Studying efficiently


Many vet students have enough brain power to get through undergraduate courses with less-than-robust study habits. That often changes in vet school. Learning more efficient study habits is very doable but often not considered by students.


  • Check out the CVM academic success resource page
  • Check out the UMN/grad students academic success resource page
  • Be open to new study methods. Try a new one and see how it works. Most anything beats rereading and highlighting.
  • Talk to a VetPac coach. They have been trained in more efficient study habits.
  • Follow the RISE principles
    • Retrieval practice –
      • Quiz yourself or work in a group and have study partners quiz you.
      • Pulling the information out of your brain mimics how you will be using it on tests and in real life and strengthens the correct pathways. Rereading is putting it into your brain and doesn’t help that much with pulling it back out.
    • Interleave learning
      • Avoid studying one topic for hours. Mix it up.
      • Practice applying your knowledge to problems, being very cognizant of how you are approaching the problem. Think back to math or physics problems. It is easy enough to solve most if you know what formula to use. The hard part is choosing the formula.
    • Space your studying
      • Cramming works for the test but doesn’t work for retention.
      • The brain remembers what it sees repeatedly, not what it sees infrequently. Give it repeated exposure and it creates stronger connections.
      • This works well with interleaving.
    • Explanatory questions
      • Ask yourself why this material  matters and how you will use it in your veterinary career
      • Connect it to what you already know or have experienced
      • Connections help your brain know where to file the new stuff and the more connections it can make, the more secure the new material is in your memory banks
  • Revamp your current practices
    • Know when, where, and under what conditions you study most effectively
      • Be aware of your peak hours of alertness – when do you study most effectively?
      • Do you need total quiet when studying? Prefer to have background noise? It varies?
    • Have a regular place to study – identify a study spot that is well lit and relatively free from distractions and have needed resources available to you.
      • You may also want to identify other areas that are conducive to certain types of studying (e.g., study groups, review for anatomy lab, resources available)
    • Avoid things that are “toxic” (e.g., television, phone, internet).
    • Avoid scheduling marathon study sessions – take breaks to reinforce information. Bring closure to information prior to your breaks. When you return from your breaks, summarize information covered prior your breaks and then continue with your studying. This will reinforce the information and recreate the mindset held before the break.
    • Study in blocks of time – 50 to 60 minutes before taking a break.
    • Vary what subjects you are studying – it helps with retention. See interleaving.
  • Minimize the need for study time:
    • Include a preview and review time prior to and following classes.
      • Reviewing as soon as possible following classes will help you to retain 80-90% of the information.
  • If you usually study alone, try a study group and see what you think.
  • It always help to study in the way you will use the material: this document shows the common small animal conditions that you will want to learn about for small animal practice!


Final Thoughts

“Make sure when studying you don’t get too stuck in all of the tiny details – remember to also learn the overall concept (this will be much more important down the road).

Don’t get too obsessed about each exam score. I used to wait impatiently for my undergrad grades but learned to just move on after I took the exam. If you had a bad exam (we all do), just shake it off and move to the next one.DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. When you have more than one exam in a week, you will often have to start studying earlier than you think.

Still allow yourself to have fun. Go out on a Saturday. Go see your family. Get dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. School doesn’t have to be your entire life. Get sleep. You’ll be able to function so much better and be overall happier if you make sure you get enough sleep every night.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2020

Study early but not too early. A few days before the test is generally plenty of time. In undergrad, you may have studied weeks before but you don’t have that kind of time or energy in vet school to do that. This was the hardest mental adjustment for me. Know it’s normal to not study that early anymore. And know you will always feel behind. A good friend told me my freshman year of the program, sometimes you feel like if you take a breath you will be behind. This is true. You will feel behind always and it will feel uncomfortable; this is normal and okay. Everyone else feels the same way (even the upper-classmen who look like they have their life together). 

You can only do what you can do with the time and energy you have that day. Remind yourself of this every night when you feel like you could have done more. We are pretty ambitious people and tend to make to do lists that are ambitious as well. Make to do lists that are reasonable and account for unexpected life things like being tired, catching up with friends that you didn’t originally plan to catch up with, pets or children in the home feeling ill. You will be less disappointed when looking back at your to do list at the end of the day. Also, forgive yourself often and easily. We tend to get upset when we can’t do all the things we think we should have been able to do. Sometimes (errr most of the time) doing all the things isn’t realistic and take a moment to remind yourself. 

