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On the STATMed Podcast: Study Skills Class Debrief Part 3

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STATMed Alumni Share the Worst Advice They Received As Struggling Med Students 

Not all advice is created equally. And bad advice can come from good intentions, as many of our former students can attest. In part three of this miniseries, Ryan is back with six recent STATMed Study Skills Class alumni. In this episode, they share the worst advice they received about how to study and succeed in med school.

“That goes back to the bad piece of advice I’d alluded to was to memorize everything. And this was said to me by the same individual who told me that my previous medical experience doesn’t matter, so I didn’t necessarily trust the advice, but this goes back to this idea that it’s possible to somehow work in a fifth or a sixth pass. And really, all that’s doing, and we talked about this in this podcast before, but all it’s doing is giving you this idea, this allure, this façade of familiarity. It’s not actually giving you that experience, that touchpoint with the material.”

If any of these stories sound like your story, we can help! Learn more about the STATMed Study Skills Class and apply today.

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– Welcome to the STATMed podcast, where we teach you how to study in med school and how to pass board style exams. Your host is Ryan Orwig, a learning specialist with more than a decade of experience working with med students and physicians. In part three of this mini series, Ryan sits down with recent alumni from the STATMed study skills class to debrief from the class and discuss the worst pieces of advice they received about how to study and succeed in med school.

– That goes back to the bad piece of advice I’d alluded to was to memorize everything. And this was said to me by the same individual who told me that my previous medical experience doesn’t matter so I didn’t necessarily trust the advice.

– That’s a lot of talk about this stuff. I mean, we talk about test taking in the class too. Do you guys, do we have any comments on the test taking? That’s a little more abstract in the class. We don’t get to practice it as much, but we go pretty deep into the test taking. Maybe let’s have a few thoughts on that. Anne, I know you really looked at like the analysis tools that we gave you guys. I don’t know how worried you are about your test taking. I mean, you’re taking the class mainly for the study skills. Did the test taking speak to you? But you’re someone who’s taking step one, step two. Did the test taking skills, speak to you in any specific way?

– Well, like I told you, I consider this whole thing life changing for me because I didn’t really, now that I look back on how I studied for step one and two, I didn’t really have that much insight on how exactly what was I doing the queue banks. ‘Cause I wasn’t really looking at was it a test taking problem or did I get a question incorrect because of a knowledge gap or a test taking problem. And I just assumed everything was a knowledge problem and all that I had to do was go back to the lecture material or the resources that I had and read it again and review it again until it tortured me more. So the self-flagellation was me.

– Yes, beating yourself up over it, but also entrenching the binary test taking mentality, which we’re trying to sort of tear down and teach you guys how to use your partial knowledge and grow these seeds. And that’s really how we’re using test taking in the class, more about adding the blueprint, the structure, adding the getting you guys to start installing some more protective steps as you work through and grow better test taking, either while you’re studying for boards or as you’re reentering school and get getting better over the coming months and whatnot as you move forward. Very good, any other thoughts on the test taking before we? Veronique, are you able to click back in? Do you have a thought on the test taking stuff since you are also at a complex level prep step right now?

– Yeah, the test taking process, I’ve always looked at my questions to try and analyze them to see where I’ve gone wrong, but this is giving this mechanistic step by step process that I can use and fall back on in order to understand where I’m making mistakes, what I need to do. Is it a knowledge based issue? Do I need to study more of this content? Or is it specifically a test taking issue?

– Right, right. And we can use those feedbacks to then change our approach. Again, we can talk about test taking in another context. So that sort of talks about what it was like. I think a lot of the things about going through the class, the skill benefit, sort talking about some of the individual skills. Some stuff we also talked a lot about in the class, let’s pivot and talk about some of the larger issues that maybe we’re talking about with like learning myths. What have we learned about some less effective study methods, poor study methods, study methods? What about issues with bad advice? What about some of our, the wrong expectations we were carrying with ourselves and holding ourselves accountable to that we now realize are unrealistic or damaging? Issues with like the education that we’ve seen maybe in the schools themselves. Again, we don’t necessarily have to get too far into that, but these are all things we might want to talk about here, just some larger issues that we brought into the class here and then we’ll pivot down to this other piece here. So I don’t know if you guys can look at these and come up with a talking point, we can bounce off some of these. Yes, Tess?

