There are only two types of people in the world: those who like exams, and those who don’t. But even for those self-professed exam aficionados, medical school assessments are a different beast – and the variety of tests have the capacity to wrong-foot even the most diligent ANKI assassin. On arrival at medical school, we were all informed that there would be no past papers (What fresh hell is this?), and that absolutely anything that any academic had ever uttered in our presence was fair game for MCQs. Cue blanching, flushing, clamminess, tremors and a feeling of impending doom . . . The most likely diagnosis? Imminent Exam Stress. But as I approach the end of my second year with a fair few written exams now under my belt – alas, due to the pandemic, the delights of OSCEs remain out of my grasp for the time being – I want to pass on the message that medical school exams are totally doable, and that it is entirely possible to learn to manage the stress around them in a productive way. Building healthy habits around assessments in medical school will also stand you in good stead for the rest of your career, regardless of which specialty you decide to go into.
So, in the grand tradition of Study Hub as a space for collaboration, peer support and encouragement, here are some tips from your friends at Study Hub on how to not just survive, but thrive, through exam season and beyond:
- Don’t forget the basics
While there are certainly activities you can probably drop from the schedule in order to free up time for revision and prep, some things really shouldn’t slide. Cas says, ‘don’t forget to eat’, which hopefully is self-explanatory – you are a person who needs nourishment in order to work optimally. Beth also says, ‘as counterintuitive as it seems taking breaks can be productive too’ – those familiar with the pomodoro technique will know that there are limits to how much we can process in one sitting. Get up, stretch, dance, make a cup of tea – anything to give your eyes, back and brain regular breaks from studying will turbocharge your revision sessions.
- Exercise for both the body and the mind
You definitely know this already, but as above, paradoxically it is easy to neglect the things that are most important to your wellbeing during times of elevated stress. Jonathan says, ‘If I had to give a tip, it’d be to make sure you get controlled bits of exercise in. It’s easy to let go of everything, and even if it’s as basic as making sure you walk to the shops every day, it’ll keep you going’ and Morgan agrees, ‘Second this, running saves me during exams. That and headspace’. Extra tip: if you’re worried about losing time from exercise to revision, why not try listening to podcasts like Zero to Finals while you workout?
- Acronyms for wellbeing
What would medicine be without its acronyms? SOCRATES and VITAMIN C aside, we can use the power of the mnemonic to aid in wellbeing. Morgan has crafted his own acronym called The 7 Rs: Run, Read, Reflect, Relationships, Routine, Refuel, Rest. He says, ‘This is like my self-care checklist, it becomes even more crucial during exams’.
- Remember that the people around can help you
This is maybe my favourite tip of all that emerged from discussing this topic with the Study Hub team – the people around you often want to help you, and their support can be the difference that turns exam prep from painful to well, maybe not quite pleasurable, but at the very least, manageable. Tom says, ‘[the] best advice to check if you know/remember something is to try and teach it to someone who wouldn’t know . . . [They might not] remember, or listen. But it helps me remember and realise, oh, I actually do know this’. And it’s not just the nitty gritty of metabolic pathways or pathophysiology that it’s useful to share, but outsourcing motivation to friends who keep us on the right track can be really valuable too. Beth says, ‘you and your friends can help to gently keep each other accountable, for example, walking into the library together in the morning so you don’t snooze your alarm 17 times’. With current social distancing in the UK, studying together in person might not always be feasible, but setting up a video call or sending a kind message to a friend who has requested support to encourage them to get up and after their revision goals can be really helpful.
These are our suggestions to make exams at medical school challenges you feel confident to tackle head on. We’d love to hear yours – let us know in the comments.