Top Tips for Studying from Your Own Notes

You have a wealth of education resources and study materials at your fingertips throughout medical school. Talk about a double-edged sword! On the one hand, it’s great to have so many resources. But on the other hand, it’s impossible (and not smart) to use them all. There are only so many hours in the day…

What’s the best resource for you? It’s worth considering embracing an often-overlooked resource: your notes!

Your notes are made by you, so they make sense to you and are tailored to your learning style. They’re more concise than textbooks, making it easier to absorb the most important information when it comes to crunch time. And, most importantly, they’re a time-effective way to study.

Turn your notes into a studying goldmine with these simple tips.


With some thought and preparation, your notes can be one of your best resources for that upcoming quiz, final, the ever-looming Step 1, and even your board-certification test down the road.

  • Find a note-taking style that works for you. Consider adopting a more formal note-taking style, such as the split page or Cornell method. Or do you have your own style altogether that you prefer? Do you prefer to take notes on a computer, tablet, or old-school pen and paper? Find a strategy that works for you, and keep in mind that it may need to change depending on the course or professor.
  • Learn to abbreviate and write succinctly. It’s too time consuming to write out complete sentences. Instead, develop your own shorthand to save time and ensure that you can record as much information as possible. Just be sure that it will make sense to you days (and months) later!


Try to incorporate your notes into your routine throughout medical school. For example, on the day after or before a lecture, set aside 30 minutes to revise your notes to make them more useful for upcoming exams.

  • Incorporate information from your professor. Your professor may provide a set of notes or presentation slides. In this case, the most time-effective way to take notes is directly next to the slides.
  • Streamline and highlight your notes soon after lectures. Ask yourself, “What is the most important information from this lecture?” Once you’ve determined the most crucial points, be sure that they are highlighted in your notes, and eliminate any repetition and unimportant information.
  • Organize your notes, using visuals when possible. Now that the lecture is over, you can take time to organize the information as you see fit. This is the ideal time to arrange information, key concepts, and definitions in a way that makes the most sense to you (and easiest for you to study from later on). This may mean creating charts, diagrams, or other visuals.


There are many different ways to use your notes to study for an exam. The key is to find the right strategy for you. You may find it useful to simply read through your notes, reviewing any concepts that aren’t clear along the way. You may also want to go a step further and create study tools with your notes.

  • Use your notes to create flashcards of key concepts, systems, etc. Some of your courses require a massive amount of memorization. Creating and using flashcards can be incredibly useful for this task.
  • Create a bank of questions from your notes to study with later on. Either before your exam or after the lecture, create a bank of study questions. If your professor shares past exam questions, be sure to mimic them. Indicate the answers in your notes in some way. Once the exam comes around, you’ll have a set of questions to quiz yourself with and detailed explanations of the answers, too!

By focusing on taking better notes right from the start, they’ll be more valuable for you when it comes to test time. The best notes are suited to your learning style, the specific course, and designed to help you study efficiently when it comes test time.

Early on in your medical school career, learn to create useful notes that aren’t just pretty to look at, but also intended for smart, time-effective studying. This skill will undoubtedly serve you well.

And, remember, you got this!