How to Succeed in Pre-med Classes

Medical School
June 28, 2020

Tips for excelling in your pre-requisites for medical school

With medical schools requiring 10 or more courses to be completed before applying, how can you succeed in pre-med classes? Here are a few tips that will set you up for success in tough courses like Organic Chemistry or Biochem.

Plan out your semesters ahead of time 

Succeeding in pre-med classes begins way before your first day of college! Being a pre-med student means that you’ll need to plan out your semesters to make sure you have taken all the required courses by the time of application and graduation. With some medical schools requiring more than 10 courses, it is essential that you take the time to plan out your schedule for the year and the upcoming years for two reasons. First, to spread out tough classes like Organic Chemistry and Physics and second, to have a strong foundation and knowledge of the sciences before moving ahead to more complicated courses. 

Generally, medical schools will require: 

One year of Biology with lab

One year of General Chemistry with lab

One year of Organic Chemistry with lab

One semester of Biochemistry

One year of Physics with lab

One year of English

When you look at this list, do you see any classes that you know you will most likely need to spend more time on than the average student? For me, I knew I struggled with Physics and I also knew that Organic Chemistry would be difficult at my school. Knowing this, I planned my semesters so that I would take Organic Chemistry alongside English and Biology courses, leaving Physics for the next semester. This meant I did not have to sacrifice time from one class for the other, and my workload was never too much at once! 

It is recommended that you understand what classes you know you may struggle in, and then pair that with a class you may excel in. Doing so will prevent you from having to sacrifice too much for one class. Also, you can also plan more “enjoyable” courses that aren’t related to medicine, such as a language class or a history course!  Meet with an advisor to create a rough draft of your four years of undergrad. 

Understand why you’re taking these classes

Medical schools make these courses mandatory with the goal of ensuring that their incoming students are competent in the sciences and the labs that come with it. Although they can be seen as a way to see if a student is cut out for medical school, they can also give you a glimpse about what you will be learning about in the future!

Knowing this, try to find ways to apply the knowledge you learn in class to the real world. Organic chemistry may seem boring to you until you realize that it is the backbone of the medications we know and use today. Try not to get caught up in the competition that is sometimes fostered in these courses, and rather develop a genuine interest in the content. One way I did this was when I was questioning why Physics was a required course for pre-meds. I realized that it was important for medicine in so many different ways, from finding out how light worked with the eye to how pressure and volume worked within the human body! Make it interesting for yourself!  

Find your learning style and develop it 

Not everyone learns the same way! During my freshman year, it was clear that everyone had different ways of learning shown through the way they took notes, the questions they asked, and even where they sat in the lecture room. Some people brought their tablets to class and would sketch molecules and diagrams out, while others would simply bring a piece of paper and jot down notes every once in a while. 

Finding your learning style during your freshman year will set you up for success as you take on the courses! I personally found out that I am a visual learner, and that I never really looked back at my notes from lectures. Knowing this, I would spend more time paying attention in lecture while drawing out the most important notes from that day at the end of class. 

What works for your friend may not work for you and vice versa. Try out different studying styles such as the Pomodoro technique, where you take scheduled breaks while you're working. Take a look at other blog posts on this site for more advice about this!

Ask for help!

It’s common to not want to ask for help; you feel that with hard work and putting in the hours you’ll end up understanding the material. Although that could be true, it simply does not hurt to ask for help. Coming into college with AP Chemistry knowledge, I felt that I could get through the course without going to office hours or asking the professor for help. This reflected in my grades as I got back tests that I was not happy with. I needed to realize a few things:

  1. Asking for help not only deepened my understanding of the material, but also helped me establish a relationship with my professors. When there are 300+ students in your chemistry class, it’s difficult to stand out when the professor doesn’t even know your name! This could be helpful when asking for letters of recommendation in the future.
  2. When you form study groups, you may have to explain a topic to one of your friends. This not only helps them with the content, but also strengthens your grasp of it! If you know enough about a topic to teach it to someone, you have mastered it.

Remember, you’re not alone when you’re taking these classes; you and your classmates are the physicians of the future and are working towards the same goal! 

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