Medical school is intense.

No matter how well prepared you are, it will be tougher than you expected. The first few weeks are where you are likely to have the most difficulty with your new life. Everything will be new and shiny and there will be so many opinions on what to do.

Luckily, there are a few ways to make your life easier. Brainscape's team of medical educators has over 50 combined years in medical school and MCAT tutoring, combined with our general learning sciences and software development team. We know our stuff when it preparing for your exams and getting into the top medical schools.

[Be sure to check out Brainscape's MCAT flashcards, USMLE flashcards, and other medical flashcards to help you along your journey.]

So, we've compiled 5 tips that will help you survive medical school. You're welcome.

Tip 1: Manage your time well

This is probably the skill most important for medical school success. Keeping your life organized will make it possible to handle the increase in academic workload med school brings. This often means avoiding outside work during this first year.

It is tempting to keep up that lifestyle in medical school, but continuing to spread yourself too thin in first year can lead to failure. You will need to prioritize among your personal, familial, and outside obligations. It may take a few weeks for you to figure out what balance of extracurricular activities you can handle but coursework must be a priority.

Tip 2: Know how you learn

Many students get through undergrad using just one or two study techniques, or crammed at the last minute to succeed. Going to lecture was usually a given.

In medical school, in contrast, the sheer volume of information you will learn means you must identify your most effective and efficient study methods in order to succeed. It is difficult (if not impossible) to catch up in med school once you fall behind. Going to lectures in the first month can help you decide if they are effective for you.

No matter whether you attend lecture, learning a small amount of material each day will allow you to integrate all of the information more effectively and allow you to remember it long-term. And if you're taking the MCAT, it's vital that you create an MCAT study schedule as well.

Graph showing cramming not effective to survive medical school
The most important thing you need to survive medical school is the habit to study a little every day. This will absolutely save you.

Tip 3: Seek out upperclassmen

These are students who have gone through exactly what you are about to experience. They can provide valuable information about how they learned/studied effectively and what their style was. Ask them what books or resources were helpful. They know which lecturers are the most useful, how exams are structured, and how each first year class is organized.

Avoid listening to friends or relatives who attended medical school a long time ago. The current methods and goals of medical education are much different than they were just 10-15 years ago. Each school does things a little differently so these students are your best resource for knowing what will work your first year.

Tip 4: Participate in social activities

There is a common saying that med school is a lot like high school, and it’s pretty accurate. These are people you will spend the next 4 years with. You'll be in the same classes for 2 years. Early in first year, you will hear the same questions over and over again: “Where did you go to undergrad?” and “What was your major?” Eventually you will grow to admire these people through mutual respect and mutual suffering. Having a strong social network can keep you motivated and be another great study resource. (See how MCAT study groups could improve your learning).

All U.S. medical schools incorporate some level of problem-based learning into their curriculum. Having social outlets will help keep you sane and allow you to learn more from these group sessions. Being able to effectively communicate what you know is an important part of being a physician and will help you master the material during your first year. In addition, having some good friends is something you’re really going to need (remember, med school is intense!).

Tip 5: Don't worry about your specialty

Very few students enter medical school knowing exactly where they want to specialize and few of those actually end up where they expected. You can seek out extracurricular activities, groups, and research opportunities as low-time cost ways to gain exposure to a specialty you may be interested in. But during first year, focus on your academics. A great first year will provide the foundation for a solid STEP 1/COMLEX 1 score which will open many doors, regardless of your eventual specialty decision.

You can do this

There is no single best way to get through your first year. Do your best, but realize that you may find you need to adjust during your first few weeks. If you take your summer before first year to RELAX and think about what has allowed you to succeed in the past, and what you want to improve on, you will both enjoy and benefit from your first year of medical school.

So don’t worry too much! We’re sure that if you focus on med school, you’ll do fine.