Explore a better way to work – one that promises more calm, clarity, and creativity.

Of Pre-Med Schedules and the Possibility of Finishing Your Work Before Dinner

The Plight of the Pre-Med

Of all Study Hack readers, pre-meds are among the most skeptical. They tell me that although they like my philosophy of doing a small number of things well, this is impossible for them. Their course load is too demanding. Filling most waking hours with work is unavoidable.

Then there’s Nathan.

Nathan is pre-med at the University of Texas at Austin, where he’s currently tackling the weed out courses that give this major its bad reputation. Here’s what makes Nathan interesting to me: he finishes his work by 5:30 pm every weekday.

In fact, he doesn’t just finish it, he dominates it.

“On the last chemistry test, the average score was a 57,” he told me recently. “I made a 98…My professors are fascinated by me.”

Naturally, I asked him to share a typical day’s schedule:

  • 6:00 to 6:30: Breakfast/Shower
  • 6:30 to 9:30: Study
  • 9:30 to 10:20: Class
  • 10:30 to 11:30: Study
  • 11:30 to 12:30: Lunch
  • 12:30 to 1:30: Class
  • 1:30 to 2:30: Class
  • 2:30 to 5:30: Study
  • 5:30 to 11:00: Chill by meeting girls, explore the rolling hills and lakes of Austin, listen to live music, etc.

Here are two things I noticed about Nathan:

First, he’s not necessarily working less than his peers. His schedule includes 40 hours of studying per week, which is about right for his course load. He simply consolidates this work better.

“But he wakes up at 6,” you might complain, “I could never do that.”

Nathan’s out chasing girls before most students have even started their work for the day. Fair trade, if you ask me.

The second thing I noticed is that he’s obsessive about focus. He doesn’t just “study,” he works on the 7th floor of the engineering library: one of the most isolated spots on campus (see the above image). He works in 50 minutes chunks, and does 10 minutes of calisthenics, right there on the library floor, between every chunk. In three hours of this focused studying, he probably accomplishes more work than most pre-meds do in ten.

I don’t claim that Nathan represents a specific system that all pre-med students should follow. To me, he’s just a nice example of a more fundamental observation: the happiest students are those who take control of their academic experience, molding it to fit their own ideal of a life well-lived.


This post initiates a new experiment I want to try here on Study Hacks. In addition to my regular, in-depth articles, which I post about once every two weeks, I want to also post the occasional short essay, such as this one, when a particular idea or example catches my attention. These short posts don’t take long to put together and won’t affect our regularly schedule programming.

(As the alert reader may have noticed, the titling scheme of these essays is a hat tip to Montaigne, the original blogger.)

98 thoughts on “Of Pre-Med Schedules and the Possibility of Finishing Your Work Before Dinner”

  1. An interesting follow-up to this case study would be looking at the majors that “pre-med” students actually have, and their success rate of getting into medical school. At least at UT, there is no “pre-med” major — most students who want to go to med school choose to major in Biology or Chemistry, but some are Liberal Arts or Engineering majors and simply take a few more science classes. Does a specific science major really increase your chances of admissions? Or can we apply your same principles of innovation and unexpected directions for high school students getting into college?

  2. Does a specific science major really increase your chances of admissions?

    From what I understand, for schools without pre-med majors, your actually major really doesn’t matter much. Some schools, like Notre Dame, for example, prevent you from combining a pre-med program with a science major.

  3. great post! there is nothing magical or outrageous about being pre-med, unless thing have changed considerably over the last 9 years since i was one (was it really that long!?). and the same can be said for med school! although there are times that i do not think i would have been able to finish up before 5:30 most days, i had plenty of time to fall in love, enjoy myself, learn what i needed to learn, and rock the boards 🙂

    oh, and cal – again, unless admissions have changed, my people do NOT have pre-med majors, but there are a number of required prerequisites (bio, genetics, in some cases biochemistry, physics, gchem, ochem, math, and often even english) which can make it almost like a second major.

  4. Do we also know that Nathan does not have an IQ of 257? In other words, how much of his success should we attribute to his method, and how much to his individual genius?

  5. It seems to be that Nathan does not have a job, nor does he do any clubs. For pre-meds that want to do more than just focus on classes, it really IS impossible to finish by 5:30; in fact, often I can’t start any REAL work until AFTER dinner, as after class I’m involved with clubs. As for waking up early, I have work starting at 8 in the morning, and I wake up at seven, which is decent.

  6. I regularly work with pre-meds applying to medical school. Most pre-meds are very “inside the box” thinkers, and they would never consider that a life like the one described in this post is even possible. They’re so obsessed with doing what they think they should be doing (research, volunteering, etc) that they often don’t think about standing out to admissions committees.

