How can I learn so much information for my medical school interview on top of my A-levels? How do I handle the bizarre questions asked in Medicine MMI stations or Oxbridge interviews? How can I learn so much in medical school and still have a life? We cover all of these questions in this comprehensive article with 8 essential tips.

In the coming articles, we are starting an entirely free series explaining medical and health-related conditions and topics that you should know about and be able to confidently discuss in your Medicine interview. It is easy to get overwhelmed by needing to learn so much new information on top of your A-levels and other commitments. You can avoid feeling this way if you use the correct strategy to approach learning this new information. So before we discuss the conditions themselves, we need to consider ways to make learning as comfortable and time-efficient as possible. Spending a bit of time now can save you countless hours down the line when preparing for your Medicine interview.

This is also a skill you will need as a medical student and a doctor so you can smoothly learn vast amounts of information in medical school and beyond and still have lots of time and energy for your hobbies and passions. It can also help you right now studying for your A-levels. This article also covers how to understand what you learn and already know more deeply. This is very important as in some MMI stations, and particularly Oxbridge interviews, they can ask very unusual questions. These are frequently derived from topics you should already know about from your A-level syllabus but are asked from unique perspectives and in ways so that they can only be answered effectively if you have a deep understanding of what you have learned. Not if you have merely memorised the information to pass your A-levels or recite in your Medicine interview as some candidates have.

Tip 1 – Read our summaries first

When reading our articles on medical conditions necessary for your medicine interview; you will notice that we often provide a review of the article at the beginning of the page instead of at the end. This is because if you know the overview of something first, even if in a straightforward way which uses non-technical language, it makes following the more detailed explanation much easier. So make sure you read the summaries a few times before reading the main content. If we provide a review at the end, then jump there first and then read the main content. With that in mind:

Tip 2 – For studying your A-level books and especially for Medical school books

This tip will be useful for any non-fiction book but is most suited for the degree level books you use in medical school (which can be massive) as this tip works better in publications where at the end of the chapters they have lengthy summaries perhaps three or four pages long. These are often very well written and summarise things in the same order as the primary text presents them.

The tip is to jump straight to the end of the chapter and go to the summary pages. Read them in full several times before reading the main chapter. Even make notes and mind maps/flow diagrams from them. This can be difficult, harder than it sounds, and yes you may not understand some or even most of the terms. The more you practice this, the better you will get at being able to understand information from only small pieces of texts quickly. Despite the initial difficulty, it will make reading the main body of text easier. You will then realise what extra information you need to get from the main text to complete your understanding, and you will now be actively looking for it. It will give you an idea of the critical points and the order the information will be presented in the main text. It will provide you with a “bird’s eye view” of the topic. Just as if you had a birds eye map of a real-life maze before entering it. That would be easier than just being thrown into the maze without a map and trying to navigate through it as you go along. You would not know how big the maze is or what to expect in the next turn -is the terrain going to suddenly change or are there booby traps etc?

Why tip 2 works

Knowing the summary first and what order the main content will be presented will help your brain to subconsciously organise and categorise the new information even before you read it (this is also why step 1 of tip 3 below works). Remember your mind is continually organising and categorising things subconsciously. This is one of the reasons why we sleep. This is why after a good nights sleep we can often understand previously learned information, make decisions about things we were previously considering and even perform motor skills we have acquired better. Our brain has been sorting these things out in our heads subconsciously. Help your mind along by using this technique.

After you’ve done your studying and down the line you are revising your content it will also make the summary pages more useful to you as you will be very familiar with them and you can keep reading them again instead of the entire main chapter.

Tip 3 – How to read a book!!

Don’t skip this paragraph just because you think this is too simple a thing to need to learn! Common sense is not always common practice! Just because reading a book may sound simple that doesn’t mean everyone is doing it right. After all, not everyone can easily read long books without being overwhelmed and have an easy and excellent recollection of what they have read. This implies that there are techniques that they are not doing correctly or changes that they should consider making. Here are some basic steps to reading a book – an A-level textbook, a medical school or Medical interview book or any textbook.

Step 1 – Pick up the book, get a feel for how big it is, what the text looks like, the colours used etc. Do you recognise the style of the book or the author and so know what to expect? Next, go to the table of contents and get an idea of the structure of the book. What are the main headings? What is the order of the book? The author will likely have put a great deal of thought into the order of the book and hence what order information is presented to you for a reason. Learn from it. Can you think why the book is written in this order? Are there are any chapters you particularly need to know? Are there any you don’t need? How well do you need to learn the information? How long do you estimate it will take you?

Step 2 – Then follow the advice we discuss in tip 2 above about going straight to the summary of the chapter you wish to read and making notes, mind maps, flow charts etc. from the summaries before approaching the main text.

