Tools for Study Success in Dental School
The tools (oops, I meant instruments!) of dentistry are expensive and technical, but we’d be sunk without them. There are also game-changing tools and systems to help you study, manage your time, and thrive during dental school. These are a few of my favorite tools – please share yours in the comments!
Depending on the size of your undergraduate major, you might have occasionally had multiple classes with the same people. In dental school, we’re stuck together for better or for worse for four years. You may not be besties with all your classmates, but when it comes down to it, we might as well help each other through this painful process we call dental school.
Tool of Choice: Google Docs
You’ve got a test coming up? Put the study guide on a Google doc and work on it together as a class. Those who contribute most will do the best on the exam because they have to:
- Read the actual slides/notes/textbook and decide what’s relevant.
- Condense the most important info into an organized fashion.
The gunners in the class might think, "Why would I help everyone else? I'm busting my butt to beat everyone and get into a specialty program." It's a valid concern, but you don't need to worry. Not only will you learn the material better by teaching and sharing, you're helping lazy people stay lazy. Your classmates who don't want to specialize simply want to learn the material and pass with a respectable grade. They don't need to nail every exam with a 95%+. If they only use the Google doc you've helped create, they will pass but not excel. They'll be grateful for the help and that they didn't have to pour over the source material themselves!
For every exam during our science-heavy first year my class worked together on a Google doc study guide. It was a lifesaver for many of us and it brought us together as a class. If you’re having trouble getting your whole class on board, divide up the work among a small group and collaborate that way. Any way you do it, dental school is too hard to go it alone.
2. Recording Lectures
Ideally you come to class, pay attention, and take good notes the first time. But for those of us who occasionally miss class, can’t stay awake, or are just too distracted by Candy Crush, a recording is invaluable.
Tool of Choice: Pearnote ($40 for Mac – please comment if you have a PC equivalent)
Pearnote is software that allows you to upload a .ppt/.pdf file and record as you turn the slides and take notes. Later, you can go back to a specific slide to play what the teacher said during that slide. Instead of having to listen to the whole lecture you can listen to the relevant 30sec sound bite, saving you time and making the recording that much more useful.
One of our classmates named Tony diligently recorded all of the lectures and shared them with the rest of us, it was a lifesaver. If you have a classmate like that, treat him well!
3. File Sharing
I’m not talking about Napster, The Pirate Bay, or Usenet - I’m talking about easily sharing the above mentioned recordings and other large files with a group of classmates.
Tool of Choice: Dropbox (or Google Drive)
In Dropbox once you share a folder with a group of people, any file you place in that folder will automatically sync to all their computers. Very convenient and very powerful. However, they can also delete the file for everyone, so make sure you have a backup and that you don’t invite too many people.
4. Distraction and Procrastination
Sometimes it’s hard to get started – there is so much to study and that initial step is always the hardest one. Once you finally do start, distraction is almost inevitable with emails, Facebook updates, and texts pulling at your attention.
Tool of Choice: The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy designed to keep your focus high and your mind fresh. The process is simple. You budget your study time into short increments and periodic breaks. For every 25 minutes studying, you take a 5-minute break.
Each 25 minute time period is called a ‘Pomodoro,’ which means tomato in Italian. The creator of the technique used an old kitchen timer shaped like a tomato for his 25-minute focus sessions.
After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.
Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.
There are 2 main benefits of this technique:
- Instead of feeling like you have to study for three hours and then procrastinating for two of them, it’s mentally easier to start when you’re only committed to a short period of time. You can say to yourself, “I only have to study and focus for 25 minutes.” If you are feeling an extreme resistance to studying, use a smaller time period. Often, the momentum of actually starting carries you and the second pomodoro is easier to start.
- Attention studies have shown that while we can technically focus for 90 minutes straight, retention drops drastically after the first 20-30 minutes. Giving yourself a break to quickly check email/texts, get up, get a drink, or go to the bathroom refreshes your attention span. You’re able to maintain a high level of attention for multiple hours.
Almost every phone and computer has a built-in timer, so you don’t have to go buy an actual tomato timer. My preferred app version of The Pomodoro Technique is FocusTime for iPhone.
I was tempted to include two of my other favorite systems, ‘Getting Things Done’ and Anki, but I felt that the learning curve might outweigh the potential benefits and I want to hear from others what has worked for them!
Please share below what systems and tools help you study!