Student-to-Student Study Tips: College of Pharmacy
Note: If you would like to submit your own study tip for pharmacy students, please send it to Patrick Koerner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: All students study differently and the ideas below may not work for you. They are simply offered as possible approaches.
(from pharmacy students Maria & Yasmeen)
Getting Help from P2’s & P3’s
Each P1 student is assigned a mentor from among the P2 and P3 students. I really wish I had gotten to know my mentor better and had taken the time to form more of a relationship. Knowing a student who is a year or two ahead of you can be very helpful. They can give you tips and information about professors and courses. Sometimes they’ll also give you their old notes and other materials.
The Start of the Semester
Maria: When you receive all your syllabi, take a semester (or month-by-month) calendar and write in all your exams and projects. You want to be able to see the “big picture” of your upcoming semester.
During your first 2 or 3 weeks of the semester, you will have a fairly light schedule, so use that time to review some of the basics from physiology and chemistry; take a look at your old class notes, your old textbooks, and/or a review book. Don’t work too many hours and avoid joining too many student organizations. Once the semester gets going, there’s no let-up (unlike your undergraduate courses).
Maria: Know how many points each assignment and exam is worth toward your final grade and spend your study time accordingly. Don’t get caught up in spending too much time on assignments that aren’t worth many points.
Yasmeen: If at all possible, don’t work during your P1 or P2 year. If you really need to work, get a job where you only have to work once or twice a month.
Maria: I like to write up “to do” lists on Post-It notes, and I try to have the same routine every day. If I have any time between classes I use that time to talk to a professor or study in the library (or listen to a taped lecture). During lunch I spend some time relaxing and talking to friends. After class I often take a nap from 5:00 to 5:30, then I study for a while, then I take my dinner (as a study break), and then I study again. I try to spend at least 2 hours studying each night, but I take breaks in order to let the material seep in. I might watch a half hour comedy on t.v. or record it and watch it at the end of the evening to relax. I always try to go to bed at a decent time. If it’s getting late and I still have more studying to do, I go to bed and then get up early the next day to study. (I know my concentration will be better then.)
Yasmeen: I keep an erasable calendar over my desk and use a red marker to write in exams, quizzes, and projects. I look at this calendar every morning. Also, I have a planner where I write notes about upcoming stuff – both academic and personal. I also write up a “to do” list on a sticky note just about every morning.
On-Campus v.s. Off-Campus
Maria: Living on campus helps a lot! There are fewer distractions than at home, and I like being able to study with other students or go to the library in the evening. When I did have to live at home one semester, I would sometimes grab a bite to eat after class and then stay late on campus to study on my own or with friends.
Yasmeen : Live on campus if you can because that makes it easier to get to know people and to form study groups. You might have pharmacy students right on your floor in SSR or you might see them in the study rooms. It’s nice to be able to find another pharmacy student in the evening if you have a question or want to study together.
Yasmeen: I can never stay in my room to study or I’ll end up listening to the radio, surfing the Web, using the phone, sleeping – just about anything. I have to get out of my room! To make sure I do this, I sometimes go straight to the library after class – maybe stopping to grab some food on the way. I don’t want to give myself any excuses for going back to my room, so in the morning before leaving for class I pack up my bag with everything I’ll needed to study.
Maria: My goal is to keep weekdays for study and weekends for working and socializing, although I always reserve Sundays after 2:00 p.m. for studying. (When I go home on the weekend, I return to campus by 2:00 on Sunday to study.) Of course, if I have a big exam coming up, I do a lot more studying on the weekend.
Yasmeen: On weekends, I usually head to the DePaul library to study (It’s a very pleasant environment.) I like to bring water and snacks and get there at 10:00 or 11:00 and then stay most of the day. Another place where I like to study is the Rush library and the 24-hour café at Rush.
