How to Maximize Your Study Time and Get the Grades You Desire

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Hello students! If you’re in pharmacy school, you probably feel like all you do is study. When you have finished taking one test, another test or project is due. First of all, you are not alone! We have all been there and the season passes. This is your time in school to learn and gain the knowledge needed to excel in pharmacy, so let’s make the most of it!

Are you struggling with balancing your study time and figuring out what’s important for a test? The problem is not that you aren’t smart enough - of course you are intelligent!  If you need convincing, remember that YOU got through the science and math prerequisites, took the PCAT and represented yourself well on interviews! You don’t have to get “smarter” to get through pharmacy school, you need to figure out how to study the material in front of you to make it stick. You need to work on time management to make sure you have time to go over everything, and you also have to realize the importance of taking care of yourself and how that affects your overall well-being and performance.

Getting sleep, exercise, good nutrition (not fast food or pizza everyday!) and having moments where you can just do the things that make you happy - reading , walking, coffee with friends, etc… are so much more important than you think and will help give you the mental break (and this energy) to be an efficient student.

Alright, now we got through your mental barriers, let’s go through some tips!

Plan for the month

Not the week ahead, because it’s hard to cram in pharmacy school; give yourself some extra time which is why I think it is good to do this on a monthly basis. If you can figure this out, you will be ahead for life. I am the queen of I work best under pressure, but I am so much happier when I am well-prepared. And I perform better too!

What do you have immediately? Prioritize that. The goal is to only have to review the material the night or two before the test, not start from the beginning and reading material you’ve never seen before.

I get asked often, “how much should I study”. There is no magic number since we are all different and some concepts come easier than others. If you look at the hours in a day, generally school is 4-6 hours a day, sleep is 8 hours, commuting is 1 hour…..  You have 9 hours left! You should have time to study for at least 4 hours and still have time to socialize, eat, and exercise! How do we fit those 4 hours in? Not everyone studies best at night - figure out the best time for you - an hour in the morning before class? An hour after class and two before bed? An hour at lunch? Use your most alert time to your advantage! As much of a night owl as I was in school, I found that an hour of studying in the morning equaled 2-3 at night meaning I remembered and learned much better in the morning.

Bye bye distractions

Chris Bailey, the author of Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, claims that after a distracting event, it can take up to 20 minutes to refocus. “Why?”, he asks. Because “humans are hardwired for distraction. Our brain’s attentional system is programmed to respond to anything that’s pleasurable, threatening, or novel. We even have a novelty bias, wherein our brain is flooded with a pleasure chemical, dopamine, whenever we focus on something new.”


And according recent research conducted by Dr. Larry Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, "the typical student" is "distracted for at least five out of every 15 minutes they set aside to study," most often as a result of texting and social media use.

Yes, we know we are distracted! So what can we do? Bye bye phone. Go to the library and leave it in your car.  I personally cannot listen to music while I study. It’s too distracting for me. But if it helps you, then do it.

How do you learn?

What kind of learner are you? This is key to understanding what works for you and incorporating it into your study habits.

Are you a visual learner?  Do you learn by reading and seeing pictures? Flashcards, writing down key concepts, and visualizing things that you hear are great tactics for you. Oh, and sit at the front of the classroom!

Are you an auditory learner? Do you learn by hearing and listening? Sit where you can hear and read your book and notes aloud to solidify your learning.

Are you a tactile learner - Do you learn by touching and doing? Are you a “hands-on” learner who needs to be moving and building to understand? Write out your notes, use your computer and make sure you get up and walk around (take breaks!) to be the most efficient.

And the best way to actually remember something is to combine two or more learning styles! Read an article and then listen to a podcast! Or go to lecture and then re-read the chapter afterwards. Go to the lab. Write what you are reading, etc…

For one of the first biochemistry tests in pharmacy school, a group of girls and I got together to study and watch the Bachelor. They were studying and talking through their notes while I watched the show, talked a little and socialized. They were all shocked when I tied one of the girls for the highest grade in the group - “because I didn’t study”! Well of course I did!! I just couldn’t study in that setting - too many distractions. I can’t have the TV or music on. Even libraries are too distracting sometimes.


Make sure you have time to repeat, repeat, repeat. Don’t overextend yourself or by joining a bunch of organizations or take on too many extracurricular activities until you can’t squeeze in another thing (or sleep is suffering). The more times you have to review and read through the material, the better you will be.

How do you know what’s important

In pharmacy school, it’s all important….but, there are things that stand out as being more important than others. If the professor is going over a concept in depth, it will probably be tested. Rare but dangerous side effects, such as Steven Johnsons Syndrome, will usually be important. Or drugs that have unique side effects to look out for such as tooth discoloration with tetracycline.

You all have the same amount of information to learn. You can’t cut corners when it comes to studying and actually learning the material. And in pharmacy school, you don’t want to just get by. So, accept that osmosis is not going to happen and you are actually going to have to put in the hours. I’ll say it again - there are no short cuts!

My husband is a physician and the amount of studying he did through his rotations and residency puts me to shame. He would come home from a long day of residency and read for hours and hours and hours. And he was and is very good at what he does.

So you can be that person who knows all the drugs, how they work, what side effects they produce, but you are going to have to put in the work!!