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There are many strategies for studying and exam taking, and decisions about which ones to use are partly a function of individual habit and preference. However, although basic study rules may be applied to any learning exercise, test-taking strategies depend on the type of examination. For those interested in test-writing strategies, the Case and Swanson reference is strongly recommended (see References).


  1. When studying dense textual material, stop after a few pages to write out the main points of it from memory. If necessary, refer to the material just read. After finishing a chapter, construct your own tables of the major drugs, receptor types, mechanisms, and so on, and fill in as many of the blanks as you can. Refer to tables and figures in the book as needed to complete your notes. Create your own mnemonics if possible. Look up other mnemonics in books if you can’t think of one yourself. These are all active learning techniques; mere reading is passive and far less effective unless you happen to have a photographic memory. Your notes should be legible or typed on a computer, and saved for ready access when reviewing for exams.

  2. Experiment with other study methods until you find out what works for you. This may involve solo study or group study, flash cards, or text or question list reading. You won’t know how effective these techniques are until you have tried them.

  3. Don’t scorn “cramming,” but don’t rely on it either. Some steady, day-by-day reading and digestion of conceptual material is usually needed to avoid last-minute indigestion. Similarly, don’t substitute memorization of lists (eg, the Key Words list, Appendix II) for more substantive understanding.

  4. If you are preparing for a course examination, make every effort to attend or review all the class sessions. The lecturer’s view of what is important may be different from that of the author of a course textbook, and chances are good that exam questions will be based on the instructor’s own lecture notes.

  5. If old test questions are legitimately available (as they are for the USMLE [] and courses in most professional schools), make use of these guides to study. By definition, they are a strong indicator of what the examination writers have considered core information in the recent past (also see point 4). Use the wrong answers to test yourself. Do you know the drug class referred to and its mechanism of action? If you have trouble with certain concepts or drugs, and you repeatedly miss questions on this topic, it helps to create a list of frequently missed facts or concepts for cramming later. Another strategy is to expand the question in the following way: If you come across a drug that is eliminated with zero-order kinetics, ask yourself “what other drugs do I know that are eliminated with zero-order kinetics?” Similarly, if you come across a ...

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