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  • Writer's pictureMichael Dworkin, MD

How to manage your time in med school

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

Med school: so many competing goals, interests, resources, and opportunities, and so much to do! Read on to learn how manage your time during med school.

Know the three goals of medical school

The first overarching goal of medical school is to gain the foundational knowledge, experiences, and skills that will help you move on to the next step of your training and ultimately become the kind of doctor you would want taking care of a family member.

The second goal is to maintain your own personal wellness. Get to know your classmates, spend time with friends and family, and maintain a few hobbies that you enjoy.

The third is to gain entry into your field of choice at a residency program you would be happy with. What residency program directors look for in your application is covered in detail in a separate post, but briefly, the most important things are: good scores on USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK, good clinical grades, and strong letters of recommendation in your field of interest.

SMART goals

The three overarching rules above require a lot of unpacking to be made useful. SMART goals, ones that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-constrained, can help you take action to these achieve big goals.

SMART goals are best applied in the short term, and must be associated with clear plan of action. For example, the goal "I want to achieve a goal score of 250 on USMLE Step 1 before the August leading up to my third year", while a good long term goal, does NOT lend itself well towards formulating a clear plan of action in the short term. Instead, this goal must be unpacked further.

For example, looking at our blog post on the best resources for Step 1, a SMART short term goal during a preclinical pathology course would be "This week, I want to watch the Pathoma videos for pumlonary, do all 150 pulmonary pathology USMLE Rx questions at a rate of 22 questions per day, make or unsuspend the all the Anki cards in the MedSchoolGurus Anki Deck covering the facts I learned, and do all my Anki reviews every day."

A SMART short term Step 1 goal during a dedicated study period would be "This week, I want to do watch all the Pathoma pulmonary and GI videos, do 60 UWorld pulmonary and GI questions every day, make or unsuspend the all the Anki cards in the MedSchoolGurus Anki Deck covering the facts I learned, and score above 230 on my practice test on Sunday".

At the end of every tutoring session, your MedSchoolGuru will help you make SMART goals as well as checklists of things to do before your next session. For more information about tutoring, check out our FAQ page.

Use a daily checklist

Each day take time to make a checklist of the things you want to get done that will help you achieve your long and short term goals.

A checklist usually includes: do X number of Anki reviews, watch/review Y resource, do Z new Anki cards, and do T number of multiple choice questions.

For each item on the checklist, put a check box and a conservative estimate on the amount of time required to complete each item.

Use a daily schedule

In your calendar, block out the times you are unavailable to study. Block out a half hour for getting ready in the morning and evening, and a half hour for lunch and dinner, and an hour to to whatever you like. Fill the remaining time with your checklist items, sprinkling a couple 10 minute study breaks.

Use the pomodoro technique to be productive during scheduled study blocks

The pomodoro technique is the use of a repeating timer for to go off at regular intervals, usually a 25 minute "on period" followed by a 5 minute break. Set goals for each pomodoro period. E.g., "I want to get 50 Anki cards done per pomodoro". I prefer using a 10-15 minute pomodoro with 2-3 minute breaks.

An online pomodoro timer is available here; click "settings" to change the pomodoro interval. I recommend using the app 30/30 or the app repeat timer which are a bit more customizable.

Use a countdown calendar for your long term deadlines and goals

I recommend using a countdown calendar to see how many days remaining until your Shelf exams, Step 1, Step 2 CK, exams, and your medical school graduation. The day remaining numbers will help you calculate things like the number of questions to get done each day.

Use downtime to accomplish your tasks

Your phone is a key study resource. Do Anki or question bank questions during mandatory low yield lectures. Listen to Goljan and OnlineMedEd respectively for preclinical and clinical years during your commutes, doing chores, running errands.

Wear a watch

Enough said!


Understanding how to best prioritize your time comes with experience. Your MedSchoolGuru will help you decide how to prioritize which resources over others in order to reduce resource overload.

A couple tips on prioritization are worth mentioning, however.

For preclinicals, use the high yield Step 1 resources mentioned above, and not your university's lectures, as the backbone of your preclinical learning. Remember your goals. The goal of preclinical years is not to do well on preclinical examinations. It is to pass them while maximizing your fund of USMLE relevant knowledge so that your dedicated review period is actually a review period, and not a frantic attempt to learn everything you didn't learn while studying from low yield resources. MedSchoolGurus has developed its own modular curricular framework composed of these resources which will help you pass your preclinical examinations while only studying high yield information. The time you save by not studying from low yield resources should be applied to doing question banks early, as the number of USMLE-style questions completed is the single largest determinant of your USMLE score. All of my students who I have switched over to the MedSchoolGurus curriculum have maintained or increased their exam average, while actually building a useful fund of knowledge that helps them achieve their Step 1 goal score.

For clinicals, your goals are to be a good teammate and colleague, learn how to be a good doctor, do well on your shelf exam, and build a useful fund of knowledge to help you succeed on your USMLE Step 2 CK exam. Again, do not waste time going through random powerpoints. Instead, go through the high yield clinical resources listed here, and follow our tips on how to crush your medicine, surgery, and pediatrics clerkships.

Get help from a MedSchoolGuru

There is no substitute for good advice. MedSchoolGurus offers highly individualized online tutoring sessions for preclinical years, clerkships, shelf exams, and the USMLE exams.Your high-scoring MedSchoolGuru will set you up with a checklist of the best resources for whatever stage of med school you are in. At the end of each tutoring session, your Guru will take time to prioritize what you should do before your next session via an individualized and flexible schedule. On average, our students preparing for the USMLE Step 1 have seen an average score improvement of 36 points. For more information, check out out website at To set up a free 15 minute phone consultation, contact us via our contact form or by simply emailing us at


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