This is the first article in our series discussing how to study for challenging courses in the second year of medical school. The second year of med school is extra-challenging for many medical students because not only are they learning more, but they have to also study for the USMLE Step 1 or the COMLEX Level 1, typically taken at the end of the second year.

To help other students understand how to study for second-year courses, we recently conducted a survey of our Campus Heroes to learn how they approached the study of difficult topics. 80% of our respondents studied the corresponding topic in their First Aid and about ⅔ of the med students surveyed said working with a study group helped them. Finally, watching supplemental videos was also a popular tactic that helped students understand challenging subjects.

Campus Hero Survey

Our first topic is Pharmacology. Pharmacology is one of the more challenging classes during your second year of med school. It is incredibly important because it is the med student’s introduction to the scientific basis for the use of drugs in medical practice.

Due to the sheer volume of pharmacological drugs available in medicine, most second-year Pharmacology courses focus more on general pharmacological principles that govern the action of all drugs on the body. But getting acquainted with even “just” the major classes of drugs used in the modern practice of medicine involves an incredible amount of memorization.

For further advice on how to study Pharmacology, we talked to A. B., a current second-year med student. She is finding Pharmacology to be her most challenging course this year. Her biggest piece of advice for how to study Pharmacology? “Find a way to organize a massive amount of information by finding patterns and by grouping.”

A. B. stated that sometimes she did not find lectures helpful due to lack of explanation or poor technique by the lecturers, but that the material in these lectures was still necessary to learn. Her solution? “I just needed a different way to organize it so that I could learn it more efficiently. I grouped drugs by the way that they were named and took notes on the drugs’ exceptions. I found that making tables and grouping drugs by similarities helped me do much better on practice questions (and ultimately test questions). If I had known this sooner, I would have done this and made Anki flashcards for each drug. Anki usually helps me a lot with recall and memory, since it’s a form of self-testing. I was doing Anki flashcards daily. Plus, doing practice questions from my class-required text, other review books, and old tests affirmed that my method worked. All of this made a dramatic difference. In 24 hours, I went from being destined to fail my first test to passing with a B!”

Although using videos was frequently reported by our survey respondents (above), A.B. found her own system of memorization using flashcards to be more beneficial. But, she still found a way to use videos. “Another student recommended Picmonic because their videos are much shorter and simpler than Sketchy’s. I am thinking of doing this to help with quicker recall. I could use the photos in my Anki flashcards.”

Anissa’s main advice for second-year students studying Pharmacology was all about finding patterns. She suggested, “Find a way to make it easier to learn a massive number of drugs. Patterns and repetition are our best bet for remembering what seems random. Start early so that by the time you take your test, recall is more habitual and automatic. Overthinking and decision fatigue on test day can cost us points, but the more familiar we are with the material and its presentation, the easier it is to identify the correct answer! Repetition, patterns, and consistent practice!!”

If you need help studying Pharmacology, Cram Fighter can help you! Did you know that Cram Fighter goes beyond study plans for the USMLE and COMLEX board exams? We can also help you plan study schedules for your med school courses, including Pharmacology, in parallel with your Boards study plans. View our help article for more info. Or, just email our support team at to get your course schedule available on Cram Fighter for you and your classmates, so you can see your boards prep and course prep tasks in one cohesive study plan.