As requested, I recommend that all students read these two books (please share this e-mail freely with your colleagues):
1) Make it stick: the science of successful learning, by Peter C Brown, Harvard Univ Press. Available from Amazon. For your convenience I have summarised the key points in this book in some slides, attached. This evidence explained in this book is really useful when it comes to learning skills and learning for exams.
2) Bounce: the myth of talent and the power of practice, by Matthew Syed, Fourth Estate. Available from Amazon. This is a really well-written best selling book that summarises in lay-man’s terms the academic literature on expertise - how people get really good (at anything from sports to their profession). It covers important things from deliberate practice theory to mindset to studies of professional expertise. It helps you think about how you need to approach clinical placements to get the most out of them.
Based on this and a few other things related to learning, I put together the med student clerking proforma that I attach here. The main way to get good for finals and be prepared to be an actual doctor is to see as many patients as possible, and commit to what you think the problems are (using precise medical terms because that is how you store and retrieve previous learning) and then make a plan for each problem, like I showed you. Use hospital guidelines on the Intranet to make your plan. Then get feedback on your performance from a qualified doctor (ideally going back together to see the patient and clarifying a few things). Choose one area for strategic reading (30 mins max) the same day, related to the patient you saw. This helps conceptualise the topic, which is deeper than “memorising”. If you try to clerk in a minimum of one patient per day using this proforma - or in some placements the hospital’s own clerking proforma - doing it this way, you will stand out in finals as knowing what you are doing, and you will be a safe pair of hands in August. This type of learning feels more awkward and requires effort, you might feel as if you are not really learning, but trust me you are. Sitting in a tutorial/being “taught" feels like learning but it is often superficial and quickly lost, giving only the illusion of learning.
Don’t forget that doctors actively explore the history, it is not about only listening to the patient - use all available sources of info to get to the bottom of things (ambulance sheet, ED notes/GP letter, carers etc) because history is the essential starting point in diagnosis.
And finally, for people who are interested in how doctors think and how you can learn to think better, read the ABC of Clinical Reasoning, Wiley. Available from Amazon. You can also follow @clinicreasoning on Twitter.
Best wishes and good luck! Let me know how you get on.