A quick tip to perform better at medical school.

Michael Phelps may be the best swimmer but he’s not the fastest off the blocks. Federer may be one of the best tennis players in the world, but he isn’t the lightest on his feet. Like sport, performing well academically isn’t about being perfect at everything.

I like comparing academics to high-performance training like sport, as the principles are similar. Every time you prepare for an exam, you’re creating a revision schedule, putting the reps in, fuelling your body and your mind, and fighting stress – all up until the moment you perform in the exam setting.

Theres a commonly cited advice on how high performance athletes perform at the level they do; fortunately the same advice can help you perform better at medical school…

🥜Article in a nutshell

  • Performing well at medical school is about becoming an allrounder
  • It isn’t healthy nor is it practical to hold yourself to too high a standard in every exam
  • This is because we all have our own strengths and weaknesses
  • Identify your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses to become an all-rounder and achieve higher at university.

In case you didn’t know, this blog is a part of my Study Hacks series – my top tips on HOW to study at medical school to study smarter and unlock your time.

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🤔Becoming an all-rounder

Despite consistently ranking top of the year, I wouldn’t continually rank first place in every exam. I had some that went great, some that went not so great – averaged out over the year is when I’d hit the top spot. The way I did this was by becoming an all-rounder.

To become an all-rounder, intentionally identify your strengths and weaknesses.

👌How to become an allrounder when studying medicine.

1. Know your assessment structure

First off, know your assessment structure. You’ll need to know the structure of your exams. Are the MCQs? single best answers? essay questions or something different? Each exam type requires a different skillset.

MCQs traditionally favour fact recall, single best answers require more skill in decision-making, whereas OSCEs/practical exams may require communication skills or manual dexterity. Being fantastic in one type of assessment, won’t make up for deficiencies in the others.

2. Which exams specifically count for rankings?

Of course, you also need to be fully aware of the type of material that is going to be tested so you can focus your revision plans onto what actually matters.

3. Go 80/20 principle on your content

What are the most important aspects of your studies that’ll make up the majority of the exam? – Haven’t heard of the rule of the vital few? I’ve written a blog on it here.

4. Identify your strengths

I’m all for working smarter not harder, so let’s make it easier for you. Here’s a list of common areas tested in medical school – rank yourself honestly.

How would you rate yourself out of 10 when it comes to

  • Clinical knowledge*
  • Memorising guidelines
  • Remembering anatomy
  • Communication skills
  • History taking
  • Practical skills e.g. cannulation, catheters, phlebotomy, etc.
  • Interpreting clinical data at speed
  • Presenting radiographs/CT scans/ECGs/CTGs
  • Presenting patients to others
  • Understanding pharmacology
  • Epidemiology and statistics
  • Teaching your peers
  • Organisation and time management
  • The quality of your revision notes
  • Self satisfaction with exam performance
  • Working under pressure

* You can stratify this by specialty/system e.g. cardiovascular vs respiratory vs gastrointestinal

5. Identify your weaknesses

Now you’ve identified your strengths, this is the easy part – anything that doesn’t score >8/10 are the weaknesses you can improve on.

6. Deliberately improve your weaknesses before your strengths

First off if it’s a relevant part of your upcoming exam, then give it the attention it deserves but be sure to only spend the minimum time needed – there’s no point in spending all your time on public health if you know it’ll only account for <1% of your overall paper.

7. Reassess regularly

This is a dynamic process.

You may have exaggerated your strengths and weaknesses. Your self-assessment scores will be biased by factors such as recent performance, how you felt on the day, the opportunities you had for preparation, etc.

I’d encourage you to come back to this self-reflection exercise with future exam transcripts, as it’ll give you objective evidence on how you’ve actually performed in the past.

Key Takeaways

  1. Being an all-rounder is the key to academic success
  2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses easier
  3. Amend your revision schedule to work on your weaknesses


Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is the first step to becoming an all-rounder. Once you know what areas you need to work on, you can create a revision schedule that will help you improve in those areas. Remember to reassess regularly and be introspective to ensure that you are always working on improving your academic performance.

I hope this helps 🙌

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