Step 3 – At the end of reading a page or two or after reading about a particular concept can you explain it in a sentence or two? If you can’t then perhaps you have not grasped the concept as well as you thought you did. This is covered in tip 7 below.

Step 4 – This step is outputting and we talk about it in the next paragraph. This is an absolutely crucial step for learning anything including for your A-levels or your Medicine interview preparation. Do not underestimate it.

Inputting vs outputting

Think of reading/ studying/learning as inputting information into your mind. Teaching others, answering questions about the topics is outputting information from your mind. They are two different processes and use different parts of your brain. You may be good at one but weak at the other. e.g. good knowledge of the subject but a difficulty in explaining it. Doing one also helps your performance on the other. Of paramount importance is knowing that when you are being examined in your A levels or asked a question in you medicine interview, they are testing your output ability, not your input ability. I.e. you may have many great ideas in your head and know the topic but medicine interviewers or A-level exam markers do not know this. They can only see and are assessing you based on how well you say/write and show your knowledge and skills. This means you must get good at demonstrating things instead of just knowing them.

Tip 4

For this reason, it is vital that you do not just read articles, books etc. about answering medicine interview questions but you practice saying answers out loud. Don’t just know about your hobbies, work experience etc. and think about what to say – actually tell people about them. Talk to an object in your room if you can’t find someone to practice with. Talking out loud will use different areas of your brain than just reading or thinking.

Tip 5

How well you output e.g. how well you answer Medicine interview questions or perform at MMI Medicine interview stations is dependant on more than just your knowledge. It also depends on how well you can manage your state (e.g. your alertness, confidence, your anxiety and stress levels etc.) but we will discuss this in other articles. This is also a key part of what we focus on in our Medicine interview course in Manchester, Leeds, London and other cities around the UK.

Tip 6 – Check your learning with “outputting”. Also, use this as part of your studying and revision

Once you have read or learned something, explain and teach the topic to someone else. If this is not practical, then you could explain it to yourself out loud or even to an object in your room. It is important to make sure you actually say the words out loud and not just in your head in order to recruit different parts of your brain than if you simply verbalised it in your mind. If you can do this successfully, then you know you have an excellent understanding. If you can mostly explain the steps but falter at a particular point of the explanation then you know these are the areas you need to do more inputting i.e. studying and memorising and also the areas where you need to practice more outputting i.e. practice explaining it again. This is a key concept in the Feynman technique for learning.

In your revision, this will save you a lot of time. For example, before an A-level exam or medicine interview, you cannot just keep re-reading all of your books or notes in their entirety for all your different subjects. This is even more so the case in university when the amount of content becomes much more significant than your A-levels and it is not possible to keep re-reading such vast amounts of information. You need to be efficient with the limited time you have by identifying what specific areas you are weak in or have forgotten. This technique will help you do that. You can look at your notes, pick a heading, e.g. the cardiac cycle. Then cover it up and explain it out loud to yourself or someone else. You may realise you know it all well apart from e.g. step 4 as you falter at that part of the explanation. You can go back and reinforce the inputting and outputting of step 4 and then try outputting again to see if you have been successful. This is also a good revision strategy as you can do it spontaneously anywhere i.e. teaching a topic to someone on a long coach journey etc.

This technique is not just for revision. It also helps you when you are learning new information and memorising it for the first time. This is because you are recruiting different parts of your brain to try and understand things and create explanations/ways of teaching them vs the limited areas of your brain you would use if you were to just read from your textbook. Then when you actually say the explanations out loud this recruits even more parts of your brain including motor structures for your speech and auditory and comprehension structures when you hear and process what you are saying. This increased recruitment of different parts of your brain makes it far easier for you to learn and memorise things.

Tip 7 – Learning things more deeply for your Medicine interview so you can answer unusual questions

A potent technique is being able to reduce a concept, a lecture, a chapter or an entire book or movie etc. into just a few short sentences by understanding what the essence and take home message of the material is. If you cannot do this, then you need to ask yourself if you have understood the topic adequately or merely memorised the content.

There is also a skill to being able to break things down to their essence. Anybody can expand things and make them more complicated, even just by adding filler and extra facts, but to be able boil things down takes skill. This is an important skill particularly in writing a Medicine personal statement or in an interview as you need to express large, multi-layered points into simple concise statements and answers. This makes your speech much more powerful. This is a skill many people are not good at, and they ramble on or clutter their thoughts and answers instead.

