in half

Because Brainscape leverages these key cognitive learning principles, even a short study session is super potent and gets you a step or two further in your studies.

Certified flashcards

Thirdly, all the heavy lifting of creating the flashcards has already been done for you. Brainscape has partnered with top educators to create certified card flashcard collections for the MCAT, USMLE, and NCLEX exams. The flashcards are detailed and extensive, organized by topic, and intuitive to use. You can even create your own flashcard decks with high-resolution medical images and collaborate with other students.

Mastery calculator

Finally, the Brainscape mastery calculator helps you stay on target, giving you an accurate time frame of how long it’ll take to master each section. When you’re wading through a mountain of material, it helps to have a measure of how far you’ve already come. This is how Brainscape helps you stay internally motivated: by tracking long term progress.

NCLEX Flashcards in Brainscape
Brainscape's NCLEX flashcards help you frequently review the material you don't know well and repeats cards often enough so you can remember them effectively. The mastery calculator can be found on the left-hand side.

Further tips for building a strong daily study habit

Using a mobile app means you can study anywhere, at any time. You can sneak in short 5, 10, 15, 20-minute study sessions throughout the day. These ‘small wins’ accumulate over time, making it easier and easier to break the study opposition barrier as your brain gets used to quickly switching into study mode.

There’s a cool concept called ‘don’t break the chain’ popularized by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld has written one joke a day for years. Once you’ve studied (even a little bit) every day for a week, there’s a stronger urge to not ‘break the chain.’ The longer you carry on a daily habit, the stronger it gets. Eventually, you’ll find it easier to study every day, than not.

Strong chain to develop strong study habits

Using an app like Brainscape also means it's easy to keep the chain going and pick up where you left off. No shuffling through dusty textbooks, trying to remember where you last feel asleep over your study notes. Just open the app and tap Study.

Tortoise beats hare (and aces med school)

So there you have it: all the reasons why a regular study habit is a must if you want to succeed in nursing or medical school. We think Brainscape is the ideal tool to do this, and you can check out our Academy for tons more articles on how to study efficiently.

Consistency and good habit creation is a skill whose benefits will follow you throughout your career in medicine. Plus you’ll be doing your future self a massive favor when exam time comes around, as you say goodnight to all the frazzled crammers and head to bed, well-rested, prepared, and confident.

Go forth and study daily! (Not quite the catchiest phrase, but like we said, your future self will love you …)