How Many Hours a Day Do Medical Students Study?

So, you want to know how many hours a medical student studies? Well, get ready to be shocked! It’s probably a lot more than you think. At the end of the article, I’ll be giving little known tips and tricks on how you can study for longer, just like a top medical student. So make sure to read the whole post to not miss out!

Quick Answer

Medical students study anywhere between 8-11 hours a day during their exam period, with most students hovering around the 3-5 hour mark on a normal day. However, it depends on which year they are in (First Year vs. Final Year), how far away exams are and the individual’s motivation to study.

How Many Hours Do Medical Students Study Every Day?

One 2015 study found that during exam times, the medical students studied an average of 10.6 hours a day.

However, this is only in the lead up to their USMLE Step 1 exams which may not represent how they study on a normal day.  

Note also that the surveys that are used are self-assessed. Therefore, the medical students have to judge for themselves how much they studied, potentially leading to study times appearing longer than they actually were.

So take the 10.6 hours a day with a pinch of salt.

Below is a graph showing the results of the study.

Hours Spend Studying During Exam Period

Number of hours student spent studying for the USMLE (2015 Study)

As you can see, some medical students studied for less than 3 hours while others studied for over 16 hours.

This shows the huge variation that is present and why it is so difficult to answer the question “how many hours a medical student studies”.

Nonetheless, you can see that the majority of students fell in the 8-11 hours a day category.

This 2018 study found slightly different results.

It found that the majority of medical students studied for 3-5 hours a day, with the most successful students (those who got the best exam scores) studying 6-8 hours a day.

So why is there so much variation between the studies? And why do some medical students work so much more than others?

Well, there are many factors involved, some of which include:

  • Some cohorts of students work harder than others.
  • Individuals might prefer to study throughout the year rather than cram, skewing results to show fewer hours per day.
  • Some students may include their break time as study time.
  • Students may work together while studying which is less productive buy can seem as if high-yielding revision is taking place.

How Many Hours a Day Do I Study?

I am a medical student studying in London, and I don’t work particularly hard.

That may seem like a strange statement to make considering the number of hours other students appear to be studying, but I feel like it is true. Firstly, it must be said that UK exams are easier than US exams. There is no need to be working for 10+ hours a day during exam season.

That’s mainly because, in the UK, all you need to do is get 50% in your exams. If you can do this then you can easily pass your medical school exams and become a fully-fledged doctor.

And so, you may be wondering, how many hours a day do I really work? Well, let’s take my third year of medical school as an example.

On average, I probably studied about 1-1.5 hours a day. This was mainly just going through Anki flashcards, which helped me stay consistent throughout the year (see my post on what Anki is and how to use it).

Interestingly, I actually used to study more in the past when I wasn’t in medical school.

When I was in A-Levels, I used to study for 5+ hours a day.

So what happened?

Well, I used to get a lot of satisfaction out of doing well in exams, which would keep me motivated to study for so long. But when I started University, I realised that it’s a completely different ball game. 

The amount of content together with a complete change of environment resulted in my first year being a real struggle. I had no motivation to study and was having a hard time putting in the hours. Thankfully though, I was still able to scrape through the exams.

Now, I have picked myself up again.

And so because of the hard time I was having, along with the realisation that there is no need to work 5+ hours a day in medical school, resulted in me not focusing on my study material as much as I should have. However, I don’t regret it.

Not doing much university-related work resulted in me starting this website which I can truly say I am proud of. I was able to have a social life and continue to do things that I love like to play football.

I was consistent with the number of hours I put in, meaning I was still able to do the minimum that was required of me. You can see this represented in the graph below.

Hours Spent Studying Per Day

This graph shows an approximation on how many hours I study vs. what a crammer. For something like medicine, it is important to be more consistent as cramming all the time can cause significant mental distress during exam time.

Now let me indulge you further by going into the specifics of how I studied during the first few years of my medical school.

Lectures

I tended not to go to lectures as they would be mostly a waste of time.

I would just sit there and start daydreaming within 10 minutes.

There’s no need to feel guilty about not going to lectures. Some people just work better at home.

That being said, this 2018 study shows that the higher achievers go to more lectures.

Remember though, that correlation does not equal causation, and it could easily be that the hardest workers were more likely to go to lectures. They were more dedicated and committed to doing whatever it took to get a good grade.

In essence, going to more lectures may not cause increased grades, but rather there could be other factors at play. So, in the end, it is more important that you focus on what you feel will improve your grades the most, and if you feel lectures are a waste of time, then don’t go to them.

Exam Study Period

When exams came closer, I did pick up on the amount of work I did.

I did 70-90 minutes a day of Anki. 

On top of this, I did 60-90 minutes of questions per day and, as exams got even closer, this did go up even further. 

These times are how much time I sat with my bum on the chair doing work. It does not include any breaks whatsoever.

Remember that these numbers are an average.

Therefore, there would be days where I would be feeling fresh and motivated to study, while other days where I could barely get my Anki done. 

Interestingly, there was a pattern to my unproductive days.

I tend to have 3 days of productive work for every 1 day of unproductive work. This means I can’t do more than 3 days of work without needing a small break.

You shouldn’t get put down by having an unproductive day.

