Academic e-Coach

Med students working on laptops

Adapting Your Study Strategies…

The transition to undergraduate medical education from other undergraduate, graduate, or professional programs isn’t always straightforward. Often, the learning strategies that worked for you in the past need to be adapted, or new strategies need to be developed and adopted, in order for you to thrive in this new academic environment.

This tool allows you to assess how you might adjust your current learning strategies and make the best use of resources that are available online, within the Faculty of Medicine, and within the broader University of Toronto community, to enhance your academic performance.

Please note:  The Faculty of Medicine does not officially endorse the apps and sites listed here, and  may not be held responsible for any technological problems that arise from their use. Please use at your own discretion.

Let's begin...

You’ve written a quiz or Master Exercise, and it didn’t go as well as you might have liked. 

Take a few minutes to try to identify what might have gone wrong, and then let’s determine what steps you can take to improve your performance in the future.

Choose the statement below that fits best with your current situation:​

1. I never got around to finishing the modules for this unit (but was hoping I’d do okay on the quiz, anyway)

1.1. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material.  I guess that I just felt like giving up before I even started.

  • PREP (Peer-facilitated Review Enrichment Program) provides 1st-year students with small supportive study groups facilitated by 2nd-year students
  •  OHPSA’s  Academic Coach is available to assess your current approaches to learning
  • You might find it helpful to skim the article Learning in medical school: transition issues, strategy use, and self-regulation (PDF)
  • OHPSA's Personal Counsellors are available to talk through any emotional challenges or frustrations you might be experiencing  
  • Familiarizing yourself with the overarching course objectives can sometimes help you sort out priorit

1.2. I know I should be systematic about how I approach learning, but I'm feeling stuck by not knowing which learning strategies to use.  I haven't really encountered online learning like this before.

  •  PREP (Peer-facilitated Review Enrichment Program) provides 1st-year students with small supportive study groups facilitated by 2nd-year students
  •  OHPSA’s  Academic Coach is available to assess your current approaches to learning
  • Working with a Learning Styles Inventory (PDF) can sometimes be a useful first step in figuring out how to approach new learning challenges. Other learning styles self-assessment tools include the VARK or a simplified version of the MBTI
  • Online Learning Strategies reviews effective approaches to learning in an online environment
  • To assess the effectivness of your current study strategies, you might want to check out What works, What doesn't (PDF)

1.3. I was so busy with co-curricular activities that I didn’t have time to study.  Maybe I’ve taken on too many things, but I know that getting involved in co-curricular activities is important for my own well-being, and I’ve heard that it’s essential, too, for CaRMS.

1.4. Right now, I have too many other things to deal with. I know that it’s not ideal, but my academic work is just going to have to be put on hold until I get other things sorted out.

1.5. I guess I’ve never been great at managing my time. It’s just never been an issue before.

1.6. I’ve always been a procrastinator, but somehow I’ve been able to get away with it.

1.7. I'm not finding the material that interesting. Maybe I don't belong here.

  • You might want to meet with one of OHPSA's Personal Counsellors to talk things over with someone
  • You might want to meet with OHPSA's Academic Coach in case you're just feeling overwhelmed by the workload or frustrated by your academic performance
  • You might want to consider participating in the Enriching Educational Experience (EEE) Program. Sometimes you need to remember why you were interested in medicine in the first place.
  • Speak with your peers, tutors, and teachers. It's often useful to see whether other people have had similar uncertainties.
  • Are your core values and attributes aligned with those best suited to medicine? Note: students will need to register and sign in to the AAMC website
  • OHPSA's Career Counsellors can discuss opportunities and alternatives with you

2. I made it through all, or most of, the online modules, but I didn’t really understand the content

 2.1. I'm confused about where to go for help with course content.

  • Although PREP Leaders don't tutor 1st-year students in course content, they often have useful suggestions about how best to approach challenging material & can usually direct you to additional resources
  • Your peers are often more than happy to explain course content. You all arrive here with different academic strengths: If you can benefit from someone else's knowledge now, you can be pretty certain that they can benefit from yours in the future
  • Your Course Directors (Foundations) are here to help you
  • You might want to consult one of the dedicated research liaison librarians or make use of the suggested supplementary resources for Year 1 
  • U of T MD students have created a MMMD resource drive (although this is no longer a course in the MD Program, you might find some of the resources useful) with summary notes, practice questions, etc. Although this was intended for students in the MMMD course, it is a rich repository of material that you might find helpful
  • Check out the new AACE-IT (Achieving Academic & Clinical Excellence in Training) Program (by referral only).  Watch for more information on your class Portal.

