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Learning how to Learn: Differences between Undergrad and Optometry School

Before I started optometry school, someone told me the material wouldn’t be harder than undergrad, there would just be a whole lot more of it: it’d be a fire hydrant of information that you would constantly have to absorb. That is definitely true, but there are still significant differences between optometry school and undergrad that drastically change the way you have to study. For all you prospective optometry students, here’s what you can expect from an institution like NECO in terms of academics.

computer, pizza, phone and paper Necessary items for studying success!

You will take a lot more hours of classes. In undergrad, you probably took 15-18 credit hours of courses, probably 6 of those were labs, and probably 3 of those was for an easier class. In optometry school, get ready for 20 credit hours your first semester, with labs in almost all your big classes. That translates to two two-hour lectures a day with at least three two-hour labs a week, plus shorter irregular classes like Clinical Reasoning and Vision Health Care. Your longer lecture classes are Principles and Practices of Optometry, Anatomy and Physiology, Visual Sensation and Perception, Cell Biology and History, and Optics. These classes are all weighted differently, so you have to prioritize your studying. What the optometry students told me is true: none of the information is impossibly difficult, there’s just a lot to learn in a short period of time.

You’re going to have to hold yourself accountable. In undergrad, most instructors made you come to class by grading for attendance or giving periodic quizzes. That is not exactly the case at NECO. You still need to go to class, but there is rarely mandatory attendance. All quizzes are listed on the syllabus and all lectures are posted online for students to review in case you miss a class. However, missing one day of lecture means you’re missing 2 hours of important information, and there is no substitute for being in class and listening to your professor.

You’re going to change the way you take notes. With all this information coming at you, you will probably find it difficult to take notes the way you did in undergrad. Many students use software like Microsoft OneNote or PowerPoint, or use notebook computers they can write on with styli. If you miss anything in class, you can review the lectures online or review Note Taker notes, notes taken by a Note Taker in each class and uploaded for their classmates to study. As a student, you’ll have access to all the Note Taker notes for the last several years.  You also can’t rely on a textbook. Most of our classes so far haven’t even required that we buy a textbook. All the material is presented during class, so you don’t have to do a lot of extra reading, although all the textbooks are available on reserve from the school library.

You can’t cram for exams. Before we began classes, countless OD2s and OD3s warned us not to fall behind. Cramming doesn’t work in optometry school. You have to dedicate time every day to reviewing the lectures and studying. In the first couple weeks of school it’s important to develop good study strategies. Some of my classmates have shared with me the ways they like to study. Some people just read over their notes, but the most efficient ways to study involve integrating a lot of resources. Some students like to rewrite their notes or repeat the info aloud to memorize it; some like to use white boards to create flow charts and diagrams with all the information. Online tools like Quizlet, Ackland videos, and Peerwise are also popular among students. Some classes are best studied for by talking out concepts aloud in groups; others are best learned hands-on in lab. The school and our professors offer us so many resources to help us learn the information.

It’s true—optometry school is not easy. We first years have learned that we basically have to live at school and study every day. You have to be productive and self-driven, but you’re not in it alone. Your classmates will support you and you’ll build lasting friendships. You’ll learn to manage your time to take advantage of all Boston has to offer. And it’s all worth it with the final goal in mind: becoming an OD. 

Sarah
Sarah is a second year student from Auburn, Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University in 2016 with degrees in Psychology and Spanish. She chose to pursue optometry after shadowing at a practice in Auburn and volunteering at a free eye clinic. During her free time, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and cooking.