Getting through Exam Season

With 4 weeks left until my exams, I thought it would be relevant to talk about exam period, exam stress and how to cope with it all at medical school.

Now, there may be tears but this is normal! I think sometimes we can be so harsh on ourselves, expecting to get every single thing done when in reality we are human beings not robots. Thinking like this meant that I had a “is this going to be in my exam” attitude towards learning rather than actually wanting to learn and understand the content to make me a better doctor in the future. Medicine and exams soon became a checklist rather than an actual degree that I was enjoying due to the pressure of deciles and doing well. This is normal because we genuinely do want to thrive but don’t let this be your main motivation.

This is one way I began to minimise my exam stress and something I have to remind myself about on a daily basis.

I tell myself I’m not studying for exams but I am studying to be a doctor, and an AMAZING doctor that is!

This meant that I would be more willing to do that extra bit of reading, going into that little bit more depth to make sure I really had a good understanding of the topics. I changed my mind-set from what am I going to need to know for my exam to what am I going to need to know to treat this patient? This meant that I actually started enjoying revision, I started to see each lecture as a new opportunity to increase my learning so I started taking my time with revision rather than rushing it to get my to do list ticked off quicker.

I would also say that organisation is incredibly important. I like to plan my weeks on a Sunday night using Microsoft Excel. I start by writing a list of all the lectures I need to do and then slotting them into different days. I’ll then add things like Anatomy revision, OSCE practice and recap sessions of topics I have already done around those slots. Finally, I will add time for me to go to the gym and church. The good thing about Excel is that you can move boxes around and edit the timetable as the week goes along because your week may not always go as you plan! It also allows me to visually see how much work I have for that week/day and this acts as motivation.

Revising with/teaching people is also a good way to study, especially when the exams are getting closer and you should be at your consolidating stage of revision. I like to go through topics with friends (ensure this is actually studying and not just having a chat!) using whiteboards and making mind maps. I have also started giving revision lectures to the year below me which has massively aided them in their revision but also myself. As my exams are synoptic, material from last year can be tested in my exam this year, hence it was relevant to my learning. This Tuesday I gave a lecture on Kidneys and can still remember where all the different diuretics work at the tubule even though I have not looked at the material again since then. The stuff is ingrained in my memory!

Finally, I want to explain the importance of maintaining a social life and taking care of yourself. Its so easy to lock yourself away and think you have no time for anyone or anything else than revision but there are 24 hours in a day! This is why I make time for gym everyday and church twice a week because I genuinely enjoy these things and we all need that break away from studying. It also reminds me that I have a whole life outside of Medical School. Yes, it is one of my biggest passions and I love the degree but it is not where my life starts and stops and I think finding this balance mentally is important as exams begin to stress you less. Find that little break every day, even if its just watching Netflix for an hour then do it – we all need time away from the books to just breathe and be human. Don’t feel guilty for going to watch a movie with your friends or having a lie in once in a while rather than shooting off to the library at 7am. Don’t neglect your own health, make sure you are eating nutritious food, I know it can be tempting to just get take away everyday which 1) will hurt your bank account but also 2) make you feel more sluggish thus making revision harder,

So eat your 5 a day, stay hydrated, love life and study! My golden rule for exams.

Wishing everyone with upcoming exams the best.

Written by Lizkerry Odeh

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