– So one thing that I experienced was with our orientation for PA school. We took a quiz to learn what our learning style was.

– Oh my guh, yeah.

– Yeah and I come to this class and we talk about it and it turns out Ryan’s very passionate about that if you want to expand.

– I have opinions on that. I have some opinions on it, yeah. Yeah, well I mean it’s not even my opinions, the literature doesn’t back it up. There’s nothing that supports it, like I’m an auditory learner, I’m a kinesthetic learner, like I need to focus on my like drawing it out or whatever. Like we need to be multi, dynamic through multiple modalities when we study. But this idea that like I’m auditory so I gotta process everything through the auditory network is a very bad thing. And this is something that is, it’s like that just that trash culture that’s like circulating through educational circles. And so, yeah, it’s a thing you can buy and administer and you can feel like you’re doing something for your students, but it is just a gigantic waste of time. Yeah so you do that, you’re like, I’m kinesthetic, I need to figure out how to do this. Like it is just, it blows my mind in microcosm. Any number of these things will really frustrate me. But so you guys did that and yeah, it takes like some time and energy and it’s no good. So yeah, if we want to talk about things that matter, I think it’s more about that top down, bottom up. I think it’s more about are you able to multi, like how you process information? I mean I don’t even know anymore. Now I’m like, look, we’ve got the system, let’s go through the system, install these skills, give ’em to smart people, let the smart people figure it out. So yes, I think that that is definitely one of those myths that still perpetuates to this day. That’s right up there to me with like, like have your baby listen to like classical music to make ’em smarter, like Baby Mozart and stuff like that. Like somebody made a mint on that stuff, but it’s not the best thing to invest in for your child’s success in the future. What else? What else can we, nothing like bringing out the bitterness, Tess, good job. It’s so easy to get me going, right? You guys know. It’s like, oh, poke Ryan with this one, let him rip. It’s all fun, it’s all fun. What are some other things that we might want to talk about here when we talk about like the study methods, myths, bad advice? Who’s got one? R.N.?

– I think one of the biggest things is expecting that whatever worked for you in the past is gonna work for you currently right now. I mean it may, but in a lot of cases it won’t and in my case, it didn’t. And trying to use that same method, the methodology with however, it doesn’t work throughout the semester, it’s just gonna end up leading you down a really bad path. So I think being aware of the fact that if something’s not working right, that’s an indication that you would need to have to change your methodology of studying.

– It’s hard. And I get like, I don’t know if somebody’s listening to this in the middle of the semester, that’s pretty tough. It’s true, it’s true. I think it’s tough ’cause people might contact me in the middle of the semester and ask me to help ’em and I can’t because I don’t believe in tips. I think if I give a tip, you’re just gonna ask the next question, the next question. I believe in wholesale end to end systems, that’s what the class is and you’ve gotta be on a break to do this class. You can’t do it in the run of play but it is true. I mean just because what worked before, we can’t therefore expect, I mean it’s logical, but it just doesn’t work to then do more of it and expect it to work at the next level. Let’s keep thinking about some of this stuff and we can go any direction with any of these things. Elise, what can you say?

– I think there are two. I have one worst piece of advice that leads me down a very, very long and dark rabbit trail, but I’m trying to keep my soap box in storage these days so I’ll keep that one brief, but the one that I heard that really relates to many students is this idea of pass tracking and it’s this ambiguous generalized tip that you should be able to use an Excel spreadsheet or piece of paper to track how many passes you’ve had, but it doesn’t specify, it doesn’t provide detailed information about what actually goes into a pass. And then there’s this thought that if you get a certain number of passes, that should be okay, that will prepare you for the exam, that will get you through. And then there’s all the talk of, oh, how many passes have you gotten through and how many passes have you done? And, oh, I’ve only done three and so and so’s done five so they’re probably going to score better than I will. And it’s really all just ridiculous because it comes from this baseline assumption that all medical students, while we recognize the diversity of who we are as people, we don’t recognize the diversity of who we are as learners.

– That’s right, that’s right.