    As for the specific question asked by Clare, no, it doesn’t matter what you major in. I like to ask the students I work with:

    “Who is more likely to get into medical school – the history major or the biology major?”

    “Who has a higher GPA?” History.
    “Who has more time to do interesting things outside of class?” History.
    “Who is more unique in the application process?” History.

    “Who does better on the MCAT?” Most will then assume Biology, but the answer is “History!”

    “Okay, okay, who does better on the Biological Sciences portion of the MCAT?” Again, the students assume that finally the Biology major has the advantage. But the answer, once again, is “History!”

    There are a lot of reasons for why History majors outperform their Biology counterparts on the MCAT, but mainly that the MCAT is more a test of reading skill and reading speed than actual scientific knowledge. As a result, History majors, who are trained by their major to be good readers do better on the test.

    Don’t believe me? See the raw data here:

    Cal, thank you for your wonderful work! The same rationale of why a B student can get into Stanford applies to med school admissions as well. The student who works in a focused way to be a “relaxed superstar” will indeed outperform her harder working yet more conventional peers.

  7. I love these types of case studies because they allow motivated readers to pick and choose different strategies that these cases demonstrate and test them out.

    If there is one thing I’ve learned as a student, it’s that there is no one system that works for every student. Every student must adopt an attitude of constant testing and refinement in order to perfect the system that works for them. Keep the case studies coming, they’re very inspiring.

  8. Study Hacks,
    I go to Notre Dame and I have no clue what you’re talking about. Notre Dame has a separate PreProfessional Studies major, which you can’t combine with, say, a Biology major without double majoring–because it’s a separate major. There are many, many Biology, Chemistry, and other science and engineering majors who are pre-med at ND.
    Notre Dame actually makes it easier than most schools to major in the Humanities and be pre-med though the Arts and Letters PreProfessional Studies supplemental major.
    Sorry, just wanted to clear up that confusion.

  9. Thanks for the post. I will try to follow it up on basis of its essence. I think the problem with the above schedule is it does not include time to commute, research (most pre-meds have to do) and work. These three things will take away the fun and you will end up overwhelmed.

  10. Hi – I was wondering if at some point you could give ideas for how to better manage time when some classes have time requirements. For example, I am in class only six hours per week, but I am required to be at my internship a bare minimum of 16 hours per week. This plus the fact that I have to work at least 20 hours per week to pay my bills makes it very hard to do anything except run from class to work to internship and squeeze studying and research in around that – no time for life or for deeper contemplating of my studies. It just seems like lots of the case study people don’t have a job, so I was wondering how that might change anything, if it even would.

  11. I’d be really interested to hear from Nathan how he’s studying for organic chemistry (if that’s the chemistry course being referred to). I know a lot of very good students who still end up putting in about 20 hours of studying per week on that class alone.

  12. Nathan’s done by dinner, but he’s still scheduling 50 hours a week. If someone were to sleep another hour, they’d have one more hour’s of work after 5:30. The impressive part is the discipline to go to bed and wake up in time to work in the morning.

  13. Great article. As a non-traditional grad student in theology (think philosophy), I cannot tell you the number of students I see that cannot balance 3 classes on a full-time study schedule. I work full-time, take 2 classes, and still manage to dominate the coursework just by being very deliberate about what I spend my time doing. It really is all about finding the capacity to focus.

  14. james – as someone who was TERRIBLE at organic chemistry, i think that is a subject that does come much more naturally to some than others. i did have to spend extra time on it, but maybe nathan is lucky enough not to have to! and i would guess that even the time i spent, if consolidated right, wouldn’t have amounted to more than 15 hours/week, which if it includes some weekend time, isn’t too unreasonable.

    thinking back, i realized that one thing that IS missing from this schedule is a long afternoon lab, which i now remember my schedule was full of in undergrad during the years i was completing most of the pre-reqs (bio, chem, ochem, physics all had an associated lab component). those could definitely add some time to the schedule.

    still i agree with the overarching theme which is that if you’re efficient and plan well, it does not need to be the all-consuming stress (and whine!)-fest that so many pre-meds make it out to be. also: those are the same people who make med school and residency a stress-fest.

    in my opinion: that’s no way to live 🙂

  15. Great post Cal; it’s all about focus! I’m also interested in the “victim mindset”, where people say, “Oh I could never do that… MY circumstances are different”. It’s nonsense!

  16. Hi Cal, thanks for another thought-provoking post. I’ll be very happy if you write more short essays like this one (as well as your longer posts) – the more ideas, the better.