Lots of students misplace their notes and waste time hunting for things. You can save a lot of time by getting organized. I use two kinds of binders – a single “working binder” that I carry with me every day and “course binders” (one for each of my courses) that I usually keep at home. I keep current lecture notes and homework assignments in my working binder, and I keep past lectures organized per course in my course binders. At the front of my working binder I keep a schedule of my classes, and I use colored divider pages to separate the courses. I also keep all my assignment sheets in this binder until I’ve completed them.
Each night I transfer all my notes from my portable reference binder into the appropriate course binder if the lecture was completed. At the front of each course binder I keep the syllabus for that course in a plastic sleeve, and I use a colored page divider to separate the lab component of the course from the other materials.
Maria: Some students record their lectures (with the professor’s permission). This can be very time consuming, but if you can’t keep up while taking notes in class, recording can help. Also, it can come in handy to listen to a recording before midterms and finals.
Yasmeen: If you miss class, ask if the course is being recorded, and then you can get the recording at the library.
Previewing the lecture
Yasmeen: Many courses have several professors during the semester, so it’s important to preview the material by looking at the textbook before going to lecture. That way you will be better able to ask questions during the lecture. (You might not have another chance to see that professor and they can be tough to reach via email.) Some professors will put their Power Point on Blackboard and you can get the handout ahead of time. That’s another good way to preview the lecture.
Maria: I highlight important points on the lecture handout and add explanations or clarifications in ink. It’s important to write small and to be very concise when taking notes because there isn’t a lot of room on the handouts. Use abbreviations and if the professor over-explains something, just get to the heart of it. When I have a question, I ask the professor right after class so I won’t forget. (I might also listen in on the questions and answers from other students.) If you’re feeling shy about talking to a professor, tell yourself that profs like students who ask questions and besides, the information you want to ask about might appear on a quiz.
Yasmeen: During class I write notes in ink and I also use a highlighter to mark headings so that later on I can find things. I also star or highlight any material that the professor says we will need to know. I put a ? in the margin if I miss something. (Later on, I get the info from my study partner.)
Maria: Right after class I go over my notes with a friend for 5 minutes and we fill in anything either of us missed.
Yasmeen: My study partner and I each write what we can during lecture. Then, between classes or at lunch, we check in with each other to fill in anything we might have missed. Later on, I review my notes on my own to try to get a full understanding of the lecture (this takes about an hour). I might make up a chart of some of the info or begin to test myself over the material. I try to review my notes the same day of the lecture, but it can be difficult to keep up. On the weekend, I like to review any lectures that I wasn’t able to get to earlier.
To buy or not to buy …
Yasmeen: Many P1 students in my class just relied on the lecture packets, but you should also read the textbook. The books can help you understand the concepts and are really important in courses like physiology and med chem. Memorization all by itself will get you nowhere in these classes; you also need to focus on the concepts. If you’re not sure whether to buy a particular book, look around at what other students are using and ask them about the books. Also, you can use the textbooks that the UIC library keeps on reserve, or you can order the text from another library through Illinet.
Using your Textbooks
Yasmeen: For tough courses, I read the chapter in the text before the lecture and write my notes either in the book or in a notebook. For other courses, I might not read the whole book. Instead, I use the book as a reference, looking up info that was not clear in class.
Yasmeen: Make sure you have a good medical dictionary and keep it on hand as you study. Also, take a look at review books in the bookstore. Some of them are really great because they explain the info in alternate ways and are user-friendly. I especially liked Lippincott’s books for pharmacology and bio-chem. P1 students take a math competency test at the end of the semester, and the Calculations book is very helpful when studying for the test.
Maria: Medical dictionaries are a must, especially for P1 year.
For the toughest courses during my P1 year, I would review my lecture notes on the same day as the lecture. For other courses, I would go over my lectures notes on the weekend. First, I would read over the whole lecture and ask myself: Do I understand this? What did the professor emphasize? Then I would read the lecture notes a second time and begin to work on memorizing the material. When studying different drugs for one disease state, I would make a chart with the drug names, mechanisms of action, side effects, etc. This made drug comparisons easier and helped me begin to memorize the material. Sometimes, my study partners and I would each make up a few charts and share them with each other.