3. I pretty much understood the content, but I had trouble figuring out what was important, what I actually needed to know

3.1. I've always figured out what I should be studying by looking at old tests and exams. I'm not sure what to do when those aren't available.

  • If you're a 1st-year student, don't forget to review the weekly learning objectives that are available in your weekly syllabus on Portal. (Referring to the learning objectives will be a good place to start for any of the courses in the Foundations Curriculum, as well.)
  • If you're in the Foundations Curriculum, weekly feedback quizzes should provide you with a good indication of your mastery of a given week's concepts & content. Take time to review the results of mastery exercises, which will be release 1-2 days after you write the exercise. Although you won't be given the correct answers to all questions, you will be given an appraisal of your own mastery of the material, as indicated by your results. You might want to discuss your results, and strategize for how best to prepare in future, with OHPSA's Academic Coach.
  • Often, knowing what's important is something that happens with time & reflection. Treat all evaluations as formative: Take time to think about a weekly feedback quiz or mastery exercise that you just wrote:  Were you responsible primarily for recalling detailed information? For understanding the big picture? For applying information or concepts to new situations? Familiarizing yourself with Bloom's Taxonomy can sometimes help you understand these distinctions and help focus your studying accordingly.

4. I understood the material, but there was just too much detail to memorize

4.1. I've never had to deal with this amount of memorization before

  • Your PREP Leaders might have insight into strategic learning: identifying when you need to engage in 'deep' learning and when rote learning, or memorization, is more appropriate. They might have some tips on memorization, as well. (See 'Learning in medical school' for an intelligent, research-based analysis of the role strategic learning plays in successfully navigating med school.)
  • Knowing a bit of Greek or Latin can help enormously. See, for instance, the 'List of medical roots, suffixes and prefixes'
  • You might want to check out 'Memory in Med School'
  • OHPSA's Academic Coach can help you devise strategies for effective memorization
  • Sometimes personal issues interfere with memory; if you suspect that this is the case, you might want to meet with one of OHPSA's Personal Counsello
  • Students with ongoing memory issue might wish to consult Accessibility Services (St. George or MAM) to see if diagnostic testing might be worth pursuing
  • Remembering Medical Terms' and Memory Strategies offer  some useful strategies

5. I don't have a clue what I did wrong. I just want to talk to someone.

5.1. I don't have time to waste trying to figure out by myself what I'm doing wrong. I just want to talk to a living, breathing human being!

  • Program Directors (Foundations) are a good place to start if you're confused about course content
  • OHPSA's Academic Coach can help figure out the best way to approach learning challenges
  • OHPSA's Personal Counsellors can help you if you're feeling that you just can't cope
  • For 1st-year students, PREP can connect you with 2nd-year students, who usually are willing to talk with you about the challenges involved in transitioning to this new learning environment

 5.2. I'm in my first year of the Foundations Curriculum,  and I'm confused about where to go for constructive feedback if I didn't do well on a mastery exercise. I really don't have a clue what I did wrong.

  • If you're a first-year student, you'll be receiving feedback on your performance and given the opportunity to  talk with someone. The feedback will break down your performance on different types of questions and with respect to different learning objectives.  That will give you some information about areas where you might be weaker or have some gaps in your knowledge, allowing you to review concepts specifically related to those objectives.  Remember, too, that you're assessed in courses on your overall performance across all mastery exercises (for example, five in ITM, eight in CPC1) so a disappointing result on an isolated exercise should be looked on as a learning experience and help you prepare more strategically for the next one.
  • Your Course Director ( Dr. Anne McLeod for ITM or Dr. Robert Goldberg for CPC1 or Dr. Ashna Bowry for CPC2) would be happy to meet with you, as well,  to discuss the exercise, after you receive the feedback report.  Alternately, if the report highlights a particular learning objective that caused you difficulty, you could contact the relevant Week Leads for assistance.  The Director of Foundations will also be following up with students who didn't do as well as expected on this exercise, to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
  • OHPSA's Academic Coach can talk over your approach to studying and your test-taking strategies


If you have feedback, or ideas on how to improve this resource, please contact Nellie Perret.