Best Way To Study For Pharmacology Exam

best way to study for pharmacology

Pharmacology is one of the toughest subjects of medicine. There are so many names of drugs, their side effects, mechanisms of action, and pharmacokinetics to memorize. I am not here to intimidate you, instead in this brief guide, I will enlist the best ways to study for the pharmacology exam that will hopefully help you ace your exam. 

As terrifying as it is, it is also one of the most important subjects since, as a doctor, you must understand all of the intricacies of each drug in order to administer the appropriate medication. It is not an optional subject, so you cannot escape it; instead, you can find ways to excel at it. So, let’s dive in.

What is pharmacology?

Pharmacology is a branch of medicine that deals with drugs, their uses, mode of action, administration, elimination, side effects, contraindications and drug interactions. 

Best way to study for pharmacology exam

Create the perfect study environment

Pharmacology is a tough and boring subject. It can be extremely frustrating to memorize and understand each drug and its details so a perfect study environment is of great importance which can help you stay focused with minimal distractions. Go to a library if you believe it will help you study better.

Review the topics you need to cover

It is important that you review the topics that you need to study so that you do not end up studying extra chapters. Every topic is tough as it is, you do not need to waste time on topics that are not included in the exam. 

Learn the classifications first

It really helps to learn the classifications of drugs first before moving on to the little details because drugs in each class can have similarities which makes it easier to memorize. Classification of drugs can be based on their therapeutic effects, mode of action, chemical structure and the areas that they have an effect on such as an organ system. 

For instance drugs that act on the central nervous system (CNS) are called CNS drugs, on the other hand drugs that act on the gastrointestinal tract are called gastrointestinal drugs. These are further classified. 

Learn the prefixes

A lot of drugs that belong to a specific class have the same prefixes. If you learn those, you will be able to recall names of most drugs in that specific class and their therapeutic uses. Let me give you an example of antihypertensive drugs.

Class of drugs Names Prefix
ACE Inhibitors Captopril


Alpha Blockers Prazosin


ARBs Losartan


Beta Blockers Metoprolol


Calcium Channel Blockers Amlodipine


Diuretics  Furosemide




Look for the important information

Drugs in one specific class usually have a similar mode of action and adverse effects etc. For example, common side effects of many drugs are nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal upset. You do not need to memorize all the similarities, instead learn what makes a drug different. For instance a certain drug may not be suitable for administration to a pregnant woman, but another drug from the same class will be. 

Use flashcards 

Make flashcards for each drug or one card for all the drugs from each class. Use these to help you retain all the information. Take them with you wherever you go and keep challenging yourself. Write the names of the drugs on one side and their pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics on the other side. 

Use sticky notes

Another method that many students use is to write everything down on sticky notes and stick them all over the room. This may sound a bit too much but it helps you memorize everything because every time you lay your eyes on a note, you refresh your memory.


There are many pharmacology publications available for med students. I will share my own experience with you.

I used the Lippincott Pharmacology Book. This book is lengthy but it is very easy to understand and helps you build your concepts. 

Another book that many students use is Katzung Basic & Clinical Pharmacology. I found this book to be a bit difficult but it is good and if you think it works for you, then go ahead.

For last minute revision, I used Katzung & Trevor’s Pharmacology Examination & Board Review. This book is very precise and a lot of students use this as the primary textbook as well. There are tables and charts at the end of every chapter that are great for quick revision. 

Pick a textbook that is easy for you to understand and the one that you like better. A textbook that worked for me as I considered it the best way to study for pharmacology exam might not work for you and vice versa. 

best way to study for pharmacology

Download PDF of Katzung & Trevor’s Pharmacology Examination & Board Review

best way to study for pharmacology

Download PDF of Lippincott Pharmacology

Use visuals

If you are a visual learner like me, then look for videos online on YouTube or on the web. Visual learning is far better than reading the text in my opinion. A great book for visual learning in Sketchy Pharm. This book comes with video lectures. Watch the videos for understanding and then read the text for memorization. 

Revise and practice

Solve practice exams and past papers to get a clear understanding of the exam pattern, what to expect, and the type of questions. This will also help you comprehend your weak areas so you can work on them.

Lastly, revise! Pharmacology is very volatile. You need to keep revising to keep your memory fresh. Use the summary tables provided at the end of every chapter in Katzung & Trevor’s Pharmacology Examination & Board Review for quick revision. 

The bottom line

Pharmacology can be a nightmare for med students and rightly so but with the proper learning strategy, anybody can pass their pharmacology exam. To sum it up, focus on what’s important, learn the classifications and prefixes, use flashcards, sticky notes, visuals and pick the right textbook for yourself.

I have enlisted what I think are the best ways to study for pharmacology exams. Hopefully, they will help you ace your exam.

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