Throughout your first year of a medical residency, or PGY1 residency, you’re going to take a few exams, including in-training exams. In-training exams simulate the board exam and are meant to gauge your progress through each year of your residency training. You guessed it—you'll take an in-training exam (or ITE) each year during residency.
Whether you’re someone who gets excited at the challenge of a new exam, or you get overwhelmed at the thought of studying plus working full-time, you’re definitely going to have to carve out hours in your busy schedule to study this year. And we have some tips for you to make that study time more efficient.
1. Re-think how you study
Now is the perfect time to narrow in on a study process or system that will actually work for you. This is individual to everyone—and you might even feel like you already have a solid handle on what works best for you.
But, the truth is, the way you've become accustomed to studying might not be the proper way to ensure that what you're studying sticks in your brain for the long term.
We’ve spent years researching the best way to study medicine, and what we’ve found is that the way we’re taught to learn in school isn’t necessarily the optimal way to learn and retain knowledge for optimal recall. We want to help you make sure that what you're spending your time studying right now will last all the way through your residency, while taking your board exam, into your practice, and so on.
We get into the details in our StudyWise guide, but what you need to know is: there are 6 “myths” we’re all taught about the best ways to learn, and for every “learning myth,” there is a science-based approach that you should take to improve recall and stimulate deep learning. For example, did you know that studying in a place free of distractions at the same time and place each day ISN'T what you should be doing?
We’ve boiled down the most efficient way to study into 3 simple-to-follow study steps, and we even walk you through which types of study resources to use at each stage. It’s time to form new study habits and work efficiently!
2. Keep a running list of interesting topics that you encounter in your PGY1 residency
After you've written down all the things that struck your curiosity through the day, research them. Get a small notebook to carry around with you during rounds, and jot down notes, or put them in the notes app on your phone. It’s also helpful to use specific patient cases that you encounter in real life as “story examples” while you’re studying.
This is because stories are a series of events, and our episodic memory mechanisms are most at home cataloging and encoding events. The “who, what, where, why, and when” of an event is encoded along with its importance, which builds long-term memories and improves your recall.
3. Study multiple subjects at a time
This might sound counterintuitive at first, but remember earlier when we were telling you everything you’ve learned about learning is wrong? “Interleaving” is combining multiple topics into the same study session. It really works!
For example, you can have a Pulmonary Q&A spaced retrieval session combined with an initial reading from Cardiology, combined with a preview session from ID. And you can hop between them, spending 5–10 minutes on each. On exam day and especially in your practice, you're not likely to see all questions or cases from one topic one after another, so why would you study like that?
Interleaving has been proven to enhance the cognitive process of learning and encoding the material. Interleaving doesn’t feel as natural as studying in blocks, but it does yield better results. Studies show that testers who use interleaving perform better on the final exam than block learners do.
4. Make time for balance
Time is your biggest resource—so make sure you use it effectively. Block time on your calendar for studying, but also remember to carve out time for yourself, your hobbies, and spending time with those who make you happy! In regards to perfecting your study routine, your physical health and mental health are most important to help you build long-lasting memories.
On the physical side, watch what you eat, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. Sufficient sleep is crucial for decreasing stress and for optimizing the encoding and consolidation processes. Aim for 7–8 hours per night, and avoid alcohol before bedtime—it disrupts normal sleep cycles by decreasing your amount of REM sleep and by decreasing deep sleep (a.k.a. stage 3 sleep, slow-wave sleep, delta wave sleep), which is the restorative part of the sleep cycle thought to be important for memory consolidation.
Managing stress is a key necessity for PGY1 residency. We’ve seen a few good trials on mindfulness meditation that show a benefit for stress reduction and for decreasing anxiety and depression. Regular practice also appears to help with maintaining focus and staying on task.
If you're not used to this, it will be hard to get out of your normal cycle. Trust us though, you'll thank yourself later.
5. Start studying early
With so many exams to prepare for, you’ve got a lot of studying to do. We’re here for you! MedStudy’s Personal Trainer will help you understand the timeline of prepping for board exams—and the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be.
Everyone has used the cramming method in the past. The problem is that it’s not enough, and it doesn’t last. That’s because cramming relies on short-term memory, which is limited, rather than long-term memory, which is virtually unlimited.
To be able to reliably call up the information you need, where and when you need it, embed knowledge into your brain by—you guessed it—starting to study early and using spaced-retrieval and interleaving.
Bonus Tip: Maintain a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a belief that learning and intelligence grow with experience, effort, and persistence. And that the amount of effort put into overcoming a challenge has a direct effect on success. Setbacks are simply learning nuggets and “failures” are big learning experiences—important stepping-stones on the path to success. This belief allows people to take on big challenges without fear of failure.
What is a PGY1 medical residency?
A PGY1 is a Postgraduate Year 1 (or Program Year 1) in a medical residency program. So, if you're going into your first year at a residency program, you're called a PGY1, intern, or first-year resident.
Transitioning from medical school to residency is a huge change! You're moving from more of an observer to a do-er! You're going to be able to take on more and gain more independence, (under the supervision of some higher-ups, of course).
What is the difference between PGY1 residency and PGY2?
Your PGY2 or Postgraduate Year 2 is when you move into your second year at your medical residency program. The only difference between a PGY1 and a PGY2 is how many years you are into your residency training.
You’ve got this! And if you feel like you’re struggling, reach out to us. Whether it’s an email, a phone call, an Instagram DM, carrier pigeon… we’ll answer, we promise. We’re here to help you be the most successful physician you can be.