Preparing for Premed: When to Start?

When Should I Start Preparing?
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When I was finishing high school and aiming to enter medical school, I started preparing towards the end of January of my first year.

Now, at the time of writing this nearly 10 years down the line, having helped over 1000 students prepare for and navigate through pre-med, my perspective on things have certainly changed.

In my view, there are fundamentally three different types of students. And each student should start preparing at a different time.

Before we get into this, let me be clear that I believe that every single student should spend at least a little bit of time preparing in advance. It isn’t necessary to get into medical school, but it is almost always beneficial either in increasing the chances and playing it safe, or reducing stress throughout the year.

Student 1: The Academically Okay High Schooler

This type of student is achieving moderately well. They may not be top of the school or coming first in their subjects, but they are probably within the top 25% of academic achievement.

Students under this threshold of academic performance are usually not even eligible to enter pre-med, so this represents the student who needs to do the most amount of work to increase their studying efficiency.

Having coached countless students towards more effective studying, I can definitively say that most students who are achieving at this top quartile, have the capability to massively improve their studying efficiency.

💡 In fact, in our students that receive coaching, the majority of them will see a doubling in their efficiency.

The Problem

Unfortunately, pre-med is approximately four times more challenging than the final year of high school. There is often double the amount of information or more, and half the amount of time or less.

This means that the top quartile high school student has no option but to increase their study efficiency by a significant amount if they are to have a good chance of entering medical school. Remember that everyone in this “race” is a top achiever and only 10% of the students successfully enter medical school in their first year.

Therefore, the top priority for the students is to be in a position where they could easily get into the top 5% of academic achievers in their school. In other words, increase that study efficiency like crazy. There is no other option.

Again, after having coached countless students, I can say that this is not a process that is measured in hours or days, but rather weeks to months. Especially without assistance, it is highly unlikely that a student will be able to double their studying efficiency in just one or two months. In fact, if they were able to do this, they would probably not be achieving only in the top 25%.

We Advise…

For this type of student, it is recommended to start as early as possible. If going this journey alone, starting the study experimentation process from year 12 is ideal, and with coaching, starting in the early half of year 13 is also acceptable. If there are only a few months left before the beginning of the first year of university, preparation should start as soon as possible.

All students, regardless of their studying efficiency, should also aim to get 3 to 4 weeks ahead of lectures before the semester starts. This is especially important at the University of Auckland, because the first month is extremely unforgiving, and can potentially, single-handedly, determine the outcome of the entire year.

Students 2: The Top Achieving High Schooler

This type of student will be one of a handful of students sitting at the top of the year group. Though within each school they represent a reasonably small proportion, within the over 1500 top-achieving students within pre-med, this student type will make up around 10 to 15%.

For these students, the studying efficiency can definitely be improved further, but there is also a lot more leeway.

✋ To remove all ambiguity, the students stand to gain an enormous benefit from improving studying efficiency as well. If they were to start preparing like our first student type, all the way back in year 12 or early year 13, they would have an unbelievably smooth and stressfree pathway into medical school.

That last phrase is not one that many people are able to relate to, but it is certainly possible and many of our top students have had similar experiences.

But let’s assume, that there is not that much time left or that the student is exceptionally lazy.

We Advise…

In this case, preparation can begin around mid-January or the beginning of February at the latest. The time should be spent 70% on the learning material ahead to increase the safety margin of the first few weeks, while 30% of the time should be spent on optimising study strategies.

Again, even for those top achieving students, the first month is often dangerously unforgiving. Far more students underestimate this period of time, then prepare for it adequately.

⚡ For these students, something like our > Academy < is an ideal option, as it not only teaches the material in advance but increases studying efficiency as you progress through the course.

In reality, this preparation could be crammed into the final two or three weeks of the holidays. But the reason you don’t want to do this is that you also need to spend time preparing for the UCAT.

Student 3: The Mature Student

Whether a postgrad, super-grad or someone who just spent time after high school doing something else before arriving at the doorstep of medical school, the mature student has an entirely different set of strengths and weaknesses.

In general, the students have a higher efficiency of studying which vastly compensates for potentially not having studied the pre-med science material for a few years.

On the other hand, the students may also have various other commitments and responsibilities that interfere with their preparation schedule.

We Advise…

The mature student should prioritise a slightly longer preparation time, to fit around their schedule, with re-familiarisation of the course material beforehand to breach any knowledge deficits, while spending less focus than a high school leaver on optimising study efficiency. This obviously would not be the case if the student themselves identified that studying efficiency was a barrier for them.

Similar to the top achieving high school student, our Academy would be an ideal preparation solution in this case.

In Summary

Students will generally underestimate the optimal level of preparation. While it is entirely possible to enter medical school with much less preparation, it invariably still has effects on the level of stress and safety.

Far more students underestimate this period of time, then prepare for it adequately.

For students who are not in the top echelon of academic achievement, a heavy focus should be given to increasing study efficiency with much longer preparation time to accommodate for this.

For students who are already top scholars, the study efficiency should be tweaked and refined with more focus on simply getting ahead for the semester. These students can afford to prepare only one or two months before the semester.

Mature students have a variable preparation time requirement due to their schedules but should have reasonably even prioritisation on study efficiency and course material familiarisation. Some of our mature students have begun preparing up to 2 years in advance, while others will only come to us in the last few months.

⚡ If you’re thinking about preparing and want to know when and how to prepare the most efficiently, get in touch here. We’ll help you create your perfect pre-med strategy.

About the author
Justin Sung
Justin Sung
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand's individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.

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