How I adapted my study habits for optometry school success

How I adapted my study habits for optometry school success

It’s hard to believe that I am already a second-year student, one semester away from officially being a third year – time really flies!

Truthfully, when I started optometry school, I thought I had it all down in terms of studying effectively but really, I had to self-evaluate my habits and make many changes. Here, I’m sharing my personal experiences so that you can learn from my experiences and adopt some ideas for your own study routine that fit you best.

The key to success in optometry school is time management.

It’s not about intelligence, “hard work,” or even passion as some might say. In my experience, if you don’t manage your time, regardless of how smart, hard-working, or enthusiastic you are, studying becomes a greater challenge.

So how does one effectively manage their time? These are practices I learned along the way.

Use a calendar in a new way.

I start by putting all my classes, labs, and other obligations into a Google calendar. This is a simple way for me to truly evaluate how much time I have to study.

Learn how to set realistic goals.

For example, if you have allocated 5 hours of your day to studying, be true to yourself in what you can accomplish in those hours and give yourself more time than you need. For example, if you think it is going to take 2 hours to review a lecture, allocate 2.5 hours. Start by making a schedule for 1 day and see how you follow it. It’s okay if you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to, but you can use this method as a way to gauge and adjust how much time you need per subject.

Give yourself a reward or benefit after studying hard.

Use human psychology to your advantage! We often study harder or with greater enthusiasm when there is an incentive or reward. After studying for 8 hours, I would treat myself by watching my favorite show. Try studying for an hour, then giving yourself a 15-minute break to relax. Overworking just causes unnecessary stress. We have more time than we think, if we learn to use it better.

Figure out how you learn best.

Is it self-study or in a group? I personally started optometry school by group studying and quickly learned that it was not for me, and that’s okay. As long as you are honest with yourself, you can accomplish anything. One person’s technique is not better than someone else’s. Almost all of our lectures are recorded and there are many students benefit from watching the lectures again. As I mentioned earlier, take time to experiment with what works for you and don’t ever feel bad if it is different from someone else’s way of learning.

How does one effectively study?

The biggest difference between graduate school and college is the workload. In college, I found it easy to catch up on lectures if I was behind or didn’t feel like reviewing that day. However, this is not the case in optometry school. Before each class, I take a few minutes to preview the lecture that will be presented that day. I take a few minutes to go through the PowerPoint and while I don’t understand everything completely, I try to understand the material at its most basic level prior to live lecture.

Review what you learned in lecture that day.

This is the best thing I learned over time and has been the most effective method for me! When I review what I learned that day and not putting it off, I found that I could remember the material better and truly learned the information. Take the time to review after lecture.

Test your understanding by asking yourself questions.

Active learning is a very useful tool. I find that when I passively read something, it never sticks. Relate what you’re learning to a real-life example and talk it out aloud. I like to go over the lecture and pretend that I am the professor! I work to explain the concepts without directly looking at the slide. This is a fun way to make studying more interesting as well.

Review constantly.

What I also learned the hard way is that I need to constantly review. Even when I reviewed something right after a lecture and believed that I understood it well, I have to consistently go back and review the material. Before starting a new lecture, go back for a few minutes and review what you already learned! Do not cram.

Apps can help.

Finally, I want to share with you some apps that I have really benefited from! I started by taking notes on my laptop but I wish that I started with an iPad because it would have saved me so much time. I really like using an iPad to take my notes because I can use the apple pencil to write or use my keyboard to type when I need to.

My favorite app that I currently use to upload my lectures and take notes in class is Goodnotes. There are many other great apps for students so I highly recommend doing your research and finding what suits you best. I used to spend hours perfecting my notes and this was a complete waste of time. At NECO, we are fortunate to have a resource where we can access notes from previous years. This is a life saver! I love to take the notes I can in class and at times when I don’t understand something, I review old notetaker notes!

People at NECO are there for you.

Lastly, understand that there are people at NECO who truly care about you and are willing to listen. We all go through tough times in life and need someone to talk to. Optometry school is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Give yourself credit and appreciate how far you’ve come!

Recently, the staff from the Center for Academic and Professional Achievement (CAPA) presented on various ways we can improve our academic and clinical skills. They are a great resource and are there to help. One app they suggested to use is called “Forest.” This app helps with concentration and focus where you can set it so that you don’t use your phone for an hour for example, and if you accomplish your goal, it will plant a real tree around the world! I recently started using this app and I love it!

We won’t be in optometry school forever and we all can learn how to make the best of these years with new studying techniques. Enjoy the beautiful journey!