Question: Can I study for my medical exams on Shabbos?
Answer: The Gemara (Shabbos 149a) writes that one mustn’t read a shtar hedyot (common document) on Shabbos. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 307:17) writes that there is a machlokes as to what this includes. Rambam (Mishnayos Shabbos 23:2) and the Baal Hamaor (quoted by the Beis Yosef OC 307:17) write that it refers to regular letters. Thus, one mustn’t read anything other than Torah on Shabbos. Accordingly, one shouldn’t read any secular books, etc.
The Rashba (Shabbos 149a; Shut Harashba 7:288) understands shtar hedyot as business documents and quotes the Ramban who agrees. One may, however, read scholarly works including medical journals on Shabbos (See Beis Yosef ibid).
The Mishna Berura (307:65) writes that while the halacha follows the Rashba, it is commendable to be strict on oneself and avoid reading secular works on Shabbos. Similarly, R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 29:47) allows one to read professional magazines and textbooks except business ones.
While one may learn Torah on Shabbos for an upcoming test (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 28:84), R’ Yehoshua Neuwirth (ibid 28:n206) writes that R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach hesitated allowing one to prepare for a secular exam, due it to being an issue of hachana, preparing for after Shabbos.While sefardim follow the Shulchan Aruch’s stricter view, R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Shabbos 2:307:n24) makes an exception for medical students who can’t learn at any other time, as after all, studying medicine is such a noble endeavour.