Fall Semester Reflections, Looking Forward

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

Let’s talk statistics.

In 2020, only 40% of pre-medical school applicants were accepted to medical school. Of that minority, average GPA was a 3.7 and MCAT was 511, about the 83 percentile! The U.S. news 2019 Best Medical Schools ranking reported an average median GPA of 3.72. Needless to say, your undergraduate grades are important. More specifically, your science grade point average is a good indicator of your future success in medical schools.

Knowing all of this, how does one achieve the high science GPA coveted by all students and required by all medical schools. In this article, I will outline the strategies I used this semester to achieve a 4.0 GPA, all while enrolled in online biology with lab, physics with lab and organic chemistry with lab during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fall 2019 was an intense semester. Originally, I was a finance major and did well in my undergraduate program (magna cum laude). But my success in my post-baccalaureate program is not due to my science background — I have none. Instead, it is a direct result of the system I put in place. In Atomic Habits, author James Clear wisely notes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

These are my systems:

1. Active Recall

The idea of active recall is to study smart in more intense study-sessions rather than spreading out your study time over a longer, less focused period of time. So many students will read through their notes and think, “Well, yea I know that information.” The reality is that glossing over your notes, highlighting the textbook constantly, and re-watching lecture will NOT make the information stick. What will allow for deep and permanent learning is active recall, which is the process of forcing your brain to recall the information in an active manner. This may manifest as creating questions to test yourself based on the lecture notes or covering parts of your notes and attempting to remember the information. Lastly, use any resources your professor provides intelligently. That means attempting problem sets without looking at the answers first and taking practice exams under “exam conditions.”

2. Be accountable with study buddies

Even the most productive students find themselves feeling lazy and unfocused. In these moments, accept that you’re human and it’s okay to feel that way, and then phone a friend to lift you up and keep you going. Chances are when you’re not “in the mood,” your study buddy will be (if said friend is a focused student). If you are both not feeling particularly motivated, work on something a little less rigorous and take turns explaining the material to one another. Having another person to study with, even over Zoom, allows for accountability and a friend to keep you motivated when you need to study, but can’t quite motivate yourself to do so.

3. Turn off Distractions — I Mean All Distractions

This tip may be the most obvious and generic tip of all. It is probably also the most detrimental when ignored. When I’m studying, and I hear a ding coming from my phone or see it light up, it is almost impossible to ignore. Even if I find it within myself to ignore, my train of thought is interrupted and I need to get back into the flow of studying, which cuts away from precious time. Now, putting your phone away may not be enough. Instead, turn off notifications on your laptop or iPad. You’re email, WhatsApp, Instagram and messenger can wait until your next break. When you sit down to get work done, make sure you get that work done. That means eliminating all those potential distractions.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions

If you are thinking it, so are other students

I love this quote by Obama because it mirrors my philosophy when it comes to understanding and learning new information. It is impossible to know everything, and it is impossible to be perfect. Asking questions — the right questions — will give you an edge that other’s — too afraid to ask their questions — will not have. Further, if you have a specific and thoughtful question, other students probably have that question as well. Either way, it shouldn’t matter. You’ve set a goal to learn this material and do well on your exams, and this is the way to do it. It doesn’t matter what others think.

Final Thoughts:

Every student is different, and everyone has different academic and personal goals. Nonetheless, being a more efficient student will allow you to get more from your studies and give you more time to do the other things in your life that are important. Adopting these techniques will allow for the confidence to achieve your goals and the extra time to dedicate to those hobbies outside of academics.

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“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway

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“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway

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