  17. Great post, Cal. It’s great inspiration for a lot of us.

    I think it is quite clear from your post that Nathan has a lot of energy during the day, which he uses tremendously well. A lot of people should seek to get into a productive schedule like his. Small-incremental changes is what is needed if one wishes to have no-stress while obtaining great success. The relaxed-superstar philosophy is great.

  18. I used to teach pre-meds physics back in the 70’s. They were for the most part boobs. Uninterested in physics they were only taking the class for a grade. They would come to me AFTER getting a 62 on their tests complaining “I need to get a B I’m going to med school” To which I would reply apparently not. So the real issue is why are you “going to med school”?

    If all you are doing is getting your ticket punched then you will never have the interest to learn enough to qualify. The amount of physics you need to know to get in is trivial so first you have to ask yourself why am I so undisciplined that I can’t even do what is trivial? The answer is generally because you are a fraud. You enjoy being a premed because of the prestige it buys but fail to back that up with passion the knowledge requires.

    When I was in undergrad I majored in 3 areas: chemistry, engineering, and neurophysiology and I found the time to hold 2 part time jobs, do independent research, play in a rock and roll band for drinks and chicks on Fridays at a local saloon, and live a thoroughly debauched life (it was the 70’s after-all). I had a blast in all of it and the reason is because what I was doing was actually interesting, and I was never once sorry for learning something to the level of knowing it, no matter what the discipline be it physical chemistry (that class actually was a bitch, but when it was all done I had a beer after the test and I could actually write for you the equations that dictated why the bubbles were flowing off the bottom of the glass, that experience cracked me up), I learned the intricacies of of the pentatonic minor scales (Eric Clapton’s favorite) I knew intimately fear and loathing in one of Illinois favorite party schools.

    My grades were good enough to get into grad school and good enough that I eventually went to med school some years after I left the university and got a real job. All I had to do was take the MCAT and apply, because I had already done the hard part, the work.

    I came to understand the selection process was actually geared toward those who will keep coming back no matter the obstacle and who show true passion for their intellectual lives. Every class has one of IQ=180 types, a few more of the IQ=150 types and whole lot of IQ=115 to 130 types. Of the 130 who matriculated in my class 122 finished on time and the 2 remaining finished 6 months late. All became physicians and went on to successful careers. The remaining 4 left due to personality disorders such as being liars or cheaters. 130 started and 126 finished, that is remarkable consistency in the acceptance process. Clearly being a genius was not prerequisite and this was not a fluke. These statistics happened at my med school year after year decade after decade. So who is chosen is NOT the guy who comes to the office with “I gotta get a B I’m going to med school” aka the guy who’s life is an excuse. The guy who is chosen is the guy who gets a B or better. Bitching is optional and you can be a victim just as many minutes as you like, but that is optional also. Heck when I was doing it I didn’t even know I was going. I didn’t have the slightest interest in going into medicine. I was just doing stuff I liked to do. So study hack #1 is to ask yourself the question: do I really want to do this or am I just a fraud who is pretending, because there ain’t no way you’re going to make it if you refuse to do the work.

  19. Cool method Nathan, however I do have a a few questions / issues about that method. When would you be doing required readings, essays, assignments. I understand this is just a sample of his day, but it’s not that realistic if you have other things to do than just study, that is unless study also means do work

  20. @Ashish, I don’t have a 257 IQ. In high school, I was, at best, decently above average in math/science.

    @Yuan, You’re right. I don’t do many clubs. However, I do volunteer at the hospital in the summer a few hours a week.

    @James, I haven’t taken organic chemistry which I know is hard. However, I did take the so-called “hardest professor in the chemistry” department for my chemistry course. I think the basic idea is the same..

    @Sarah, The labs are vaguely labeled “class.” Since labs only meet a few hours a week, I felt it right to tell Cal a more general schedule.

    @Canadian Undergrad, Again, the aforementioned schedule is not my typical detailed schedule. Reading falls under “studying.”

    In essence, in my belief, what makes me successful is focus, putting in a consistent amount of *effective* work each day, starting absurdly early on review for exams and homework assignments, and creating a thick wall between work and play (I only do a couple hours on weekends). Nothing to do with inbred smarts. 🙂

  21. I did enjoy this post, but then the thoughts of my final year in dental school and the reality came back, which is 35 hours/week in clinics, plus commuting, plus daily preparation for the finals and board exams.

