Medical mondays – workflow

Two years in and I still don’t have this anywhere near down. 

I had a bit of a meltdown recently as it slowly become apparent that over the Easter break, I basically revised really wrong. I had a similar experience last year that caused me to change how I do things, and so this is just a marker that I need to refine my workflow. 

As a medical student, at least at my school, you get lots of information during lectures that you just have to assimilate in one way or another. The theatre becomes a rat race as people frantically scribble drug names on pads, burn away their keyboards getting every last interleukin verbatim, flip through pages and pages of lecture slides to try and link this concept with that, as you look around, everyone has their preferred way of doing it. There are even people like my friend Joe who sits there like an absolute champion, listening. No notes, no laptop, just awesome. If you can be Joe, be Joe. Otherwise, keep reading… 

The laptop 

Solid, reliable, fast. This is a surefire way to get every single piece of information from the lecturer, regardless of how fast they speak, trust me, necessity is the mother of all WPM records. It seems like a great option because : 

  • You’ll have your notes everywhere 
  • The Cloud is totally a thing now 
  • Lecture slides are online now so you can annotate that, no more printing! 

But, it isn’t perfect. For one, I found that I ended up mindlessly transcribing the lecture. Sometimes I paid attention, but it became a slight obsession to try and scrape everything possible to avoid having to look over it later, which is ironic really because thats exactly what I need to do to actually learn the material, not just make the prettiest notes. 

If you use a laptop, make sure your notes are nice and easy to read for when you’re cramming for finals, and make sure to include what the lecturer wants you to know, not just what you think is important, this does save you time! One thing I’ve found useful too is not jumping off the seat the instant you finish taking notes and go out, but to make flashcards and stuff of the important bits, or at least read it over again! 

The notepad 

This is a new thing for me this year. I took notes on my laptop for the last two years, and for the first I used to write paper “neats” but that took a really long time, almost 2 hours per lecture, which was just impractical. But: 

  • You can draw diagrams (and doodle!) 
  • It’s more natural
  • You pay attention more because you can only write a precious few words down at any one time, so you try to tailor the information into a succinct, well, note form! 
  • Paper feels good 

After making the transition from transcribing everything word for word and discovering bullet points for my laptop notes, I managed this term to get pretty efficient at taking notes longhand in lectures. It is hard and definitely I’m writing less, but I think the quality of notes is slightly better, and writing out the neat revision notes out by hand is also a really good way as reading back paper notes is a lot less strenuous than looking at a screen. 

It is stressful carrying around lots of bits of paper, and it’s definitely expensive in terms of good paper and pens, but I guess it is nicer. One happy bonus is the fact that I get less distracted during the momentary lulls in a lecture, which is good! And the actual process of writing helps you stay more awake. 


One error I made this year was, essentially, undoing all my yearlong work by re-writing my notes out once I made the switch to paper. This isn’t ideal for a number of reasons, one being that I still ended up mindlessly transcribing, rather than actually committing to memory. Ok, so some did go in, especially when you spend insane amounts of time trying to draw the hippocampus! But it is nothing on associative learning and repetition (boy, if only learning about learning helped me learn) as the latter drills it into your mind. 

Flash cards are a stalwart that I’ve returned to, they definitely work, but can be a pain once you build up stacks and stacks; making them is addictive, studying them isn’t! 

Revising in groups is also a great option, if you’ve got similarly minded friends, you’ve just gotta be wary that the distraction factor increase exponentially for every extra person, is multiplied by a factor of 75 if you decide to study outside, and if there is a frisbee or a set of speakers within a mile of your patch of grass, all hope is gone. 

If I manage to crack the formula sometime within the next four years, I’ll let you know! 



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