This is the next article in our series discussing how to study for challenging courses in the second year of medical school. In our previous articles, we covered How To Study for Pharmacology and How To Study for Microbiology. 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 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

The Cardiovascular System course (aka Cardiology or Cardio) was cited by 42% of our survey respondents as their most challenging M2 course. It is very physiology-heavy, and med students are typically well-served by understanding exactly how the whole system works together.

For some deeper advice on how to study cardio, we talked to K.E., a current third-year med student. She found Cardio to be her most challenging course in second year. Interestingly, at her school, she benefited tremendously from advice and tutoring from both upperclassmen and faculty members. She was also active in her note-taking to ensure she was comprehending the most important parts of each lesson.

“Our school did provide tutoring services (from upperclassmen) along with time to meet with faculty. I personally took advantage of working with the faculty because they had taught the lecture and could explain to me why certain points or topics from class were important. I found that to be extremely helpful. I also met with faculty after examinations and go over the questions that I got wrong. That way, I was able to see what concept they thought was important and what part of it I was missing. Additionally, I know other classmates that used the tutoring services who also succeeded. Sometimes, the upperclassmen would share their notes with us, so we could compare them to our notes and fill in any gaps. Once I started implementing note comparison I also began to see an increase in my grades.”

In keeping with our survey results, K. E. also found that watching videos about cardio helped her understand the topic much better than studying from books alone. “I feel like videos really helped me with cardio because that system is extremely physiology heavy. It is easy to read text from a book, but what I needed was to visually see what was happening with hypotension, tachycardia, medications, etc. After I watched videos like Osmosis or simply found a relevant YouTube video, I began to understand the text’s presentation of the material.”

K. E. explained that “the material taught in class (at least in my experience) was not as elementary as I would want it to be. If the student does not have a good fundamental understanding of cardiovascular physiology, then the other material built on top of it (murmurs, pathology, medications) becomes extremely difficult to understand. I tried to improve my foundation but looking up definitions, studying how the cardiovascular system worked as a whole, and then using the class material to build on top of my own work.”

She also mentioned the order in which med schools teach cardio matters. In her case, she wished it would have been taught earlier in M2. “I also think that the cardiovascular system was taught too late in the year, and I wish that it was one of the first blocks taught. So many other systems (pulmonary, renal, endocrine) build on cardiovascular, and cardiovascular is SO HEAVILY tested on boards that it needs to be engraved in our heads.”

In fact, she even wished for it to be more of a focus in her undergrad years! “Yes, I wish that this system was focused more in undergraduate classes. It is a very important system and it needs to be included in multiple courses so that students have knowledge of the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the course.”

Another medical student, Anissa, offered some key advice for second-year students studying the Cardio system. She said to think about cardio as a system. “First try to understand the system as a whole and forget about all the small details that are taught. Once you know what the system is doing in the body, then start breaking it apart (focus on cardio one day, then pulmonary, then the vascular system). Next add those small details (what receptors are working and where, what drugs are indicated and why, what pathology can occur if something goes wrong). This methodical way can help simplify the system since it is so complex. Additionally, use video resources like Osmosis, OnlineMedEd, YouTube, and SketchyPharm. Finally, teach that material to a friend or classmate so that you KNOW for sure that you have it down cold. Repetition is also key with systems like this, because it comes up on all board exams along with shelf exams during your rotations.”

Did you know that Cram Fighter goes beyond study plans for the USMLE and COMLEX board exams, and can help you study your Cardio course alongside your board study schedule? 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.