    That’s just blowing off steam, but in actuality, the advice or case studies I’d like to read someday is, what is the best way to prepare for boards or say the bar, with emphasis on reviewing or re-learning of a few years of studying and covering any gaps that occurred in the meantime as well as considering the demands of dental/med school’s schedule.

    I’m very grateful for Cal’s advice and the research he has published so far, yet given my circumstances quite often it can’t be applied.

  22. How come some of you are so surprised this works, though? Looking at the daily schedule, this still adds up to a whopping 10 hours of study-related activities per day (7 hours of studying + 3 hours of lectures). Surely you’re not saying that’s not a lot of work, are you?

  23. Excellent, but i wonder how can a science major do that if he has a schedule of five science courses with their respecting labs?
    Is it better to underschedule and graduate a little older?

  24. I’ve adopted an almost similar study schedule to Nathan and found it to work wonders on my focus (and grades). What I’ve found is that any studying I do at night is terribly unfocused and 2-3 hours studying at night can be less productive than 1 hour of focused studying in the morning. It really is just finding what works for you and playing to your energy levels. I have high energy levels in the morning so I’ve moved all my hard studying to before noon.

    One thing I do want to point out though is that it looks like Nathan is studying roughly 7 hours a day. I hate to sound pessimistic, but it still sounds like he’s a ton of time studying and accommodates it by moving his study time earlier in the day. It seems to work for him but from what I’ve found, one of the biggest problems with being a pre-med is the peer pressure that comes from seeing every other pre-med constantly “studying.” There are much better ways to go about learning (going to office hours, active recall, building pro-active study guides) than by throwing massive amounts of hours at reading material. As a pre-med myself, it feels almost sacrilegious to proclaim that less studying is better but studying for the sake of studying (nod to Tim Ferris) is just as wasteful as not studying.

    Premeds don’t need more hours in their days, they need a paradigm shift.

  25. To be honest, I doubt I could do 7 hours of studying, or go with only 7 hours of sleep.

    Honestly, I need 10 hours of sleep to feel great and productive. Even then, 7 hours of studying a day is not something I could do consistently. I’m not sure how Nathan does it.

    oh, and calisthenics is a great idea that I’m going to start incorporating!

  26. I second what Ruben asks. I’m always debating whether to slow down and take my time with my pre-med requirements and whether to graduate a year or two later than everyone else. My chemistry professor was really stressing to not rush the chemistry sequence with an already full schedule because the material builds so much.

  27. Interesting!

    Powernap and excercise can boost your focus. Sometimes I study until 20:00 just so I can enjoy several days without studying. Just a tips for those who are always tired when they come home from school.

    We all dont have that few classes. My class begins 08:30 and ends 16:00 every day( except wendnedsdays)

  28. Exactly, too many students are under the impression that performance in exams = hours spent studying. That’s not true, you need to add in the productivity of each hour. So working fewer more productive hours can be better. I always wonder why so many smart people struggle to grasp that concept.

    I’m a final year physics student, and I’ve started getting up at 6.30am everyday to run and then study. It is a great way to work in a distraction free environment. The only downside is that when you are a student the majority of your social life occurs late at night. Being a final year student I am moving away a bit from the standard student lifestyle and spending more time socialising in the early evening, but it is a major problem for a lot of students.

  29. It’s especially good to point out how Nathan takes frequent breaks during his study sessions. Studying is a bit like exercise… alternating exertion and recovery gets better results.

  30. You know I think the best way to get a lot of work done, is to just STAY OUT OF YOUR ROOM. It’s easy to and waste a few hours on the internet (and start reading blogs, haha). Also, here at UT Austin, I don’t think our Engineering library has a 7th floor, it only has one floor and is usually not that empty. Or maybe that was just a way to prevent us from stalking Nathan?

  31. I think it’s a very good idea to be doing some sort of exercise in the 10 minutes breaks every hour. It would definitely help with sustaining focus over the 3 hour study chunks.

    I think that pre-med is hard because of all the extracurricular activities that most pre-meds put on themselves, not because of the coursework. Sure the coursework is hard, but its not markedly more difficult than most engineering majors. It’s when you start volunteering at the hospital every other night that your schedule turns horrible.

    And I I’m going to agree with Cal and say that how you do in classes like organic chemistry is LARGELY based on how you study, not on having natural talent. Last semester I tried to make review sheets for every little detail and concept, but on the first two tests I got a C and a D (uncurved). But when I took a step back and evaluated why this wasn’t working, I realized that the way to study for organic chemistry is to just do lots of problems. And I really don’t think it takes more than 10-12 hours to do every single problem in a chapter, which is quite manageable. When I started doing that as my study strategy, I aced the third test and the final.

