Medical students are always on the lookout for ways to boost their productivity and actually retain most of the information from lectures. Whether it is trying out new study techniques, fancy note-taking systems, or even just the latest app, we are willing to give it a shot. After testing out a ton of different options, I feel like I have got a good handle on what works and what perhaps does not. By sharing these insights with you, hopefully, you can streamline your productivity and study efforts, maximising the time you have to enjoy the fun side of Medical School.
The whole point of a productivity system is to help you to achieve your goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. In the digital era, this can be best achieved through a plethora of apps and students can often fall into the trap of trying to over-optimise their system. Whilst the search for the perfect, all-encompassing, infinitely customisable study app can seem enticing, for the vast majority of cases, a simple productivity system, made up of a few key apps will probably serve you the best. To this end the simplest, most bare-bones, productivity system that will help you achieve your study goals are the 3 “C’s”: Capture, Consolidate and Co-ordinate.
The first component of 3 C’s productivity system is Capture. Capture refers to gathering all the sources of information and content into one place where you can annotate, mind-map and properly visualise the material. This is the stage of your productivity system where you will be learning the content and thus apps that offer an infinite canvas are really useful.
Honourable mentions: Goodnotes, Notability, Apple Notes, Concepts and good old pen and paper.
Personal Recommendation: Onenote
Advantages of Onenote:
1. It is completely free and widely accessible on all devices be it laptop, iPad or mobile. Additionally, you can link Onenote to your university email’s Onedrive account so that storage is never an issue.
2. It has an infinite canvas that is really useful for creating mindmaps and diagrams of lecture content to make the learning process more visual which leads to greater understanding and retention.
3. Lecture slides can be imported into Onenote as a “print out” easily facilitating annotations and note-taking during lectures and teaching at the university.
4. Fantastic search and OCR function that searches typed and handwritten content in addition to content written in lecture slides and diagrams.
5. Notes can be clearly organised into folders, ensuring that everything is easy to find and locate. This also comes in useful when sharing pages for group projects and collaborative study.
Consolidating is the next stage of the productivity system. Having collated all your source materials and learnt and understood the lecture slides through Capture, it is now time to graduate that learning into long-term memory. This involves active recall, the practised retrieval of this content from memory, along with spacing this retrieval out through spaced repetition. The ideal app for this category will use flashcards, making it easy to create, edit, share and organise these cards, as well as having an inbuilt spaced repetition software.
Honourable mentions: Quizlet, Brainscape, Notion, Google Sheets, Excel
Personal Recommendation: Anki
Advantages of Anki:
1. It is completely free (apart from on iOS) and syncs reliably across all devices.
2. Hugely customisable in terms of both aesthetics and functionality thanks to a multitude of add-ons that streamline the process of creating and reviewing cards.
3. Built-in spaced repetition software allows you to make full use of spaced retrieval to maximise retention. This can also be altered to one’s liking to make sure all content is covered before exams.
4. Has a fantastic community of fellow medical students across the world that are active on youtube and Reddit and are always ready to help with any queries or problems.
5. One of the most commonly used apps by medical students and so there are always decks from older year students at your respective university that you can use.
The final component of the 3 C’s productivity system is Co-ordinate. Think of this as being the control centre for Consolidate and Capture. This is your all-in-one homepage where you track your study progress, coursework deadlines, to-do lists and all things productivity related. One of the most useful things that you can create for yourself is a “Content Tracker” which is a database of all your lectures with status headings stating where you are with them such as learned, consolidated, and tested. An ideal app for Co-ordinate will have a strong database and note-linking facilities.
Honourable Mentions: Evernote, Excel.
Personal recommendation: Notion
Advantages of Notion:
1. Available on all devices and completely free to use. If you sign up with your university email address you also get to use the “Pro” features of creating collaborative notes with your friends.
2. Very customisable in terms of functionality and aesthetics so that you can organise content just the way you want it.
5. Handles importing of different media, such as images, lecture slides and videos, really well.
3. Plentiful supply of templates for content trackers and other note-organising methods freely available online.
4. Has the potential to be powerful and help track multiple different aspects of your life.
In conclusion, there is no magic app that will solve all your studying needs. Even the apps mentioned here are merely apps that have personally worked for me and so are not guaranteed to fit your use cases or preferred learning style. But, hopefully, what you can take away from this article is the 3 C’s productivity system: Capture, Consolidate, and Coordinate. By sticking to this simple framework, you will be able to effectively learn lecture material, move that learning into long-term retention and keep a track of all your learning so that you know which gaps of knowledge you need to plug. With the right tools and productivity system in place, you can sail smoothly through medical school exams with confidence.