25 April 2007

Keeping up with your undergraduate coursework

If you have "taken the plunge" and decided that you want to pursue medical school, no doubt, you are taking or have taken some science courses. Most pre-medical students will start with General Biology or General Chemistry as General Chemistry is a prerequisite for Organic Chemistry. General Biology is one of the ultimate "survey" courses. A good General Biology course should contain a thorough introduction to the upper-division courses in the major while providing enough depth to cover the subject matter on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). The bottom line is that General Biology can introduce hundreds of terms and concepts that are the basis for your major (if you decide on Biology).

Your General Biology course should have a very strong laboratory component. These labs should be designed to demonstrate and emphasize the terms and concepts that you studied in the lecture portion of your course. In general, these labs should occupy about 3 hours one time per week in order for you to make the most of your experiences here. My General Biology course was my only study of botany and I totally enjoyed the afternoon field trips that we were able to take. One of our instructors walked us around campus and explained just about every tree, shrub and flower in the springtime. It was a wonderful experience.

My method of mastering General Biology lecture was to scan the syllabus and figure out how much reading I needed to accomplish before each lecture. I would make a list of terms that needed to be remembered and put this list next to my notes. I would also take notes on one half of a notebook sheet leaving the other half of the paper for summary or notes from my text. By the time I had finished my text reading before a lecture, I would have a sheet of paper with a list of topics and terms that I would listen for during the lecture.

As I said before, I would take notes on the right half of a piece of 8 X 10 inch narrow-ruled looseleaf notebook paper. The left half would be for summary so that I could cover the right half and quiz myself on the concepts. I might also jot down a note or two from the text if there was something that was particularly helpful to the understanding of the lecture.

I would study my lecture as soon as I could. Usually this would be the afternoon after morning lecture. I would study a week's worth of lecture material every weekend paying close attention to how one lecture was related to the next lecture. In terms of the laboratory, I never went to lab unprepared. I would preview the lab; have a list of the procedures that we would be doing and then look at the questions that needed to be answered for the write-up. Since every lab required a written report, I was able to do half of my report before I actually performed the lab experiments or dissection.

I tackled General Chemistry in much the same manner as General Biology except for solving problems. I always made sure that I completely understood the concept that each problem involved. I kept a running list of formulas that needed to be mastered or memorized. When I had a spare moment, I could pull out my index card of formulas and do some memorization. Again, I would keep at least one lecture ahead of the rest of my class.

An ability to use algebra as a tool is essential for General Chemistry. If your math is weak, definitely shore up your deficiencies before you tackle General Chemistry. There are several short books around with titles like "Math for General Science" or "Math For General Chemistry". Check out these books and do some math practice if your skills are rusty. If you were required to take College Algebra, make sure that you complete it before you take General Chemistry. You can substitute some General educational requirements and take your Chemistry after you have completed your College Algebra course. General Chemistry can be quite "unforgiving" if you math is rusty or not up to level. The same is true of General Physics.

Your grades in your premedical courses are vitally important for entrance into medical school. Make sure that you thoroughly master this coursework (for the MCAT) and that you keep the highest GPA possible. Doing GPA "damage-control" is very difficult. If you get off to a slow start, figure out your problems and get your grades up as soon as possible. One low grade will not "tank" your application but repeated courses with multiple "Cs" will.

Keep up! Shore up! and Stay Up!

1 comment:

Jacqueline said...

Thank you for the tips, it's just what i needed! This summer I will be taking Gen Chem & Precalc.
Gen chem is a prereq for Gen Bio at my school so I will take that in the fall.

When do you hear about your fellowship?

Best, J