Make your own notes. Summarize the main points, write out something you don’t understand (or draw them if visual).

Ask for help!! Early and as often as you need to. These concepts you learn first year will travel with you for the next four years of school and beyond. Asking your professors, peers, or tutors for help is encouraged and is okay! No one will think you are below anyone else for needing help. Someone else is usually struggling with the same topic and hoping someone else will ask the question. 

Be okay with trying new study techniques! Undergrad techniques worked for you for undergrad classes and you are comfortable with them. This is a new playing field however, and you may have to start over with learning how to study for vet school classes. – Your limiting factor will be time. Be efficient when studying. 

Don’t: Study all the things. You won’t remember it all and you will become overwhelmed quickly if you try. Go big, then, if time, go small. This isn’t undergrad where they ask you the tiny details. This is veterinary school where we need to know the practical things to do our job in a few short years. 

Don’t stay up all night studying. The next day will hurt more if you do. You won’t be able to think and you won’t be able to focus.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2020

“1. There is absolutely no value in pulling an all-nighter. You can’t learn effectively if you’re sleep deprived

2. You do have 20 minutes every day to do something not at all related to school (going outside, snuggling your pet, reading something for fun, cooking, cleaning, taking a shower, exercising, whatever)… and this also helps your brain process the information you’ve learned! It’s like magic! ( not really, it’s science, but you know).

3. Did I mention you should sleep?

4. Please eat some fruits and vegetables and drink water (not all of your fluid consumption should contain caffeine!)

5. If at all possible, read through the notes for the next day the night before, just so the lecture is not the first time you’ve heard what you’re learning about for that day. Bonus points if you have the time to right down questions ahead of time for things that aren’t clear so you can make sure you understand those after hearing the lecture (Full disclosure, by third year, I was only doing this for the really challenging classes, but it’s good practice) 

6. If you don’t know it by the night before, you’re not going to know it! Don’t go to bed super late and then get up super early thinking you’re going to significantly improve your knowledge (or exam score). It’s better to get good sleep! Seriously, you need to sleep!

7. There is no one way to study for all of the classes in school. Different classes require different skills. You need to work smarter not harder!”

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2020

Hide your smartphone while studying. I do feel that digital devices steal away a lot of our time. You won’t miss anything if you spend less time on Facebook.
Sign up for the study hours survey. You can track how much time you spent on a course. You can compare the time you spent for preparing the exam and the grade you got. Then next time you have a better idea of how much time you needed for the grade you want and plan it ahead of time. I usually just record the efficient time I have spent instead of the time I sat at the desk, so I would know how much time I actually wasted and I would feel bad about it and it would be a reminder for me.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019

“Find a study partner! This has been the most life changing aspect of my vet school career. If you can teach someone something, you know the material. Talking things out is not only effective, its quickerand I promise you, year 2 especially, there is seemingly no such thing as free time.”

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019

“Figure out what works for you, whatever that is, do it. There will be times you have to learn 100’s of pages in notes in just a few days. It’s amazing what you can do in a short period of time when under pressure (so don’t freak out, you’ll figure it out, it just may not be a super fun time). Here are some things that worked for me:

Putting my phone away when studying

Talking things out

Condensing down pages of information into one smaller chart

Setting time limits

Actually paying attention in class (rather than surfing facebook, youtube etc).”

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019

Study smarter not harder. If you hate a class, don’t kill yourself over it. Pick a class that is the same number of credits that you really enjoy. Focus on that, get an A in that class, and allow yourself to get a B in the one you don’t enjoy as much. Before you know it you’ll be getting A’s in both.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019

”I study when I’m feeling efficient. When I’m not productive, I work on other things.”

JABSOM Student, Class of 2007

“I have come to value the importance of studying with others from different tutorial groups because it fills in gaps...”

JABSOM Student, Class of 2007


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Well-being Handbook Copyright © 2019 by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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