Getting into medical school is the primary goal of a college student enrolled in a pre-med program. The competition is intense, and to be accepted by a good school, you need to ace pre-med classes. We’ve all seen the students we know will make it: They’re the ones who always seem to understand the professor when no one else has a clue, and their lab experiments mysteriously come out right when everyone else’s refuse to work. Contrary to popular belief, these students aren’t geniuses. What they can do, you can do. The following steps will enable you to ace pre-med classes, just like the whiz kids.

The most important secret to doing well in pre-med classes (or any college courses) is recognizing that college is a job like any other. In any professional position, you can expect to put in 45 to 50 hours a week or more. Techniques like study skills and note-taking strategies are great, and you should use them to work efficiently. But there is no substitute for putting in the hours and doing so consistently.

Begin before the semester even starts, by carefully choosing the courses you will take. Take a couple of the difficult courses and balance them with easier classes. In this way, you avoid overloading yourself. Ask faculty members for their input to get an idea of which classes are the most difficult. Register early so you get the classes and instructors you want.

Get organized and stay organized. Have a schedule of classes and study times. Make it flexible, but allow enough time each week to get the work done. Your schedule should include two hours of outside work for each hour you spend in class. For a typical class schedule in a pre-med program, this means a total of 50 to 55 hours per week.

Do all the reading for each class or lab beforehand, and take notes. List any questions you have and take the list to class with you. In the laboratory or classroom you will then be able to focus on getting your questions answered and on understanding what the instructor is saying.

Labs in any science require special preparation. The purpose of the lab is to demonstrate the theory in the textbook. Read the relevant sections in your textbook, along with your lab manual or handouts. Focus on trying to understand the connections between theory and practice. When you don’t see or understand the connection, make notes about problem areas so you can ask questions.

Doing well in the lab is essential to ace pre-med classes. Preparation is only half the battle. The other half is execution. Keep your lab bench organized. Be meticulous and precise with measurements and procedures and take detailed notes. Never try to rush through a laboratory experiment. Take the time to do it right and to understand how the experiment or procedure demonstrates a theory or concept.

Start major projects early in the semester. This applies to all courses, not just pre-med classes. You do not want to find yourself trying to write a history term paper from scratch the same week you are studying for your final in organic chemistry.

All college instructors have office hours. Your professors are the best source of advice to help you ace pre-med classes. Office hours are your opportunity to get answers to questions and to receive personalized attention.