  32. @Cal
    I’m curious what his courseload actually is (hours and classes) that entails 40 hours a week. I’m trying to budget my study hours right now, and it’s a little baffling how he’s able to fit in 7 hours of studying, when I have 6.5 hours of class on Mondays and Wednesdays.

  33. Cal,

    Thanks for your article.

    The point that you are making is a valuable one. Nathan clearly knows enough about his own studying habits to construct a schedule that works fully to his goals. I think this post would be made even stronger if Nathan’s schedule is put into perspective.

    Again, high concentration is valuable, and isolation (and calistenics) certainly works to that end. I am also sure, in addition, that Nathan is well-versed in HOW to prepare for his courses, HOW to select his extra-curricular obligations, and, in fact, HOW to concentrate.

    These are aspects that you blog covers, but I am worried that a reader might extract a piece of your advice and adopt it thinking that this easy-fix can lead to Nathan’s level of success, which is quite wishful thinking. If this is implied in your post, I’m sorry for being repetitive.

  34. They’re so obsessed with doing what they think they should be doing (research, volunteering, etc) that they often don’t think about standing out to admissions committees.

    This resonates with my experience working with students: it is much easier to stay within a well-defined mental rut than invest the mental capital needed to reassess things from scratch.

    I go to Notre Dame and I have no clue what you’re talking about.

    You’re not the only one to tell me this. I think I’m mixing up Notre Dame with another school, or just misremembering something I heard about it.

  35. I will try to follow it up on basis of its essence.

    Following the essence is definitely the right thing to do. Nathan’s story, as you noticed, does not represent a one-size-fits-all system, but instead, a mindset about student life that I think all should embrace.

    Also, just to let you know, your sidebar’s looking a bit weird in Chrome.

    A generous reader/web developer was helping me with this. It should be fixed now.

    It just seems like lots of the case study people don’t have a job, so I was wondering how that might change anything, if it even would.

    Time is time. Good study habits can help reduce the time needed to prepare, and make sure you do as well as possible given that preparation, but it cannot diminish the time required down to something insubstantial. At some point, the hours have to be spent.

    This sounds obvious, but often, for people juggling different commitments, recognizing this basic fact can lead to some productive changes.

    The impressive part is the discipline to go to bed and wake up in time to work in the morning.

    What interests me is that this impresses you. Getting up and doing work in the morning, at the same time every day, is something that basically every adult in this country does. However, we are so set in our understandings of what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to undergraduate studying, that applying this near-universal behavior to the college environment can be shocking at first.

  36. I work full-time, take 2 classes, and still manage to dominate the coursework just by being very deliberate about what I spend my time doing.

    A key note in your response is the fact that you take 2 classes. A lot of times, when I hear from people who need to work full-time, or near full-time, jobs to support their studies, they show me a schedule in which they literally do not have enough waking hours in the day to get their course work done.

    Often I reply: “Well, if you’re working a full-time job, you can’t expect to handle a full-time course load.”

    They usually reply that it’s really important that they graduate by some specific date, or what have you.

    Then I push back.

    And often the come to realize that some of the ideas surrounding their course load were fixed, but not necessarily justified. By taking less courses, and spreading things out more, the schedule suddenly worked.

    In some sense, this is a one of the messages conveyed in Nathan’s story: start by throwing out all of your basic assumptions about what you have to do.

  37. because there ain’t no way you’re going to make it if you refuse to do the work.

    This is potentially an alternative title for my blog.

    (By the way, I’m fingering the pentatonics right now as I type…I miss my stratocaster.)

    Surely you’re not saying that’s not a lot of work, are you?

    I’m not saying that. It is a lot of work. But he’s done by 5:30. They key is that he rethinks what a student schedule can be like.

    one of the biggest problems with being a pre-med is the peer pressure that comes from seeing every other pre-med constantly “studying.”

    True. But such peer pressure never stops. College is as good as time as any to practice overcoming crowd behavior and starting to think from first principles.

    Honestly, I need 10 hours of sleep to feel great and productive.

    Required sleep amounts can be different for different people. But just a word of warning, few working adults sleep much more than 7 hours, so you’ll have to adapt to less sometime!

    Also, here at UT Austin, I don’t think our Engineering library has a 7th floor,

    Nathan wrote to clarify that he meant that it was the 2nd floor.

  38. Nathan’s schedule requires a high amount of discipline, which most people don’t have. That type of discipline has to be coming from somewhere, he’s got a fire in his belly unlike others. I’m curious to know how some people are SO disciplined and others are not. Focus and discipline is really what gets you to results….not how smart you are, how many hours you study, or how many books you read. Most people don’t realize that but Nathan sure does. I’m sure he’s equally successful during his scheduled time to meet girls –that’s an important part of college too to make sure he is relatable to people and not just a robot. Nathan sounds like a star to me.

