For many pre-medical students, summer courses look like a great way to get ahead of the curve and fast-track through your introductory sciences, math or general educational requirements. For some medical students, summer coursework is an opportunity to shore up deficiencies or remediate coursework from the previous year before academic progress is granted. In both the case of the undergraduate and the medical student, there are characteristics of summer coursework that need to kept in mind.
Summer courses at any level go very fast. There simply are not enough weeks during the summer months to allow the same pace as regular-term coursework. Keeping this in mind, prepare to work faster and longer to master the same amount of material as a regular-term course. In the case of repeating a medical course -or remediation of previous course work-you are expected to be able to move through the material faster because this is the second time you will have covered this material. In the case of an undergraduate course, the summer student has to be dedicated and disciplined during a time when many of your friends are enjoying a much needed vacation.
My rules for mastery of coursework apply for summer coursework but let's call the rules "course mastery on steroids" because you have to devote more time and cover more material at each sitting. There is little time to allow the material to "digest" before you move onto another topic or lecture. To this end, your previewing and reviewing become more focused in addition, the student has to be more adept at moving through the material at a more rapid pace. If mastery of concepts comes slowly, summer school is not a very good idea.
In the case of the remediating medical student, this being the second time through gives you an added advantage in the sense that you already have good insight into what you need to master. Each time the material is presented, you will gain new insight. This doesn't mean that doing a summer medical school class is going to be wonderful and a "cake walk" but it does mean that you will likely know your remediated material in great depth for your board exams. This is not a bad trade-off for missing your vacation time and staying with the rest of your medical school class.
I never recommend that pre-medical students take pre-med coursework during a summer session. Summer courses move so rapidly that there often is not enough time for good integration and mastery of the concepts in sufficient depth for application on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Good summer courses are English courses, History courses, physical education coursework and math coursework. By taking these types of courses during the summer, a pre-medical student can get pre-medical course pre-recs out of the way or get degree requirements out of way allowing more time for concentration of major subjects.
Other great summer coursework for pre-medical students are "immersion" type courses such as marine biology (on a ship at sea), summer semester in Europe or South America, or summer research. Being able to devote your attention to one subject in total immersion can greatly enrich your college experience. Many undergraduate institutions offer immersion language coursework over a summer or opportunities to work with world-class researchers during a summer session.
Summer Course Study Strategies
As soon as you receive your course syllabus, reading/lecture schedule, sit down and plot your study schedule. You need to figure out how much time you will have to devote to study in order to cover the material. A good rule of thumb is two hours of study time for every hour of lecture time (same as for regular session). Since summer lecture are often longer (or take place five times a week instead of two or three), you have to block out your study time without exception.
Be sure that you have a strong and organized approach to mastery of your material. Having a buddy in the same class to study and work with becomes invaluable especially when you quiz each other and explain concepts to each other. It is also a good idea to meet with your instructor on a regular basis to be sure of your understanding of your coursework. Since summer courses go so fast, you do now want to "dig into a hole" that you are constantly attempting to pull out of. Chances are not good for pulling up, if you get into trouble on a test.
Because of the heavy concentration and course time commitment, working will be very difficult with summer courses. Unless you are taking a physical education course or a performance course with minimal prep time, working will be very hard. The effort that it will take to keep up with your course materials will generally rule out employment except for either a Saturday or Sunday on the weekend (but likely not both). If you need money, opt not to register for a summer course unless you have a job that permits long hours of down-time regularly. Even then, attempting to work and do a summer course will be very difficult.
If your family (or you) have an elaborate vacation planned, do not expect that you will be able to "miss a couple of days" of your summer course. You should have enough time for a weekend at the beach or to take a short trip but missing a day of summer work is equivalent to missing a week of regular session work. Again, opt not to take a summer course if you NEED your vacation time. Taking the time off is a better use of your summer instead of attempting to take a summer course and doing poorly because you had to go on vacation. If summer school is your plan, it IS your vacation.