Should I Study Before Starting Med School?

Before starting their first med school classes, many incoming students are faced with a question:

“Should I start studying now before I start med school?”

The two most common answers you will hear people give are:

1. “No, go travel, relax, do something fun because once you get here, you won’ t have time to do all that.”

2. “Yes, given the number people that fail the first semester, it is better for you to be mentally and academically prepared than not.”

While I think both answers have their valid points, I think the best answer is to go the middle way and learn to do a little bit of both. While there are people who do fail, they usually do so NOT because the material is hard but because they feel it is difficult to keep up with the pace. If you do decide to study before starting medical school, I say instead of studying for the sake of learning, study for the sake of getting used to balancing study with leisure. In that way, you’ll be prepared to do both by the time you come to the island so you won’t have to resort to Answer #1, where you study all day and not relax because you’re not able to handle the “time to do all that.”

While most people who fail may fail because of time management, some people do fail because they feel the material is difficult. I once had to explain to a fellow classmate what exactly the purpose and basic mechanisms of glycolysis, TCA cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation is. I was quite shocked that he was not familiar with these really basic concepts, especially since it has been drilled in our heads over and over with every basic biology course we’ve ever taken in high school, college, and MCAT prep. As an undergrad, he simply crammed these concepts to get by passing his tests then forgot them afterwards. Unfortunately, although not too surprisingly, he did not pass the course and subsequently decided to reconsider another career.

While you do not need to start memorizing the pathways to all the metabolic diseases just yet, it is good to review to see if you understand the major concepts in cell biology, biochemistry and genetics, and see the big picture. That way once you do start learning the details in med school, you won’t get so bogged down by the details that you lose sight of the big picture. An extra semester will cost you another $14,500 not including living expenses. You don’t want to fail a course that would set you back a semester. If you find yourself in a similar situation as my friend, please make sure you know your basic materials well and save yourself from the risk of losing money, precious time, and making your med school education harder than it should be.

So in conclusion, I think it is most important to start getting into the habit of time management, of balancing leisure with academics. All leisure without studying before starting med school will make you lose focus, and all studying without leisure will burn you out. The greatest value of studying beforehand is not the material itself but the practice of getting into the pace of balancing leisure with academics.

Here I’d like to share with you the topics that we covered in the lectures during first semester, in case any incoming first semester wants to get a head start and do some prepping. All the topics that I’ve listed were covered in order during my first semester. Each topic was covered between 1 or several lectures.


Block 1:

  • Back
  • Brain/Spinal Cord/Meninges
  • Somatic/Autonomic Innervation
  • Deltoscapular Region
  • Axillary Region
  • Breast
  • Brachial Plexus
  • Arms/Forearms
  • Wrist/Hand/Fingers

Block 2:

  • Face/Skull
  • Cranial Cavity/Cranial Ganglia
  • Triangles of Neck
  • Cervical Viscera
  • Temporal Infratemporal Fossa
  • Nasal/Oral Cavities
  • Orbit
  • Pharynx/Retropharyngeal Region
  • Ear
  • Larynx

Block 3:

  • Thorax
  • Pleura/Lungs/Pericardium
  • Tracheobronchial Tree
  • Heart Anatomy
  • Heart Vessels
  • Heart Innervation
  • Mediastinum/Great Vessels
  • Esophagus/Diaphragm
  • Anterior Abdominal Wall
  • Gastrointestinal Tract
  • Liver/Pancreas/Bilary System
  • Kidneys/Adrenal glands

Block 4:

  • Inguinal Canal
  • Male Female Pelvis
  • Pelvic Vasculature
  • Perineum/Ischioanal Fossa
  • Female/Male Urogenital System
  • Male/Female External Genitalia
  • And then we did a week-and-a-half’s worth of Embryology, which is basically all of Langman’s Embryology textbook, which I highly recommend.
  • Gluteal Region/Hip/Lumbar Plexus
  • Thigh
  • Leg
  • Foot
  • Joints

Molecular Cell Biology (MCB):

Block 1:

  • Amino Acids
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Genes and Chromosomes
  • DNA metabolism
  • some Genetics.

