The Synap team showcase their favourite digital tools and ways you can use and adapt them when studying at home.

There’s a lot of pressure being placed on the health service by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s having an extraordinary impact on your education. The challenges we currently face are unexpected and devastating, rapidly changing how we all live and work. We’re going to take a look at some of the obstacles you may face when revising from home and provide you with tips and tools to help you overcome them.

Synap is an intelligent online revision platform created by medical students. It’s a simple and engaging platform which uses content from Oxford University Press and spaced repetition software to identify knowledge gaps and create a personalised study plan.

We’ve used a lot of digital tools while studying medicine and have suddenly found ourselves relying on them more than ever to keep our business running smoothly. We’d like to share a few suggestions that work for us which you can apply to your studies.

Recording your notes in a structured way

Writing things down forces you to think more about what it is you’re writing and helps to keep your brain engaged. This is often the case in medical education.

There are hundreds of conditions, drugs and investigations you will need to learn about which will have a familiar structure. For example, when learning about the core undergraduate conditions such as asthma, you’ll need to know the pathophysiology, demographics, symptoms and treatments.

This approach lends itself to having a structured form to collect your research, making it easier for you to write and look up information afterwards. Take a look at our example. We created this in Airtable, a free easy-to-use piece of software that functions like a spreadsheet combined with a database. Setting it out this way allows you to see what conditions you need to learn and everything associated with it. It’s a great way to store all the different information you need in one place. Feel free to use it yourself to study.


Consolidate your learning

Studies suggest that students who spend time teaching others what they have learned have a better understanding of the topic and retain more knowledge. That’s because you need a good understanding of the topic to teach someone else without reading from a slide. It also tests your ability to recall information. Try creating your own lessons with a video capture tool like Loom. You can capture your screen, voice and face and share the finished result with friends instantly. 

Microlearning with Synap

How many times have you found yourself cramming in two months’ worth of revision the night before an exam? Cramming only lets you remember information for a short amount of time. It will probably leave you feeling stressed before your exam and you’re likely to forget everything in the long run.

Instead, try breaking up revision into 10-15 minute chunks over a longer period to commit information to long-term memory. Enter Synap – the revision platform designed to make your learning more engaging and effective than before.

Synap uses content from the Oxford University Press Assess and Progress Series and our spaced learning algorithm to identify knowledge gaps. The algorithm creates a tailored study plan and delivers personalised quizzes to your device daily. It’s free to sign up. MDU student members can also access a free chapter from each title in the series, pick a free complete title from the series for each year of study (12 month access), and purchase the series from Synap at an MDU exclusive rate of £15 per year. All you need is your MDU voucher code, waiting for you on the summary page in My membership on the MDU website.

Photo credit: Synap

Podcasts to learn while you listen

If you’re an auditory learner and are finding it difficult to revise without your usual lectures, try listening to podcasts. You’ll find there’s a podcast on nearly every topic imaginable and they’re usually free.

When I was studying medicine, I found these podcasts were useful tools for exam preparation:

  • Anatomy & Physiology with Doc C – this set of recorded lectures, as well as the pathophysiology are incredibly useful. They explain the fundamentals in a way that makes you feel like you’ve really understood a topic after listening to it, as opposed to just remembering certain details. If you’re struggling to understand a particular area of medicine, then listen to some of Doc C’s podcasts on the topic.
  • Podmedics – many of you will be familiar with Podmedics. All the Podmedics podcasts are aimed specifically at medical students and outline key principles and concepts. They allow material to be better understood and ultimately recalled.
MDU podcasts

Staying organised with Kanban

Sometimes knowing where to start can be the hardest part if you haven’t got a clear plan. Task workflows are a great way to record and keep track of any work that needs completing. They consist of completing tasks sequentially to reach a defined goal. As a tech start up, we use lots of different tools to try and manage our time. You want to find something that improves your efficiency without being too time-consuming. 

We use the list organising tool Trello to stay organised. It’s a very simple, drag and drop task manager that allows you to lay out your projects in a Kanban-style board; a visual depiction of your work at various stages. This type of organisation is perfect for focusing on tasks and managing to-do lists.


Kanban in action

Photo credit: Synap

Keeping connected with group study

Just because you can’t head to the library or to a friend’s house doesn’t mean you can’t continue to work as a group. Revising with friends can be a great way to stay motivated and consolidate learning. Try using video conferencing apps, like Zoom or GoToMeeting, to virtually collaborate on projects or practice exam questions with friends.

Get in the zone with music

One of the hardest aspects of revision is often avoiding distractions. Listening to music is a simple and effective way to stay focused. There have been some studies to suggest that listening to the soothing sounds of classical orchestra music increases mood and productivity, making it perfect for studying.

Try following a few simple rules when making and listening to a playlist;

  • Instrumental – listen to music without lyrics so you don’t put your energy into singing along to your favourite Beyonce song rather than revision.
  • Short playlists – make them around 45 minutes long so that when it ends, it acts as a reminder to have a short break.
  • Sound control – the volume of your music should be quiet enough that you don’t drown out your own thoughts. It’s only supposed to be in the background.

Check out a couple of Synap team’s favourites:

If you know music is going to distract you regardless of whether it’s Mozart or Billie Eilish, try listening to some relaxing background sounds instead. Noisli has tonnes of different background sounds for you to mix and match, from relaxing rain to crackling fire.

Acess MCQs with Synap

Productivity in small doses

Hopefully the tools we’ve suggested make revising at home easier, whether it’s improving your concentration levels, organising your work, or committing more information to long-term memory. Let us know in the comments your favourite tools for revision.

Links to information on sites other than those operated by or on behalf of the MDU are for your convenience only and should not be treated as an endorsement.

This page was correct at publication on 19/05/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.