How I Study During Rotations

How I Study During Rotations

When I started my rotations in January, I felt so overwhelmed. Because my class takes the USMLE Step 1 after our clinical year, I hadn’t yet consolidated everything I’d learned by studying for the board exam (most med schools take the board exam before starting rotations). I hate admitting it, but most of what I learned during the first 1.5 years of med school had been forgotten pushed to the periphery of my memory. During my pre-clinical year, I studied for exams by watching Boards & Beyond and by reviewing lecture slides, since our exams were based on the lectures. Since starting rotations, though, the studying I do now is geared more towards USMLE Step 1 and Step 2, since our shelf exams are not that intense.

I knew I’d have to change up my study style during rotations because the sheer volume of information to remember is overwhelming, and I obviously hadn’t done a good job so far. I have three different general sources that I study from now:

  • Anki/flashcards
  • Textbooks
  • Didactics lectures

This strategy is working well for me (I know this because I’m able to answer questions that residents/attendings ask me and because I generally understand what’s going on a lot more than before).


One of the smartest classmates I know, @prerak (who also makes amazing YouTube videos about med school) basically forced me to start using Anki and that has been the best decision so far. I actually don’t know how anyone could possibly study for board exams (or life as a physician) without it. No matter what anyone tells you about understanding material versus memorizing it, there are SO many things in medicine that need to just be memorized (e.g. drug names). To get all of the material in your head, I truly think Anki is the only way to go. There are other companies that do a great job with making flashcards (USMLE-Rx, Firecracker, etc.) but Anki’s spaced repetition algorithm is what sets it apart and makes it so amazing at helping students remember stuff. And Anki is free, so this obviously isn’t an ad, haha. Right now, I am going through the Bros deck and Pepper Deck (for Sketchy), both of which can be found online for free. It’s somewhere around 18,000 cards total, and I’m not anywhere close to being done with the deck, but I’ve been able to learn and remember so much since starting.


While flashcards are great at helping you remember things, they test isolated facts. I find that textbooks are better at helping you understand things like physiology and the broader picture of disease processes. I use First Aid for Step 1 and Step 2 CK as my go-to when reviewing diseases, and then I use Step-Up to Medicine and UpToDate for more detail (since First Aid isn’t enough to actually manage patients in real life). I also use the Physeo textbook for anything Physiology related. I don’t necessarily try to memorize everything in these sources, but I use them more to learn about specific clinical situations and to integrate all of the random facts I learn from the Anki flash cards. Reading textbooks is much easier after having done flash cards, because you realize that you kind of know everything already, and the textbook just makes it all fall into place.

Didactics Lectures

Finally, we have didactic lectures, which our shelf exams are based on. I review these lectures heavily at the end of each block in order to do well on the exam. However, the material from those lectures is generally above the level of what we would need to know for Step 1 and 2 (in my opinion), so I won’t be using those lecture slides to prepare for board exams.

Later on in the year, I’ll definitely start doing questions from Q-banks. I wish I had started using Anki earlier– if I had, I’d be done with my decks by now and I could be doing questions instead of flashcards right now. But alas- all I can do now is keep studying. Luckily, I still have about a year before I need to have taken Step 1. If anyone has questions about Anki, check out this video series on how to use it! And if there are any other questions, please leave them below! Happy Studying!

All views expressed are solely mine, and are not endorsed by my academic institution. This post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and this site should not be relied upon as health advice. I am a student, and share my opinions and experiences through this platform, but am not qualified to give medical advice, nor am I seeking to do so.