Studying & Memorizing
Maria: During P1 year the focus is on physiology and medicinal chemistry. For these courses, it is imperative that concepts are well understood because the tests focus on physiology. After P1 year, the emphasis shifts to drug information. At this point, if you’re strapped for time in PDAT courses, focus on how specific drugs work in disease states – rather than focusing on the physiology of disease. This is true for PDAT courses. Professors spend a lot of time discussing disease states, but most of them end up asking the exam questions about drugs. Summing up, it’s important to understand the physiology of diseases but to memorize the drugs
If you have to work while you’re in school, try to work in a pharmacy. That way, you can learn while you’re at work by mentally reviewing various drugs as you encounter them.
Charts & Cards
Maria: As I mentioned before, during P1 year I would make up study charts of the various drugs for a disease state. When it was time for an exam, my study partner and I would quiz each other over the info on our charts. (Repetition is very important!) I also made up study cards, but I tried not to make too many. For Med Chem I would make up study cards with the structure of a chemical on one side and the name on the reverse. I also made up cards for bacteria, with the name on one side and important info about the bacteria on the reverse.
Yasmeen: I made up study cards for Med Chem and would study them while working out or walking to class.
Maria: These are great if you have a list of info to memorize – say 5 side effects or 5 uses for a drug. I try to make the mnemonics personal (tied to people I know) so that I will remember them better. If you know a second language, you can also use that for some mnemonics.
Practice Questions & Exams
Maria: Some instructors make old exams available to help you study. Take advantage of this; it gives you an idea of what’s important and gives you a chance to practice analyzing questions.
Yasmeen: My usual study routine has been to first study my lecture notes and then take practice tests over the material. After that, I usually do additional study in the areas I had problems with on the practice test. Practice tests can really help, and some professors make them available at the reserve desk of the library (you can Xerox the test and then take it as an exam). Review books often include test questions and it can be helpful to try doing those. Finally, some students buy a Board review book ahead of time and begin using the test questions included in the book to help prepare for exams in their courses.
Sharing the Load
Maria: At times, if my study partners and I aren’t able to do all of the readings for a course, we divide the readings and write up notes to share. We then go over the notes together and discuss them.
Yasmeen: You can divide up the course objectives with your study partners and then write up your notes to share. You can do the same thing with your lectures – each person volunteering to write up a summary (often in chart form) of designated lectures.
Meeting Before Exams
Maria: Study with a group after everyone has studied on their own. (Be sure to choose study partners you can count on to study ahead of time.) I like to study with just 2 or 3 other students and we usually get together about 3 days before an exam. We sometimes go through the material lecture by lecture, asking each other questions and discussing what each of us thinks the professor emphasized most. But the main thing we do is to go over old exams and discuss our answers. We also discuss tricky concepts and ask each other questions that were not answered in class.
Yasmeen: The fraternities and student organizations can be nice ways to get to know other students and they also have helpful academic materials to share among the members. The downside is that the groups can be too time consuming. I like SNAPhA because the group doesn’t require a big time commitment and they have some good resources.
Maria: Student organizations can provide a nice way to network about opportunities for volunteering and working. Just be careful not so spend too much time on the organizations. I’m a member of APHA, and although I am not a current member of SNAPhA, that is another good group, especially for minority students. ICHP is a smaller, more intimate organization that I also like
Yasmeen: The best way to keep from getting too stressed out is to avoid procrastinating. Working out at the gym can help you control stress. Also, my friends and I often plan to go out to eat after exams, and that helps because it feels good to have something to look forward to.
Maria: There are lots of good ways to manage stress: exercising, laughing with your fellow students, talking to friends outside of pharmacy school, getting a massage, doing something in CIU with the arts & crafts programs, etc. It’s also important to take breaks while studying and to tell yourself just to keep calm and take one step at a time.