– And the idea that you can take five or six tips or tricks and you have, and I will say very well-meaning, very kind learning assessment individuals on campus and I think people who, and even the professors, right, there’s no mal intent in how they’re going about this process, they care deeply about the success of their students. I would just say that they are all deeply misinformed. And it’s a fascinating thing to watch as a student because when you’re stuck in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like there is a way out and it really comes back to how do you reform the way that you look at your learning style and how are you uniquely made to learn versus how do you relate to everyone else who’s learning?

– Well, this is definitely one of those poke me with a sharp stick kind of things, this idea of the passes. I’ll try not to blow up on it but.

– You can if you want to.

– I try to, my emotions can get away from me, the idea that all passes, right, what does a pass mean? What does a pass mean? And then what happens is you’re struggling, you make four passes, whatever those passes mean, probably passive, probably like just rereading, looking over stuff, rewatching stuff. And then you don’t pass, you don’t score as well as you want, then it’s like, they can just flip it on you and say, well, you didn’t do enough passes. You can flip it on yourself and say, well, I made four passes, the secret must be to get to six. ‘Cause if everybody’s preaching the passes, one pass, two pass, three pass, what I would call an experience, how many experiences you have with the material, then it’s like the guilt falls on you. You did not make enough passes, you did not work hard enough, you didn’t try hard, you didn’t want this badly enough. It ties into like who wants it more or who wants it the most? Who’s willing to suffer? You’re already suffering. You’re already sacrificing. It’s not a measurable tool. Like I just don’t understand how we can do this and yet this is what we see time and time again. David, what can you say?

– Yeah, exactly. The weird thing about it is that it’s kind of this cheap imitation of a study manager. It doesn’t give you specifics enough to make sure that if you have gone through the material with like, maybe just you’re reading it, right, you might not have the opportunity to recognize that you haven’t tested yourself on it, but you’ve seen it five times and you’ve told yourself you’ve seen it five times or six times or however many times and that’s the biggest problem. And one of the things that ended up happening to me is well intentioned, our resource person, right, our learning specialist told me, you probably need to get five to six passes through each and every one of these pieces of material. And I was like, well, I’m already dying with like four man, how am I gonna get five to six on everything? And again, this is not to say that this person is stupid or saying anything out of bad intent.

– Oh, definitely not.

– All she wanted to do was help, but like sometimes just getting passes doesn’t make any sense, you need specifics.

– And what that might mean, it’s like they’re right but not right enough. It’s like, they’re not wrong that you need multiple passes, they’re not wrong that maybe they could say like another pass would’ve done the job, but they’re not telling us how. So that’s almost a what, not a how. What we say is at STATMed, we teach that, others teach the what, we teach the how. In some regards, we’re saying, other’s tell you the content, we tell you how to learn the content, but that’s also a what. “What do I need to do?” “You need to make more passes.” Okay, but that’s not telling us how we make the passes. Now you can framework, that’s a pass, that’s an experience. You can watch a lecture, that’s an experience. You can dynamically read a mark, that’s an experience. You can do one framework retrieval practice, that’s an experience. And honestly those four are gonna be so high quality that anything else beyond that’s a bonus with more retrieval practice, accelerated retrieval practice off the framework or what’s embedded. So it’s almost a matter of reframing and the how, but it’s, and anybody listening to this, it’s always gotta be about the how. If you don’t understand what somebody means when they say do this thing or that thing in medical education, that’s not their fault, it’s not your fault, you just don’t know the how, but we’ve gotta be able to ask the how. And if the person can’t tell you the how, then that’s where the disconnect is. And it just might be that that person is just not equipped for you where you are. Doesn’t make them wrong, doesn’t it make you wrong, just makes for it’s just a disconnect. Yes, Elise?

– That goes back to the bad piece of advice I’d alluded to was to memorize everything. And this was said to me by the same individual who told me that my previous medical experience doesn’t matter so I didn’t necessarily trust the advice, but this goes back to what David is saying about this idea that you can suddenly get, it’s possible to somehow work in a fifth or a sixth pass. And really all that’s doing, and we talked about this in this podcast before, but all it’s doing is giving you this idea, this allure, this facade of familiarity. It’s not actually giving you that experience, that touchpoint with the material. And that’s the biggest thing, I think the biggest breakthrough in the class, is now we have, like you said, Ryan, all of these distinct tools to use and we can define, we know what goes into a 50/10. We know what goes into whatever may have previously been referred to as a pass and all of the ambiguity is removed. And that’s such a valuable time saver because you’re not just spinning in chaos trying to get passes in. You know distinctly what you have and what you haven’t done and how that may result on test day.