  39. I agree Kathryn. Nathan is one well disciplined student. I personally was pre-med in my college days and found myself spending countless nights with no sleep trying to keep up with my courses. Now that I am almost 2 years out of college I have fixed my habits and do all my work starting early in the morning. You would be surprised with how great it feels. By the evening I feel satisfied with a good days work and enjoy a nice work out to cool off. Exercise is very important to help you keep active and alert all day. Nathan is very smart in doing calisthenics throughout his study sessions. Congratulations Nathan for hacking the system! And thank you Cal for this great short read.

  40. SO why is this kid only taking 3 classes? I’m sure he’s a smart dude, but try running that schedule with 18-21 credits and a thesis.

  41. i have three classes too, on my easy day. how many credits does this kid carrying this semester? I have 4 classes on Monday between 8am and 2pm, plus an hour of tutoring I do for my university. My day doesn’t end there, I have two more classes afterwards and two hour long meetings also. im lucky if i get to time to eat let alone study.

  42. For real! I love Nathan’s approach to calisthenics (and I’m going to borrow the idea!) but daily gym time as well; gotta get that cardio!

  43. Unless you have a family to support, isn’t it kind of dumb to be holding a job while schooling? My summer after high-school, and the summer between frosh & soph, I worked full-time plus an evening part-time (which itself became 30 hours a week by including one weekend day). I therefore had enough money to carry me through the school year. Later summers paid a lot more as I could obtain summer jobs in my major.
    By not having to work during term, I had time for student reasearch with the professors. Whether those paid anything became immaterial.
    I went to Italy twice over Christmas vacations

  44. I liked this post. I think waking up early to read is excellent — the house/library is quiet, no hustle/bustle, and the mind is so fresh for absorbing information. Sometimes the most effective advice is the advice that no one takes.

  45. I would like to see more information for students currently in medical school. I’m halfway through my second year of medical school and I’ll have to tell yea that the best students study tons of hours. They took every class imaginable in undergrad that would help them in med school – about 18 credits per semester.

    As for me, my grades have shot up substantially since I initiated the 6-6 program: at school 6 AM and leave 6 PM M-F with 6 hours Saturday and 4 Sunday. I used to be on the 50:10 and 3:1 schedule but that didn’t work for me; but I did teach me to be aware of how to take breaks and now I just take breaks when I need to (like looking at this blog 🙂

  46. Any tips for engineering majors? I honestly don’t know how to get into this sort of lifestyle considering that studying for engineering courses are several hours and you can never plant a target time as to when you will finish espeially considering that most engg courses arent reading but very technical and can unpredictably take up anywhere between 10 minutes to 12 hours to finish something. So I find it so hard to pin an end time period.

  47. ummmm… I hope we are not talking about the same Nathan…

    Nathan is not his real name. I changed it to protect his privacy.

    I honestly don’t know how to get into this sort of lifestyle considering that studying for engineering courses are several hours and you can never plant a target time as to when you will finish espeially considering that most engg courses arent reading but very technical and can unpredictably take up anywhere between 10 minutes to 12 hours to finish something. So I find it so hard to pin an end time period.

    I’ve heard this exact same complaint from pre-med students before. But then there’s Nathan. As an exercise, see what happens when you turn your attention — perhaps just briefly — away from why something couldn’t possibly work for you, and wonder in what ways might it work.

    A typical day? I don’t believe it — only three classes and no two or three hour labs? Ha-ha!

    See Nathan’s above comment: he called labs “classes” to keep the schedule description simple. Also, notice he’s a pre-med taking the normal pre-med schedule at his school.

  48. Great article, really great. I had a few friends in college like that. Do their homework first, then the drinking could begin. The rest of us would be at the bar at the same time and shrug and think we would do the studying later.

    Looking at Nathan’s schedule it is easy to find things that are different for yourself and give yourself an excuse why you cannot do it.
    But in all honesty, most people would sleep in and then go to class for the 9.30 class. Nathan has already completed 3 hours of study by then.
    If this post can teach you only one lesson it should be that focus on those things that are important and getting them out of the way first is a very good technique.

  49. There should be a post on doing “Express Preparation” for the day. How in the world is he fitting in showering, cooking and eating breakfast, cleaning the dishes you just used, doing your recommended list for the day, exercising (ideally) and getting dressed all to immediately start studying half an hour later. I’ve got it down to an hour and fifteen minutes.
    In my mind, either Nathan is eating protein bars for breakfast and not showering or he’s doing all the fore mentioned tasks lightning fast.
    Nathan, please share. I want to get this down like you.

