Timothy O'Shea, MS, PharmD
Timothy O'Shea, MS, PharmD, is a Clinical Pharmacist working at a regional health insurance plan on the east coast. Additionally he works per diem at a nationwide retail pharmacy chain. He graduated from MCPHS University - Boston in 2015 and subsequently completed a PGY-1 Managed Care Pharmacy Residency. He completed his M.S. in Health Services Administration, with a focus on Health Economics and Outcomes, in 2018. His professional interests include pharmacy legislation and managed care pharmacy. He can be followed on Twitter at @toshea125.
Although there’s no secret to being the best student, good study habits are essential for success.
With finals just completed, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the previous academic year and assess what worked and what didn’t.
Here are my 7 most important studying tips for pharmacy students, regardless of where you are in the program.
1. Take Good Notes
Taking quality notes during class is one of the most important things you need to do in order to be successful in pharmacy school. Since there are multiple note-taking systems, it’s important to figure out what works best for you. Examples include the Cornell, Outline, Mapping, Charting, and Sentence Methods.
Although one system isn’t necessarily superior to others, experts generally agree on the importance of staying organized and engaging in “active” note-taking, like writing notes in your own words, looking for answers to questions, and making connections in the course material. Studies suggest you’re more likely to remember and understand information during active learning.
For me, taking notes meant bringing my laptop to most classes and using an outline format. In other classes, including chemistry courses, I found it easier to handwrite notes and then compare them with a friend’s after class.
2. Stay Organized
Staying organized is crucial to being as efficient as possible with your limited amount of free time. With the constant influx of projects, assignments, labs, and exams, it’s easy to fall behind and forget when things are due.
Keep a detailed calendar with all of your upcoming exams and assignments, along with any extracurricular commitments. You can then start blocking off time on a daily basis to gradually start studying or complete necessary work. This will help you effectively manage your time and create a studying routine.
For in-class notes, consider using a separate binder or folder for each class, or if you take notes on your computer, create separate folders for all classes.
One of my roommates in pharmacy school kept a sticky note on his desk with a running list of all assignments and exams, so he could appropriately manage his time. Another friend kept a detailed daily planner to organize all aspects of her life.
3. Study with Others
Most experts agree that studying in a group setting has a number of benefits. For instance, it offers students the opportunity to engage in more detailed discussions, exchange different perspectives on topics, and identify areas of individual weakness. Additionally, studying in a group curbs procrastination and promotes interpersonal communication skills.
Gary C. Ramseyer, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at Illinois State University, once said students should “study in triads or quads of students at least once every week, [as] verbal interchange and interpretation of concepts and skills with other students really cements a greater depth of understanding.”
In my opinion, this is critical for success in pharmacy school. Study the material first on your own, and then work with other students, friends, or even family members. The task of talking through study material will enhance your own understanding of it.
4. Avoid Distractions
Getting distracted is a surefire way to interfere with studying. Fortunately, there are a number of simple yet effective things you can do to avoid disruptions and concentrate on studying, like turning off your phone and TV, avoiding social media, and picking the “right” location.
Experts disagree on whether it’s preferential to study in one place or varying locations; however, what’s most important is finding what works best for you.
The ideal study location should be limited in distractions and conducive to your individual preferences. Regardless of location, creating a routine can get you into the habit of studying.
For me, this meant staying in my room for casual studying and going to the school library with my noise-cancelling headphones when I really needed to buckle down.
5. Use Resources
One of the most underutilized resources in pharmacy school is office hours. This offers students the opportunity to meet with a professor on a 1-on-1 basis to review material from lecture and ask questions on topics you didn’t understand. This will not only help you understand the material better, but also show the professor that you care and are making an effort.
Professors will sometimes offer review sessions before an exam, which can be helpful. I distinctly remember attending review sessions held by my general chemistry professor freshman year where he would review problems almost identical to those on the exam. Yet, hardly anyone attended the sessions.
Also, keep a lookout for old exams, as they can provide a baseline for the types of questions that may be expected. Sometimes, professors will hand them out before an exam. If they don’t, ask around. You may be surprised how often old exams float around, which can make a significant impact on improving your grade.
If you’re still struggling in a particular class, see if your school offers free peer tutors.
6. Don’t Cram
This tip is linked to proper time management, which is vital for solid studying. Pulling an all-nighter for that pharmacology exam might seem like a good idea at the time, but studies suggest cramming and sacrificing sleep for more study time can be counterproductive.
Therefore, you need to study material daily. As a general rule of thumb, you should study about 2 to 3 hours for every 1 hour of lecture.
From my experience, the easiest way to stop stressing out in pharmacy school is to avoid procrastinating and cramming before exams. You can limit this by staying organized and creating a study schedule.
7. Avoid Studying Too Much
A healthy balance and organized approach are essential to effective studying. If you overdo studying, you can actually struggle to retain key information.
Instead of spending every second studying, take short breaks to restore your mental energy. This can be accomplished by effectively organizing your time.
Finally, be sure to get a good night’s sleep in pharmacy school. Study after study suggests getting too little sleep can result in memory and thinking problems, as well as increase your risk for a number of health conditions.
According to William Dement, MD, PhD, of Stanford University, “The average sleep requirement for college students is well over 8 hours, and the majority of students would fall within the range of this value plus or minus 1 hour. If this amount is not obtained, a sleep debt is created. All lost sleep accumulates progressively as a larger and larger sleep indebtedness.”
Dr. Dement said this accumulation can result in “difficulty studying, diminished productivity, tendency to make mistakes, irritability, (and) fatigue.”
Try experimenting with different study techniques to find out what works best for you, and then share it with me on Twitter @toshea125.