– Oh yeah. I mean this idea of memorize everything, I mean that’s just one of those just mind blowing, head scratcher, however you want to look at it. I just say all right, like that’s just somebody who’s not gonna be able to give us any insight, and it’s not, what does even memorize mean? Everyone wants to talk about what memorization means. And then where does like that work in the sequence? I mean, we could talk about this, we can untangle this but like if you build structure inward, you will just have things that stick and hold and connect and then like you’re unburdening off rote memorization. But anyway, like that’s, and again, that person probably has very specific skill sets that they were able to do and brute force memorize and it worked for them, more power to ’em, but that is not a transferable piece of advice and those people are out there. Those people are out there, they’re in all the different institutions. And again, if the person can’t tell you how, this is a new idea, if they can’t tell you how, then it’s probably not, you probably don’t want to invest too much time with that individual on this. Verani, can you tell us anything that sort of falls under these larger issues we’re talking about here? Your thoughts?

– Bad advice?

– Sure.

– Lots of bad advice. Lots and lots of bad advice.

– Yeah.

– Like Elise and David were saying, the passes. How many times have you seen? How many times are you flipping through the PowerPoints? That’s the key.

– Pervasive, it’s pervasive, right?

– Yeah, pervasive, very much. I was given a written academic, and I sent you that picture, right?

– Oh.

– And I still don’t know what is, it was something like follow the process, that’s what it said, one of the points, follow the process and study groups, have a good study group.

– It’s a great, it’s a great, well, they’re saying like answer the learning objectives, you know, focus on learning objectives, structure versus function, manipulate the information, this was her action plan. And again, I guess if I want to be generous, I don’t know what use the process means, work with a study group. If I want to be generous, I think that they’re, this looks to me like people who are treating the science of teaching highly intelligent medical students how to learn, it is a side, side, side gig. It’s a side gig. And it’s, of course, there you go, you poked me. Like I’m offended, it offends me, it offends me deeply. I’ve dedicated my entire life to this. Like this is what I’ve been doing only exclusively for the last 20 years and you got people talking about it, like, yeah, I’ve got some interest in test taking, let me tell you about my test taking or I read a book on study methods, let’s talk about that. I don’t even know if they go that far. A lot of it is like transferring what they’ve done. It’s a lot of like tips and disconnected advice. It’s not involving the how, it’s not involving the steps, it’s not looking at profiles. It’s trying to teach everybody with a carpet bombing approach. It’s not looking at different profiles within the learning population. It’s just using the filter that this person got into med school and therefore sink or swim, very Darwinian in its approach even with support. And then you get stuff like this, these bullet points given to you scrolled on a piece of paper and I would just feel so hopeless if the people that are supposed to help me are giving me that and it does make me very mad, but I’m gonna try not to let that out so.

– No, you made a good point, Ryan, it’s the injustices that kind of unravel us and I resonate with that, but these are the tools you’ve given us to go forward.

– Yeah, we talk about, like that feeling of the injustice we talked about in the class, this was like a side conversation we had, like when it feels wrong, like unfair, like look, med school is not, everyone can’t make it through med school, there will be people that it’s just not cut out for, it’s not for me to say. What it is for us to say is let’s equip people with the tools so that they can really get into this and really show what they can do and really make the work they’re putting in pay off. You know, I think we talked about this elsewhere. I see so many schools always flipping their curriculum or hiring different people to help. I think they’re chasing this elusive idea of the perfect curriculum will unlock student performance and I don’t think so, I don’t think that’s the game. I think the game’s the other side of the aisle. Let’s take certain types of learners and equip them with the kind of skills that we teach in the STATMed study skills class and then unleash them and let them roll. That’s what we’ve done with you guys. Like the ownership of these skills is really profound. Like where you guys are coming from and where we’re going, like it’s really a big, big shift in sort of like how we’re thinking about stuff.

– Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the STATMed podcast. If you like the show, please be sure to rate it on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can find more test taking and studying strategies, specifically designed for med students and physicians over at our blog on Thanks for listening.

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