Top Study Tips to Stay Ahead in Pharmacy School

Boost your study skills with these top pharmacy school study tips. Read about different learning styles, memory techniques, and effective study habits.

Pharmacy school gets busy fast. There’s a lot to learn, and while some of it requires memorization, sometimes it’s about comprehension. So how do you even begin to grasp it all?

One thing I wish I knew coming into pharmacy school is this: You will be asked to memorize things you do not yet understand. (Don’t worry, you’ll learn about them eventually, but sometimes the first step is memorization.) The biggest example of this is memorizing drugs before you understand what they actually are or how they work. You will probably be expected to memorize that atorvastatin is an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor, and you will not know what that means for a while. That’s okay, but it’s important to become familiar with the terminology sooner rather than later. Later, when you learn what HMG-CoA reductase is, you will remember atorvastatin and put that puzzle piece in place. So how do you effectively memorize large quantities of material?


Memorizing in pharmacy school

Nelson Dellis, five-time USA Memory Champion (yes, that’s a real competition), has a website full of strategies to help with memorization. When competing, Dellis has to work on memorizing large quantities of seemingly meaningless information in short periods of time. Sound familiar? Of course not, because you’ve never crammed for an exam last minute. I believe you. But in case you wanted to learn the totally useless skill of quick memorization, here’s my favorite strategy. Dellis recommends creating a “memory palace.” This technique involves much more detail than I’ll get into, but the basic idea is to create images to represent the things you are trying to memorize. This is actually a common trend in many of Dellis’s memory techniques. For example, if you need to remember what Ventolin does, imagine it sitting next to an air vent. This will remind you that Ventolin is an inhaler to help you breathe during an asthma attack.


Know your learning style

Maybe imagining pictures doesn’t help you, though. This is where it becomes important to understand what type of learner you are. Very basically, there are three types of learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. Now, if you do a little research you’ll find that there are actually several more learning styles, but it’s simplest to start with these three. Many visual learners are probably already familiar with the strategy of building mental pictures to memorize information, since visual learners often remember things best when they have been able to visualize the material (hence the name). This can range from seeing pictures on a board or in a textbook to just seeing the words printed on a page. Kinesthetic learners learn best when information can be applied to some sort of action or activity. A kinesthetic learner may benefit from rewriting their notes or doing in-class activities or labs. An auditory learner learns best from listening and speaking. Lectures may be the best way for an auditory learner to study (so no skipping class!) because the information is spoken out loud once or twice, giving them time to process it.


Pharmacy school study tips

Now that we have different learning styles out of the way, let’s go over some rapid-fire study tricks for pharmacy school. I’ll do my best to identify which learning style pairs well with each one. I will also try to identify what works best for memorization and comprehension individually.

Study Tip #1: Re-watch lecture videos

If your professor is nice enough to record and post the lecture material, this can be a gold mine when it comes to really understanding a complicated topic. This should not be used as a way to cram for an exam, though, because sifting through the material can take hours.

  • Learning Style: Auditory
  • Comprehension strategy

Study Tip #2: Use flashcards

Flashcards are a great way to learn heavily memorization-based content, vocabulary, or anything pairing images with words or categories. I don’t recommend flashcards for learning long or complicated processes.

  • Learning Style: Visual or Kinesthetic
  • Memorization Strategy

Study Tip #3: Read notes or texts out loud

This can be a great way to slow down and keep yourself focused on the material. When we read silently, it’s easy for our minds to wander. Reading out loud forces you to focus on every word. This can be great for understanding more complex processes.

  • Learning Style: Auditory
  • Comprehension strategy
  • Bonus: Record yourself reading important concepts and try paraphrasing the text. Listen to the recording again later.

Study Tip #4: Change up your study space

Sometimes memory is improved when you can recall the environment you were in when you were studying. If you do all of your studying at the desk in your room, there is nothing unique about your surroundings to help you recall specific information. It can be easier to remember studying the cranial nerves at the library because maybe that’s the only thing you studied at the library that week. 

  • Learning Style: Visual or Kinesthetic
  • Comprehension and Memorization strategy

Study Tip #5: Color-code

Color coding by subject or different topics within a subject can be very helpful. You can use different colored flashcards, pens, highlighters, or colored page tabs in a textbook. Sometimes the repetitive act of intentionally switching pens or highlighters can help kinesthetic learners too.

  • Learning Style: Visual or Kinesthetic
  • Comprehension and Memorization strategy

Study Tip #6: Use dry erase boards

Writing out information forces you to read, recall, rephrase, and write. This multistep process can help solidify information in your mind. You can write things out in bullet points, draw pictures, or create concept maps or graphs. 

  • Learning styles: Visual and Kinesthetic
  • Comprehension and Memorization strategy

Study Tip #7: Teach the topic to a friend

Explaining a concept to a friend reinforces your own understanding of the topic and makes you rephrase and talk through it. This can help you and your friend. Your friend may have questions that reveal gaps in your understanding, or they can help fill in those gaps. Collaborative learning is a great resource for success.

  • Learning Types: Auditory
  • Comprehension strategy

Study Tip #8: Rewrite notes

Rewriting your notes after a lecture can be a great way to see what you missed during lecture. Then you can retroactively fill in those gaps while the information is still fresh in your mind. If you know you are going to rewrite your notes, you can be more focused on the lecture and less focused on making organized notes because you can go back and fix them later. If you do this while listening to the lecture videos, it can help auditory learners as well.

  • Learning styles: Visual, Kinesthetic, and Auditory
  • Comprehension and Memorization strategy


Additional Study Tips

Phew, now that that’s done, there are a few more things to keep in mind as you try to tackle pharmacy studying. First, know your resources. Does your school have a tutoring center? Hint: it probably does. Use it! Typically the tutors they employ are students who just took the class you are taking and can help explain the material in ways that sometimes professors just can’t. Next, professors have office hours for a reason. Don’t skip class then show up at office hours expecting a full lecture, but if your professor covered something too quickly in class for you to grasp it, pay them a visit. They can afford to spend more time explaining a topic one-on-one during office hours than they can in lecture. 

Finally, take care of yourself. Pharmacy school is hard. Balancing extracurriculars is difficult. Being in college can be a big adjustment, especially for a freshman who hasn’t had this much free time before. You need to study, but you also need to take breaks. You need to eat, and you need to sleep. All of these pharmacy school study tips are great, but they don’t matter if you can’t take care of yourself. 

Pharmacy school can feel like a lot to handle, but don't worry, there are ways to thrive! If you figure out what works for you and use some clever studying methods, while also taking care of yourself, you can succeed. You got this!

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