  50. Ok, so i just have a question for you Cal, how did you pay for your courses MIT, did you obtain a scholar? Or was it the money from your web based business? Really appreciate this blog 🙂

    All the best Cal


  51. I have a hard time getting around how he doesn’t seem to do any ECs. Do you really think that it’s possible to get into a top med school (I’m thinking Harvard, Stanford, UCSF, etc) with just a few hours a week at the hospital in the summer? This may be in part because I go to school in Canada (I’m planning on doing an MD/PhD in the states after undergrad), where the med schools seem put a massive emphasis on non-academics (most schools give interviews based on roughly 50-60% grades and 40-50% non-academics). I’m applying next year, and even though I have a near-perfect GPA and top MCAT score as well as some pretty solid ECs (research in the summer, shadowing a surgeon, exec in a fraternity, and the jiu jitsu club are the main ones), I’m still starting to stress about this.

  52. How can a premed be in class for such few hours?

    I have 2 labs that are 3 hours each themselves! Plus biology, chemistry, Spanish and calculus lectures

  53. Cal, I bought your new book and I still have questions about the method of note-taking when I do my reading assignment. The teacher usually doesn’t give us questions to think about, but just gives us the number of pages to read for homework. So I can apply the QEC method to the kind of reading assignment? Thanks

  54. Dear Cal,

    This is a rigerous scheldule, but I believe that it will pay off. I am in 10th grade and I am homeschooled. I’ll try it!


  55. Cal, please, add a Facebook “Like” or “Share” button – I think that many people would love to give a link to your material on Facebook.

  56. Most schools actually have no “pre-med” major. It is a pre med option. and there are specific classes that are required for medical school. Most people are bio majors with pre-med though. However chemistry is a more logical option since it makes up most of the MCATs.

    Also, it is not the studying that is an issue for most. and from the outline provided this student is not making the nessesary steps to get into a reputable med school. What takes up a large chunk of time is the fact that you need internships, hospital experience and extra curiculars to get into med school.
    So in all honestly this student is actually devoting a larger portion of time to studying than should be spent. Because the difference between a 92 and 100 is not worth the massive increase in effort (since both show up as a 4.0 on your transcript). Those extra hours of studying would be better spent forging conections with teachers who you will need recomendations from and volunteering at a hospital.

    So while the simplistity of this time plan may seem like it is a good idea to you, from the eyes of another student this is actually extremely poor use of time allocation because this person is studying harder, not better.

  57. So I can apply the QEC method to the kind of reading assignment?

    Yep. Finding the question is part of engaging the text and understanding what it’s trying to say.

    You know Cal, ever since you’ve posted this, the second floor of the Engineering Library has been pretty full…

    Nathan, your secret’s out!

    It’s Thomas Edison’s birthday, so here’s an Edison quote especially for you, Cal. “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.”

    Good quote. Thanks Mary!

  58. In response to Jayme: Cal’s focus in this article was about study habits of a pre-med. He could have covered the human aspect of college acceptance in this article but he already has done so in his latest book. There are quite a few articles as well under ‘becoming a superstar’

  59. hi…..I am a first year Bio major doing my undergrad who needs some advice…. I am interested in medical school, but I am having second thoughts about keeping a Bio major, since I am not doing as well as I had anticipated. I thought of changing majors, but my institute is mostly an engineering, science/research math university. Would a liberal arts major look weird from such an institute when applying for medical school and facing interviews?

  60. Like a few people who posted before me, I understand the underlying message of focus but am still unable to comprehend how extra curriculars fit into all of this. I usually have class for about he same amount of time, but adding in research, volunteering, and other responsibilities makes this study schedule impossible. Cluing me into that would really help me understand how I can apply this to my own schedule 😀

  61. How to save time breakfast cooking & clean-up after? The advantages of living in a dorm – just throw on your sweats & go eat.

  62. @Adrian. I think part of the problem is this myth that you need a long list of EC’s for medical school. For example, as a physician, your not going to be doing martial arts, so why does it matter??? The primary goal of ECs, as an admissions officer of a medical school told me, is to demonstrate certain qualities, and a sense of achievement. You can easily demonstrate the qualities of teamwork, communication, compassion, etc. through a few ECs.

