The Impact of Study Strategies on Academic Performance for Medical Students at Wright State University

Markia Black, Wright State University


Studying plays an important role in the academic success of medical students. It is likely that ineffective study skills result in poor performances on required standardized exams. There is a concern for the lack of empirical data related to what study strategies are the most productive for medical students to practice. My goal is to 1) identify what study strategies students use in their pre-clinical years of medical school, 2) determine if these strategies impact students’ performance on Comprehensive Basic Science Exams and Step 1 exam, and 3) identify study methods that best support student achievement in the pre-clinical phase of medical school. I will be providing the Boonshoft School of Medicine with the first analysis of student’s performance relative to self-reported study habits since the reformation of the curriculum in 2017, using data from the graduating class of 2021. Furthermore, these results will contribute to biological education by identifying optimal study methods for academic achievement in the pre-clinical phase of medical school. In July of 2017, the incoming class of first year students (graduating class of 2021) at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine (120 students) were given a survey at the beginning of medical school (August of 2017) to evaluate their study habits. In this study, I examined the relationship between the self-reported study strategies and the students’ academic performances measured by their success on the following standardized exams: Comprehensive Basic Science Exam 1 (CBSE1), Comprehensive Basic Science Exam 2 (CBSE2) distributed by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), and the Step 1 Exam, distributed by United States Medical Licensure Examiners (USMLE). Results showed students preferred reviewing notes 27% of the time on average. Second to this, students preferred self-quizzing 14% of the time on average. Students also relied on explaining to self or others 12% of time on average and highlighting and creating concept maps were used 11% of time on average. Students that spent more time using contextualization practices defined by the use of concept mapping, self-quizzing, and explaining performed better on the Step 1 exam (p value < .05). Deep learning practices like contextualization require cognitive effort and do not focus on rote memorization techniques that require little cognitive work (Gettinger and Seibert 2002). Deep processing strategies anchor the information into the memory based on the cognitive challenges while surface strategies do not (Brown et al. 2014). Therefore, it was predictable to see no relationship between the surface processing practices and increased Step 1 scores. In addition to this, contextualization showed a positive trend in the CBSE gain. This relationship was not as strong as the correlation between use of contextualization and Step 1 scores. Results from an Exploratory Factor Analysis in my study suggest students use a collective of deep processing strategies with an emphasis on contextualization to achieve greater learning outcomes and increase scores on the USMLE Step 1 exam. Further investigations on study strategies and how they impact student success will aid in increasing academic achievement.