Realise that everyone has them and you need to recharge your batteries for you to be productive. I always have the mindset that if I was resting, then I was still doing work as I was helping myself recharge. 

Why You Shouldn’t Care

The reason I tell you all of these personal numbers is so that you can get an idea of the variation that an individual medical student experiences.

Everyone is different, yet everyone goes through the same struggles. 

Even when I was studying “a lot” (5+ hours a day), I would still feel insecure about not studying enough.

My friends would talk about how they were studying for 8+ hours a day. 

But then I realised that the number of hours is not important. I was more of a slow and steady sort of person. I started revising early and kept consistent throughout the year.

If you feel that you cannot compete with your friends that are studying so much more than you, just remember that everyone is in the same boat. 

They probably feel the same way towards their other friends. 

Everyone feels that they need to study more, or the need to try and study the “right” amount. 

What I have realised over the last 6+ years of exams is that you shouldn’t worry about what other people are doing. 

The fact that you are even reading about how much medical students study per day shows that you are still focused on the wrong thing. 

Think about what your goals are. 

Are they to do well in exams? To get into University?

If that is the case, it shouldn’t matter the number of hours you study per day. 

That should just be a bi-product of trying to achieve your goals. 

The most successful people don’t try to get to a certain number of hours, they try to achieve their goals. 

How Many Hours a Day Should You Study?

After that lecture on why you shouldn’t be focused on the number of hours you study, I am now going to tell you how many hours you should study.

The irony.

However, I do this mainly for the people who want a guide. Someone who wants to be told how hard they need to work. I know that feeling, and that is why I am including this section.

So what is the right amount to study?

One 2018 study showed that the best performing student studied for 6-8 hours a day.

Most students, however, studied between 3-5 hours a day.

Studies have shown that a longer amount of time spent studying correlates with higher exam results.

However, some studies are inconclusive. This 2015 study states that the number of hours spent studying per week had no predictive value for the USMLE exam. 

There is no right answer, but it seems that studying 6-8 hours might be the best bet to get amazing grades. That might seem daunting, but it can be done. Remember, you will only need to be working that hard for the weeks leading up to your exams, not throughout the whole year.

Definitely don’t feel obliged to study over 8 hours a day. Studying for that long didn’t improve exam grades suggesting burnout occurs at that point.

It is important to remember that what works for one student may not work for another, so make sure that you find the balance that works for you.

If you think studying 3 hours a day is enough, then don’t feel guilty. I study at a similar level and can run a whole online business on the side!

Understand that studying more doesn’t lead to success. If you are still in doubt about this, check out my blog on medical school dropout rates. I discuss famous dropouts, and the people listed may just surprise you.

Tips on How to Study for Longer

Here are some of the best tips out there to help you study more every day:

  • Don’t overestimate the time you have – If you think that your exams are ages away, you are not going to get any work done. You have to realise that your exams are sooner than you think. If you can do this, you can easily motivate yourself to do more work.
  • Consistency – If you work hard for one week and then do nothing for two weeks, the number of hours you work each day on average will be very low. Therefore, if you want your average hours per day to be high, make sure you stay consistent, even if that means stopping work and getting some sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Sleep – Make sure you get a good 7/8 hours of sleep every night. The key to getting a good nights sleep is waking up at the same time every day. If you sleep late one night because of a party, don’t sleep in the next day. Make sure you get up at the same time you usually do.
  • Coffee – Coffee is scientifically proven to improve your mental performance (check out my blog on scientifically proven study methods). By having 3-4 cups a week, you can ensure you don’t get addicted while still enjoy the benefit from coffee on the days you feel more tired.
  • Work in the morning – In my opinion, the best time to study is first thing in the morning. Your brain is fresh from sleep and can sustain a good quality of work for a longer time.
  • No distractions – Make sure you don’t have your phone nearby.
  • Keep healthy – Exercising and eating are keys to not only studying for longer but also for studying smarter (see below). It will keep your energy levels at a steady level throughout the day. Try not to have too many sugary foods as you can easily crash later in the day causing you to feel fatigued and lack the motivation to do work.
  • Don’t burnout – Get some fresh air and take short breaks from the computer screen.
  • Plan – Making sure you have a good plan means you don’t waste your time.
  • Quality, not quantity – It’s the quality of work that matters. Know how to study smart so that all of your efforts don’t go down the drain.

Tips on How to Study Smarter

Just because you can study for a long time doesn’t mean you should.

Try and be smart about the way you revise.

Here are some basic tips:

  • Know the basics well – Whether you are a medical student or not, you have to know the fundamentals of your topic. If you don’t know the basics you can’t learn the more complex stuff.
  • Use active recall and spaced repetition – See my full blog on the topic here.
  • Work on your weak points – If you just focus on your strengths you will not be able to be the best. Those who are good at taking exams know that it is not about mastering everything, it’s about being okay at all the topics. I know it can seem easy to work on your weak points but remember this: if you do what is hard, your life will be easy. If you do what is easy, your life will be hard.

Conclusion

In conclusion, medical students study a lot.

They can average about 3-10 hours a day when it’s peak exam season with a small percentage studying for over 15 hours a day!

They don’t just work like horse throughout the year. They take breaks when appropriate and ensure they don’t fall behind.

However, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many hours you work, it’s what you accomplish that matters.

References

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