Columns, Patient Care, Trauma

How to Study for Success in EMS

“Hope is not a strategy.” — attributed to General Custer

When it comes to preparing for EMS quizzes, mid-term, final and registration examinations, no truer words were ever spoken. To ensure success in the EMS classroom, students must plan their study time, use specific study strategies and have the right motivation. Unfortunately, many students come to EMS classes lacking good skills in this area. This two-part series will focus first on general study skills and next on preparing for written testing.

General study skills

How often have you heard (or said), “I don’t understand why I failed that exam. I spent 20 hours studying.” Putting in a sufficient amount of time for study is important, but it isn’t enough. Students must study with purpose. Reading the written text on the page isn’t adequate. You need to engage your senses so the information will “stick” in your brain.

When students study effectively, they study for meaning. To really understand information you must change it so you comprehend it and it means something to you. Some examples of ways to understand specific information include comparing it to something, coming up with other examples of it, saying what causes it and determining what an EMT needs to do with it.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to studying. Each learner and topic is unique and may require a different approach for success. Try several strategies until you find one that works for you and for the material you’re studying.

Highlighting and underlining

Marking content can be somewhat helpful the first time you read through material. The goal of highlighting is to identify only the most important content in the section you’re reading. As a rule, you shouldn’t highlight more than 10% of the content. If you’re highlighting more, you probably haven’t analyzed the content well enough to pick out the most important material.

Margin notes

Pencil notes in the margin to call-out significant thoughts or words. Try to write down different words than those in the chapter — doing this requires you to rephrase and reframe the material. This shows you understand it.

Make study notes or study cards

When you make study notes or study cards, it forces you to first pick out important content and then rewrite it. This engages several senses — and involves more of your brain. The more of your brain you can involve, the more new memory connections you’ll form.

Categorize the material

Make tables of information to compare and contrast material from a chapter. For example, make a table listing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and list how each affects the organs. By comparing groups of content, you’ll see how they are alike and how they differ. That is a great way to explore a topic and really get to know it.

Use visual representations

Mind maps, concept maps, algorithms and drawings all require you to re-order the material and “see” it in a different way. To prepare these visual aids effectively requires you understand it thoroughly.

Organize study groups with purpose

Quizzing one another and discussing material can be very helpful. Effective study groups come together prepared to study (not to copy each other’s homework), with a specific purpose, and a time limit. If you fail to properly use study groups you will waste valuable study time.

Just as students learn differently, each student will study differently. The bottom line is that the earlier a student learns to study effectively for their learning style, the better chance they have for success in the EMS classroom and beyond.

(The next segment of this column, entitled“Preparing for the ‘Big One’ Test-taking strategies to promote success” will describe specific strategies to follow when preparing to take a high-stakes examination).