Block 2:

  • Transcription
  • Translation
  • Gene Regulation
  • Recombinant DNA Techniques.

Block 3:

  • Cell Membrane
  • Mitochondrial
  • Mitochondrial Genetics
  • Nucleus
  • rER, Golgi
  • Exocytosis
  • Endocytosis
  • Lysosomes
  • Peroxisomes
  • Signal Transduction
  • Microtubules
  • Intermediate Filaments
  • Actin
  • Muscle
  • Extracellular Matrix
  • Cell-Matrix interactions
  • Cell-Cell interactions
  • Collagen

Block 4:

  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques for Genetics
  • Dynamic Mutation Disorders
  • Metabolic Diseases
  • X/Y Chromosomes
  • Epigenetics
  • Linkage
  • Population Genetics
  • Multifactorial Disorders
  • non-parametric linkage analysis
  • Genetic Counseling


Block 1:

  • Histology of the Cell
  • Epithelial Tissue
  • Glands
  • Connective Tissue
  • Cartilage
  • Bone
  • Muscle
  • Nerve
  • Blood
  • Bone Marrow

Block 2:

  • Integument
  • Mammary
  • Eye and Retina
  • Ear
  • Respiratory
  • Cardiovascular
  • Lymphatics

Block 3:

  • Pituitary
  • Endocrine
  • Liver
  • Accessory Glands
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Urinary
  • Female Reproductive
  • Male Reproductive

7 comments to Should I Study Before Starting Med School?

  • Edna Gouveia

    Hi Benji,

    Thanks so much for this post. I have a question that is somewhat related to this subject: Would you say that a prospective medical student has any way of preparing for Step 1. Is that necessary? Or is it too early in the game? Thanks again!

    • Benji

      Hi Edna,
      I’d say it is still too early. There is an incredible amount of information that must be crammed into the brain before one is ready for Step I, and that is what Basic Sciences is for. Personally, I would summarize the biological, genetic, or biochemical knowledge you have accumulated during your pre-med years and make sure you understand it before starting med school, because med school is taught assuming you have a good grasp of this knowledge. Good luck!

  • Ahmed

    Hi Benji,

    Thank you so much for all your hard work on this site and all of this information. Everything looks great and is definitely helpful. I’ve just been accepted for this coming January and since I am a non traditional applicant I have not had as much exposure to science classes as I would like. I did take all of the basic requirements (a year of bio, gen chem, orgo, and physics all with their labs) but thats it. I haven’t taken bio chem, physio, genetics or any other 3 or 400 level science class. So my concern is whether or not I’m prepared enough and if this will put me at a disadvantage or make my first few excessively difficult ? would you recommend that I defer till May to take a few of these classes or do you think its completely plausible for me to come in, work hard and do well with out them ? Any of your insight or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much and I’ll look forward to hearing from you.


    • Benji

      Hi Ahmed,

      First of all, congratulations on your acceptance to AUC. While having a basic knowledge of cell bio, genetics, and biochem certainly helps with med school, it is not absolutely necessary. I personally know students who have only taken the basic prerequisites and have done well in med school. Just make sure you are on top of your studies and you’ll be fine.

      For first semester, you’ll be covering topics in Anatomy, Embryology, Histology, Cell bio, and Genetics. I would not recommend deferring until May. Since you have a few months before starting med school in January, I’d recommend looking in a Genetics or a Cell Bio book to get familiar with the general over-arching principles I’ve listed above… it’s not necessary to go into details for now, since that’s what med school is for, but it may be good to buildup a basic framework so things at least sound a little familiar by the time you cover it in med school. You definitely have enough time.

      Good luck Ahmed!


  • Rahc

    I know you’ve stated elsewhere that the textbooks are provided electronically by the university. Could you post the title of the textbooks used in each of the four courses you have listed above?


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