Over the past few weeks I have been getting messages from friends in the year below about tips for finals so I thought a blog post would be in order.
Firstly, congratulations. Making it to the final year of medical school is no easy feat and if you have got this far, you can breath a little sigh of relief. Let’s be honest. You have had to sit for many long hours hitting those books and at times it has felt like an uphill battle. You have re-considered your decision to do medicine more than a few times around exam time and now that most of your friends are working and living fabulous lives in the city, being a broke student is getting a little old.
Thankfully, these days will almost be over for you!!
One final hurdle.
If I had a little sibling, this is the advice that I would give them.
1-Get your head straight
I have never received so many messages asking for advice as I have for “final year”. People look at it differently. It’s different in that it is a big exam, but it is still just an exam.
Do not panic. Just how you have sat many exams before, finals is just another one. It is nothing that is beyond you. The title of finals just makes it sounds like something fancy. Don’t let that phase you. Approach this year how you would any other.
2-Get tunnel vision
Finals are like other exams, but the content you have to cover is probably more than you have had to before. You need to be focused. This should be your biggest priority. Have fun, do the things that keep you sane, but be careful how you use your time. A random weekend wasted away is fine here and there, but closer to exams that time is precious. You might kill for an extra hour. Do things that will help you in the long term. Your work is your priority. If you have to re-do an exam or fail, that is on you. You can’t blame anyone else, so be aware of how you are using your time early on.
3- Don’t listen to other people
If I had a pound for the amount of times I heard “I did like no work” from a medical student I would be minted. Unfortunately, people in medicine don’t always say it how it is. Maybe they want to look “cool”. “I spent 10 hours on haematology and I still don’t get it” doesn’t get you many LAD points. My advice to you would be: smile and let it wash over your. Do what YOU need to do. Maybe you can adsorb information by sleeping on a book. Good for you. The majority of us (me included) need to work hard. Let that be your focus. Don’t pay ANY attention to the mindless “I just painted my nails over the weekend and then got drunk and did no work”. Good for them.
4- Get a syllabus or make one
Most medical schools will have some sort of syllabus for finals. If they don’t, or if it’s really vague, then try and make one. You need some sort of structure to your revision. Make sure you keep looking back at this to make sure you have enough time to cover everything and are on the right track. Passing finals is about being a safe F1 and not to be an expert in the intricacies of sentinel node biopsy. You need to cover a breath of specialities.
If you are struggling with this then get in contact and I can try and help you out.
This is a no brainer. We are all intelligent enough to be pass exams but people who do well are organised. A weekend spent getting your notes together, can be done in the holidays. It’s up to you. I didn’t do that, but I wish that I had. Anything that you can do to make your life easier in the future is an investment in yourself. And you are number one so make your life easier for yourself.
6- Get hold of some good notes
I got my hands on some great notes which I memorised. They are basically the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine typed up but they were easier to print off than to keep using the book. If you want me to send you these notes, just e-mail me and I will happily send them over.
7- Learn in layers with emergencies first
Say for example, you are revising cardiology. I would learn in order in priority. Firstly the emergencies, then the common conditions and then the stuff you might know and then the weird and wonderful.
If you learn in this layered way, you might not have time to cover the weird and wonderful. If you do great, but in this way you don’t miss important topics which as a soon to be doctor, you should know about.
8- Get some form of question bank and start NOW
I wish I did this earlier than I did.There are loads, PASTEST, on examination and many more. They all vary slightly but I wouldn’t get overstressed about which one you are using. I got passtest which was good because I could download the app and then do questions wherever I was. I use to do questions before I went to sleep in bed on my phone. Sad times really, but it was useful!
I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist with my revision and I don’t want to test myself until I know I will get the right answer. But this is NOT the way to go friends. Start as EARLY with past questions as you can. You will learn LOTS and LOTS and “revising” a topic doesn’t mean that you know a topic. This is Medicine, always more to learn 😉
9- If it’s all going wrong- get help as soon as you can
All of the above is all well and good , and if you do it before you start 5th year, you are laughing. I WISH I did that but I didn’t have anyone to tell me all of that or the good sense to realised it myself! Oh well, I landed on my feet.
If you are reading this half way though finals or at a later point and you are flagging please don’t delay getting help.
If you are feeling down and a bit depressed talk to someone. Don’t wait for things to get better on their own. A friend or a sympathetic GP are all wonderful. You are not the first stressed out medical student and you won’t be the last. The earlier you seek help the earlier you can be helped. Being a medical student doesn’t make you immune to anything. And the added stress can take its tole. If you take anything away, please just talk to someone so you can be helped. Passing finals is the aim but NOTHING is more important than your sanity and happiness. We all go a bit loco around exam time but make sure you look after yourself.
If you are struggling with organisation, ask someone who seems to have a good plan doing to help you out. Or ask me and I might be able to help.
The take home is whatever it is, identify the issue and get help.
10- The bigger picture
In all the crap of revision, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You went to med school to become a doctor which you will soon be. I am only a month in, but I don’t think 17 year old Salma could have made a better decision. You are in a privileged position and the pain of finals is temporary.
You got this.
Best of luck!!