blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: Study Tips for Moms and other Non-Trads

October 7, 2014

Study Tips for Moms and other Non-Trads

Most of the study tips I post I write based on strategies I used as a pre-med in college and throughout my first three years in medical school. A time when, although you feel like you never have enough time to get it all done, you really sort of do. Then came Liv (my daughter), aaaaand my Step 2 CK exam that was conveniently scheduled for the month after she was born, and my study habits had to be completely re-invented. I'm hoping this post will help other student moms and non-traditional students, whether you're working full-time and going to school, taking care of ill parents, or really any commitment that tugs at a large majority of that oh-so-precious study time.

Get over the idea that you need big chunks of time to study. I used to love having a nice uninterrupted two hour chunk of time to do some studying. Although now and then I can find time like that, more often than not things can only get done in 15 minute chunks here and there. Don't brush off these small chunks of time as being too short for accomplishing anything - especially with memorizing, these are perfect little chunks for memorizing a couple of facts, and these little study bursts really do add up throughout the day. If you have the luxury of sitting at your laptop for this studying I love using the Self Control app to eliminate any distractions that might eat up that study time.

Be ready to study anytime. It's hard to study during a quick 20 minute break or ride on the train if you don't have your study materials with you. But if you're already carrying a diaper bag or your work bag (or a baby you just got to sleep and are terrified to put down for fear of waking her back up) not many of us are lugging around all of our textbooks and notebooks, too. My iPhone was my savior during times like these (which during Liv's first month of life was pretty much all the time). Here are a few apps that helped make my phone a great study tool.

  • Using the TurboScan app I can take pictures of chapters I need to review or figures I want to study from books I have (or even those in the library). It takes seconds to do! You can save these as PDFs you name yourself (like Renal Review or Coagulation Cascade diagram). 
  • Using the Kindle Reading App I organize all of my PDFs and can easily read and review them from my phone. There are also many books available in Kindle format so if you'd rather just buy textbooks in that format, you'll be able to read them from your phone too!
  • Download the app specific to whatever Qbank software you use if that's part of your studying. For Step 2 (and Step 1) I used the USMLE World Qbank app. You can easily do practice questions and review answers on your phone this way! This was a majority of how I studied for Step 2. 
*UPDATE* Another super useful tool I forgot to mention is audio lectures! For Step 1, I listened to Goljan's audio lectures (google them or ask classmates for a copy of the file) on my phone during downtime (commuting time or at the gym, etc.) - using audio lectures would be great during a stroller walk! Those of you studying for the MCAT will definitely appreciate the Examkrackers MCAT Audio Osmosis lectures. If your school's  lectures are recorded you can also review them this way if you find that helpful.

Study when they're asleep. I am naturally a morning person, and my focus is still best in the morning. But Liv is also a morning person, so she's wide awake and getting anything school or work related done during this time just doesn't work as well anymore. I've shifted to becoming a bit more of a night owl, getting work done while Liv is asleep and alleviating a lot of the guilt I sometimes feel when I try working during time I should be spending with Liv. When I was still doing experiments in lab I did the same thing. Most days I'd try to be out by 5 to pick her up and spend the evening with her, then head back into lab around 7:30 or 8 when I got her down for bed. This really helped me feel more productive and like I was still spending quality time with Liv.

Use two windows on your computer. Sometimes you're just going to have to get work done during time you should be spending with your little one. Times like these I like to open two windows on my laptop - one with YouTube for Liv and the other with whatever I'm working on. Right now Liv really likes this video - it's all nursery songs that we can sing along to with her sitting on my lap or standing next to me while I work on the floor. 

I hope some of these tips could help a few of you! Please share with anyone you think it could help out! Happy studying! Remember to be easy on yourself. We're juggling a lot, more than we probably ever thought possible, so give yourself a pat on the back and keep doing awesome!


  1. I've been using the time while Lyla's nursing to watch board review videos and do practice questions. Then, on days I'm not at the hospital, no matter what else is going on, I can count on those 30-45min to get some stuff done (L is a long nurser). I also use my drive time to listen to podcasts. Multi-tasking for the win. (:

    1. LOVE these tips Emily!! I miss the days of long nursing sessions! Is it ok if I update the post with them?

  2. once again, amazing tips, laura!
    i'm not a mother but i am a student and these tips will definitely come in handy.
    particularly, the self control app as i constantly find myself reaching for my phone or comp when i should be studying!


  3. Laura,

    Reading these study tips takes me back to my law school days...and makes me think about one thing: how I'm SO GLAD I'M OUT OF SCHOOL. Haha, I'm always super super impressed when I read about you juggling motherhood and med school though! You make it look so easy.


  4. I am not a mom but a non-traditional full time grad student I guess @ 31... and working. I appreciate the tips !

  5. I am 29 I have been married for 3years with the desire to have a baby and go to law school. I always thought it was one way or the other. Today, it is good to see your honesty about how challenging it is but surely not insurmountable. Wish you many blessings. L.B

  6. I'm in my last year on medschool, in Romania (things are a bit different here, however, I'm choosing my speciality soon and taking the big exam.) Already having a 7 months old and thinking about the second baby. Your post was so inspiring, thank you!
    Sometimes I find myself complaining for not having time to study, but yup, I'm learning from you how to manange time.

  7. You're amazing for sharing these wonderful tips.

  8. I truly appreciate your tips. Look here for an essay writing tips!


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