  63. Hello,
    I’m somewhat skeptical about Nathan as a pre-med. Does he really have only 3 classes a day, one hour long?! I wonder what classes he’s taking. Is his schedule the same for everyday? Where are his long labs, including 6 hour orgo lab? What about research? shadowing? clubs? jobs? sports?
    I don’t think this Nathan is getting into med school. Med schools will look at his perfect gpa and will find out that all he did was study in between classes and chased after girls in the afternoons…sorry but it seems that Nathan or the author of this article has no idea what he is talking about….
    I am a pre-med. Get up at six everyday and start all of my classes at 8 am. They are long classes with even longer LABS (orgo, physics, biochem, anatomy). In between classes I go to research, clubs, etc. I also work part time, shadow and volunteer. By the time I get home it’s really late and that’s when I start my real work aka studying. Let me mention that I have 4.0 GPA. I am not miserable and once in a while I do have time to hang out with friends or do nothing. I think med schools will choose me over Nathan. Others may disagree.

  64. I have to admit that while Nathan’s plan of action does seem worthy of skepticism, I also think that we’re missing a chunk of the big picture. Nathan said himself that this schedule only represents a day of courses, not his entire schedule for the semester.

    As of now, I am a pre-med major, and I could definitely use some work in efficiently managing my time (because time is priceless for pre-meds!). The most important thing I took front is entry is that he had a grasp on how to handle his time. For him, keeping up socially was important, so
    he wanted to have some room to do that. For others, this may not be their cup of tea. I know that I’m not really the partygoer type, so I’d rather spend my free time doing my extracurriculars (Inhave morning/late-afternoon courses so I can attend my club meetings, which are in the evenings).

  65. I don’t know what happened, but I wasn’t done with my post and it ended up being posted anyways. =/

    The point I was trying to make is that everyone’s schedule is different, so rather than trying to follow Nathan’s method, pre-med students should think about what they want to do in their free time and whether or not they will be willing to keep up with those activities. There’s no magic formula to it.

  66. I don’t know if I can believe that Nathan sleeps only 6 hours every day, gets all his work / calisthenics done by 5:30 and is a all out playboy till 11:30. Sounds like you are getting the idealized version of the real picture.

  67. For non-premed students who are enjoying a lab-free life, this post is inspirational if nothing else. Simply changing the title for this post might fix the issues that readers seem to be having.

  68. I’m a post-bac student taking the pre-med reqs. I do have a family to support and have to work. I’m also in my late 30’s so I have to cram as many hours as I can (taking my time is not a luxury) and still knock it out of the park with grades. My study time is mostly after my little ones are in bed. Also I have a few breaks at work that I can do reading or video lectures. It is all what works for each particular student. I will say that no matter what time you study it is read ahead, go to lecture and take notes, and review notes. Also anytime you can do small group study a couple days before an exam seems to be beneficial as well. The more that you can talk and explain what you are learning the better. You truly want to “master” what you are learning not just get ready for the test. I wish I knew these things as an undergrad. 😉

  69. A lot of you are missing the point. The schedule posted only reflects one day of his schedule. This article is not just aimed at pre-med students. This may be one of his simpler days, for people who are and those who aren’t pre-med could have a model to follow.

  70. I’m not sure I’m grasping what’s so amazing about Nathan’s schedule. I’ll give credit where credit is due. As a peer adviser at the premed club on my campus, I always try to build up fellow premeds.

    So he studies all day. He doesn’t work, volunteer, shadow, research, or lead any clubs. What about patient contact? How serious is he about premed without looking for any experience? He ‘volunteers for a few hours a week at a local hospital’–which probably means he sits at a desk learning nothing about the medical field from his lack of experience and his aerobics on the 7th floor.

    I can only imagine what GPA I’d have if all I did was go to school and study and ‘chase girls’–sounds like a real pimp to me. I love your work Cal, but this is a mediocre example of a successful premed student. I get the fact that life isn’t always about juggling a thousand projects, but this basically is the life of a premed student.

  71. This is a great article. He seems to get quite a large amount of work done in a day.

    In your article “What’s Holding You Back From Your Creative Potential?”
    5.5 Hours of deep work is considered difficult.

    How is this guy pulling off 7 hours of deep work plus classes? Is this a day to day thing?

  72. I know that this would work for a person that is very self disciplined. But I don’t think that a person who doesn’t have a high level of self control would be able to accomplish this to the same extent and have as much success as Nathan. However, I do believe that if you can do it then you should because the benifits of organizing your time in this way are worth having to deal with such a firm schedule.

  73. We all have a certain amount of time in our day but choose what we do with it. I think I could improve a lot by not wasting time in between classes and waking up in the morning. Thank you so much for sharing, this was such an insightful article.


Leave a Comment