It’s time to get Scrub’d up! Order now. 

by Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya 


Let’s face it. It is no easy task to memorise and regurgitate all those 1000’s of hours of medical lectures, clinical skills and lab sessions. Some of the most common questions I get asked is “how do you study? written or computer notes?”. The most important thing you need to realise is that DIFFERENT PEOPLE STUDY DIFFERENTLY! I cannot highlight this enough!

Many students message me saying their parents would like them to study in a certain way, but they feel comfortable with another style. I think its quite important to explain to your parents that times have changed, medical education has changed and hence so has the study techniques. (If you need written proof just show them this blog!)

To find out your study technique you need to test out many options. So ask yourself the few questions listed below (my answers have been made highlighted in the next section):

    • do you study better independently or in the presence of others?
    • do you study using paper notes or computer notes?
    • do you study better in the day time or night time?
    • do study distractions help you CONCENTRATE better – music, tv?
    • Where do you study best – at home, the library?
    • What is your study fuel of choice?

My own study technique that I will describe below is pretty unique, my friends thought I was very weird and my mum refused to believe that any kind of information is actually retained in my brain. However, I stuck to my guts and it worked out pretty well for me.

My study experience

So I have been an oddball when it comes to studying from the time I was in school. I did go to the tuition classes that we are all sent to for O levels and A levels, but I also came back home and did a lot of self study. Group study wasn’t encouraged when I was in school and I don’t know if it was because the teaching techniques were different in those days, but I wasn’t even aware of it. Therefore, I had grown pretty accustomed to independent learning by the time I entered university. Therefore at university, the concept of group study was complex for me. I enjoyed the interaction being the social bee I am, but I never felt like I accomplished enough within that space of time. The difficult with small group teachings is that sometimes they do tend to go off track which for the control freak is not the best.

When I moved onto university in the UK however, it was definitely a dramatic change of learning environment. There is no tuition class – you need to show a considerable amount of independent learning. Studying from lecture notes purely would not suffice. I would make my own handwritten note (I cannot learn off typed notes unfortunately) and then read the recommended texts for additional pointers. Anything I could not find in the reference books, I searched for online. Remember wikipedia is NOT a reliable reference source, use it for quick references, but never quote from it. Stationary is my guilty pleasure, as some of you may have figured out by now based on my instagram. I used the staedtler triplus fine liner colour pens to make my notes more interesting and trusty old stabilo pens for highlighting purposes. My notes are my pride and joy though. Once rain water had leaked into my university bedroom and all my files had gotten damp causing the pen ink to run. I cried for a week! Writing my notes actually helps with my memory recall, it comes to a point where I can remember the exact place in my notes are topic would be and even some of the notes around it – very useful during exams when I get stumped by a question.

My whole life my days have been jam packed. It was school during the day and tuition in the evenings, and once at university, almost the entire day time would initially be full of lectures and clinical skills, and later on become full days of hospital work. Due to this I became a night owland found it easy to stay up and study rather than get up earlier than usual to revise. During the 2-3 months prior to exams, I had no problem functioning with a few hours sleep a day. It’s not the healthiest, but its only for a few months and is the sacrifice that most of us make.

Some people study whilst listening to music and that used to be me. Whilst studying for my school examinations, I would listen to music whilst  studying much to my mother’s horror, but she slowly gave up telling me off. The music in a way helped relax my brain whilst studying. This however progressed to the need to have a tv show/movie playing in the background. Strange I know, but I absolutely cannot study without it. I am not necessarily concentrating on the movie (it’s normally something I’ve watched before), I just like the background noise and lights from the TV/computer. I know I am a weirdo, but I’ve achieved a lot whilst doing it, so why bother reverting back to the boring old way of studying?

As I am an independent learner who is a night owl and needs to have a movie playing to study, I worked better from home. On some days however, I would scope out a large desk area at the library that had the least amount of people and sprawl my books out everywhere! Whilst at home, I bought myself a bed table and would study in bed with my books laid out around me. Not going to lie, I was occasionally too lazy to move all my books back onto my main study table so I would just sleep surrounded by my books (hoping that some information would enter my brain by osmosis).

Whilst at home, I would regularly fuel myself with coffee and chocolates. Definitely not the healthiest diet and it would take me double the time post exams to lose the weight. To this day though, coffee has not built a tolerance on me and if I have coffee after 3pm I will not be able to sleep. During exam time I would sufficiently stay awake on just 2 cups of good coffee. I wasn’t picky about the chocolates – nutella, greenblacks, hersheys – its a never ending downward spiral.

This is what I have been using to revise since my school days. It hasn’t changed much except for my love for libraries. In university, the library which in school was used as an area to gossip, was a place accommodating all types of learners. They also had 24 hour access computer labs and small study rooms. There was a common room with vending machines to eat inside the library! I was also allowed to take my bag into the library (something uncommon in Sri Lankan libraries who believe people want to steal their dust covered ancient relic like books they have). British university libraries are just beautiful with a wide selection of the newest editions with more than one copy available. GOALS! This may sound pretty basic, but for a kid from Sri Lanka, this was everything! Here’s hoping that one day Sri Lanka will too have a good library work space (trust me I have checked everywhere!).

I’d love to hear your study strategy – comment below if I’m not the only odd ball!

Recently I asked some of my instagram followers on their study techniques and any weird habits. Heres what they had to say:

@specyial – “I make a timelapse of myself studying so that I can look back at it and see how I studied – was I productive or slacking?”

@ms_anonymous97 – “So I sit on the floor and need ALOT of sunlight or light, and I need to be drinking or eating something. I am a psych student and psych says you can’t multitask while doing stuff, you need to semantically do it, but I prove otherwise. Also I only study for 20 minutes and have a break, and then get back to another 20 minutes session.”

@savindy – “I usually listen to tropical house music. Soothing music helps with my focus.”

@ouwsh_ – “I’m still trying to figure out a strategy to get the ERPM exam over with, but I am used to doing a lot of question banks and watching short videos on topics that are a little hard. Review, revise and repeat like what the old timers say.”

@twistedkinaweird – “When I study some hard concepts, I read it a few times and then pretend like I’m answering it to the doctor in class so that he gets impressed with my answer. I remember that very well in exams!”

@shareekakf – ” I explain it to myself, record it and play it back.”

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Hi there!

Hi there! Dr. Rashmira Balasuriya is a medical doctor in Sri Lanka, currently training in Family Medicine. Navigating the healthcare system in Sri Lanka is no easy task and this website was created to help guide other foreign medical graduates and junior doctors. This website also helps demystify life as a doctor in Sri Lanka and also combats medical misinformation circulating amongst the general public!