Study burnout—it happens to many students. For medical students especially, with the pressures of coursework plus studying for the impending USMLE Step 1 Exam or COMLEX Level 1 Exam (or both!), burnout is a reality. It happens when you feel overwhelmed and you feel like you can’t keep up with your schedule and workload demands.
With a big exam looming this spring, you may be feeling like burnout is unavoidable. It’s not! You can take some small steps to help yourself feel like you’re staying in control, even when you have a lot going on. Here are our tips for medical students to avoid burnout while you study for Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1.
1. Pace yourself. Don’t cram a huge amount of study material into a short period of time by waiting until the last minute.
Trying to do too much all at once, especially by procrastinating on your Step 1 or Level 1 prep, is very likely to result in burnout! An aggressive schedule with too many pages to read, questions to go over, or lectures to watch in a given day is a surefire way to feel overwhelmed. Instead, be realistic about what you think you can accomplish in a certain amount of time, and plan your study schedule around what you can accommodate while still getting through everything you’ve chosen for Step 1/Level 1 prep. We highly recommend you get started early on your study plan for Step 1 or Level 1. Even before your dedicated study period, you can begin answering Qbank questions. Even a small number like 10 a day will be helpful to get you familiar with the exam format and the content.
2. Plan free time in your schedule to take breaks.
Even though you feel like you have to hyper-utilize every waking moment of your day, scheduling time off from studying is important, and will help you feel human. Studies show that taking regular breaks actually HELPS you retain information and memorize concepts more effectively. So during study sessions, every 2 hours or so, make sure you take a small break from the books to recharge. Go take a walk, eat a healthy snack, or do a 10-minute meditation session. You can also plan to take a set day or half-day off from studying per week.
3. Maintain good sleeping and eating habits.
In addition to taking regular breaks, it’s important to keep a regular sleep schedule (as much as you can.) Making sure you get enough sleep is critical in avoiding burnout. Adequate sleep, which for most people is about 7 hours per night, also helps the brain to process, and form memories of, newly acquired information. Sleep also helps the body to self-regulate; without adequate sleep, it is more difficult to control our behaviors and direct ourselves towards our goals—e.g. studying hard to get a good score. Plus, isn’t it just obvious that when you’re tired it is difficult to concentrate?
Eating well is also important. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and try to limit your intake of “junk” and processed foods. Swap out candy or salty snacks from the vending machine with more fruits and vegetables. Fueling your body and mind with healthy, whole foods will help support you during high-stress times and long periods of studying. Did you know the brain uses up to 20% of your total body’s energy per day? Plus, imagine how hard it is working as you study for the USMLE or COMLEX! We like this list of healthy, affordable snacks you can eat while you study to keep your brain and body in top study mode.
While we’re not sleep coaches or dietitians, where we can help you is with tips 1 and 2. Use a detailed study plan and the scheduling features from Cram Fighter to figure out exactly how you’re doing to get through all the resources you’ve chosen to prepare for USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1. And use the “time off” feature to schedule in recurring “days off.” Doing this, you’ll build a schedule that allows you to take those days but still get through all your materials.
In fact, one student from Ross University told us, “It is very important to take time for yourself throughout your preparation process to prevent burnout. Cram Fighter is definitely a great tool to prevent burnout because you can schedule your free time.”
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