Many people will read an entire book or attend a lecture or watch a film and are then puzzled when they can’t answer if somebody asked them what the take-home message of this book is? Tell me three things you have learned? Can you tell me one way this new knowledge will improve or alter your practice? What is this book trying to say? Only then would they realise that they may have read an entire book or seen a film but haven’t really grasped the concepts. If you learn this skill then not only will you be able to memorise many things effortlessly into your deeper long-term memory, you will be a much better and effective thinker. You will ask more questions and learn things more deeply. Your speech will be more forceful and have more impact.

Apply this principle of simplifying things when thinking about how to answer medicine interview questions such as why do you want to study Medicine? Why should we select you out of thousands of applicants? What makes you unique? What was something challenging about your medical work experience? etc. Think what is the core message or impression (not necessarily the content) you are trying to convey then think how you would structure an answer. What are three main things you are trying to say? Then think about filling in the gaps.

So how will this technique help you learn things more deeply and answer unusual Oxbridge Medicine interview questions?

You’d be surprised about how many people can tell you all of the intricate details about a topic e.g. the mechanism of how humans feel pain, all about the neurotransmitters and nociceptors, pathways etc. but would be stumped by a child who asks them something basic such as why do we even feel pain in the first place? They concentrated too much on the specific details without asking the big questions first. What is pain? Why do we feel it? What would happen if we didn’t feel pain? Is it good or bad? Remember, Oxbridge medicine interviews can ask you some very odd questions to test your thought processes and how deeply you understand subjects. They want to see people who have learned about things deeply and can think logically and creatively. If in your Medicine interview they asked you “if you were to design the perfect robot/android would you design it to feel pain?” – Someone who thinks about topics deeply and asks questions can formulate an answer about this. If you understood that pain is a protective mechanism designed to make you avoid doing things which can harm you and also so you avoid overusing things which are injured (e.g. a broken foot) then you can begin to answer the question. Then think about the other side of the argument. What are the downsides of pain? What about emotional pain? Can pain cause people to be overprotective or avoid things we should or can do e.g. procrastination is where we associate more pain with doing an activity than not doing it?

You may come across many interesting books or articles. To try and incorporate them into your long-term memory see if you can break down in two or three sentences what was this lecture about? What is the main point of this chapter? What is the take-home message of this book in a few sentences? Get into the habit of doing this. You can even have a notepad that stores a few lines or a mind map of interesting books, movies, documentaries, news you have come across.

Tip 8 – Improve your inputting – learn how to use mind maps and reduce the length of your revision notes

Mind maps for medical informationPeople are unlikely to re-read whole books or old notes from many years ago as it is too cumbersome but they feel guilty throwing them away thinking that they maybe one day will. If you can reduce the length of these notes but still make them understandable for example with mind maps, then you can make revisiting them much easier. You are far more likely to re-read your 4-page mind maps and can do so many more times than your 40-page detailed notes of a topic. The shortened length makes revisiting them vastly easier. This is the key. Repeatedly revisiting content is far more effective at storing it into your long-term memory than one massive exhausting learning session followed by no revision and then having to revise the content all over again in 6 months time a week before your exams. With such a long gap you will have retained very little this way and your second “revision” session will actually be more like learning from scratch rather than “revising”. Learning from scratch is also much harder and cumbersome than simply revising a subject so this forgetting of your original learning session will cost you a lot of effort in your second re learning session.

For further information about mind maps see the article on how to use mind maps.

If instead, you have spent some time learning the subject, then taken the additional steps we have discussed in this article (outputting i.e. explaining it, summarising the essence in a few sentences) and condensed your notes into smaller mind maps or concise notes you could easily revise your notes regularly. You would only have to do the harder, more time consuming initial learning once. You could easily revisit your mind maps and keep using tip 6 (outputting) to check what specific parts you have forgotten or are weaker in. You would not have to do the very time consuming and boring step of re-learning the whole subject because you have actually forgotten most of it.

You can easily incorporate steps like outputting and breaking down concepts to their essence into your revision and interview preparation right now. The more you practice doing this the better and quicker you will become. Learning how to do mind maps effectively, however, will require some initial time investment and may actually slow you down at first. It will, of course, save you countless amounts of time in the future as you master it. We will be producing articles on how to mind map and on note-taking techniques in the future. Note taking again is a concept people may think is too basic to need to read but in fact, many people are very poor note takers.

How can Medicine Answered help me get a place at Medical school?

Here at Medicine Answered we try to do everything we possibly can to maximise your chances of gaining entry into your first choice of Medical school. Use our free guides on any aspect of the application process or attend one of our Medicine interview courses in Manchester, Leeds, London and various other cities across the UK. We also offer one to one tuition by a doctor. All of our courses and tuition is delivered only by doctors with a 100% track record of gaining all four UCAS offers from four Medical schools.