Exam season is always a struggle for students and especially before the Christmas vacation I always found myself without any motivation to study and concentrate on exams. As a first year I really think that it’s extremely important to realize that it is normal to feel overwhelmed and a little lost when it comes to exam preparation. Also, the fact that the December exam season falls so close to vacation, which means for a lot of students going home to visit their families after a long time, makes studying more difficult and concentrating nearly impossible. But there are still a lot of things that you can do to survive your exams and have a less stressful exam season this time. Here are my top tips for acing your exams (or at least passing them!):
1. Start early with the revision:
It is always really common to hear your tutors, classmates and practically everyone saying that you need to start studying early before exam week comes and you are already overwhelmed with all the deadlines and with all the information you need to memorize and understand. Even if you have a hectic schedule or you just simple cannot start early with revising for the exam, try to start two weeks before the exam day, preparing, making a study schedule and just trying to figure out which parts you do not understand or don’t remember at all. Starting early doesn’t mean endless studying at the library, sometimes it is just means organizing better the material you want to study, your time, printing out those notes that you always put off for the last day before the exam, or just deciding what you need to know and which material you will focus on. Generally starting earlier takes off a bit of the stress of the actual exam and helps you ease into the process rather than just cram two days before and be tired and uncertain about everything you learnt.
2. Use Anki!
Anki is a great flashcard tool for med school which will literally save you. The desktop version is free but there is also the app version available (I would recommend starting with the desktop version as its really easy to use and most importantly for free). It is a flashcard app where you can make your own flashcards and you can revise them every day choosing the number you want to revise each day. You can also categorize them according to the topics you are currently studying. What I usually do as a first year is to use Anki for mainly revising Physiology and Anatomy and I revise my flashcards every day thirty minutes in the morning when I wake up and ten minutes before I go to sleep. That way it is easier to learn because you are constantly repeating things without having to put a lot of effort. It is also quite fun to see how many things you don’t know when starting and how many things you know and recognize after a couple of days!
3. Practice Questions!
Most of the Med school exams are multiple choice question based so what better way to prepare than actually practice? Solve as many multiple-choice questions as you can and try to recreate the exam conditions especially when you do past papers. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t answer most of the questions but make sure you revise the topics you struggled with and that is really important to do especially in the start of your preparation for the exams.
4. Prepare like athletes do
Be focused, have a study plan and execute it. When athletes prepare for big championships and important games, they have certain rules and preparations that they follow. They are focused the week of the championship, so this means that they don’t waste time, energy and thoughts on other things, they make sure to eat well and practice every day without exhausting themselves and they have a clear mindset when they compete. Which means no negative thoughts, not comparing with other people, not letting other people influence them and most importantly realizing what is the goal and putting in the work and the focus to achieve it.
Now you can do the same exact thing with some adjustments when approaching your exams. Which means focusing on the exam and not thinking and worrying about things one week before the exam, studying without burning out, eating well and making sure your mind is clear from negative thoughts and most importantly making a study plan and ‘training’ towards the goal which is the exam. If you approach it like that you will soon realize that it is much easier to not get stressed and think of it as a goal rather than as a hard exam that you need to tackle.
5. Make a small study group
Even if you prefer to study and prepare for exams alone, forming a small study group up to four people will really come in handy especially the last couple of days before the exam. If you have a good study group with people that you can rely on and can ask questions, will really help you if you are stuck with a concept and you don’t have time to run to the textbooks. It also gives you the opportunity to check if you have all the appropriate information for each case and if you miss a learning goal. An even better way to learn with a study group is to teach what you learned or concepts that want to master. That way you are actively revising, and you also help your fellow students with their revision.
6. Don’t go to the library all the time!
It is really helpful going to the library and having long study sessions where you can be focused without any distractions but sometimes going to the library all the time during exam period can have the opposite effects of what you expect. You might get overwhelmed and tired by the same location and maybe also a bit stressed. Instead what you can do is to change libraries or study in different places such as cafeterias and maybe friends houses that are quiet.
7. Mind Palace and other study techniques
What the exam season actually teaches you is what fits you and what is your learning style. How do you learn optimally? Are you an auditory learner which means that you have to listen to the lectures in order to learn? Do you prefer to write and make notes or are you more of the visual learner and you need pictures and graphs? Whichever type you are during exam season you need to optimize your learning and in order to do that you can use some special study techniques like for example the Mind palace, flashcards, spaced learning or color coding. All the mentioned techniques have been proven to work but you have to decide by trying which one is the best for you!
In general the golden rule when preparing for every exam is to stay calm and not let stress influence negatively your preparation. You have to focus on learning and improving rather than on the result. Always try to take care of yourself, do sports and have breaks because no exam is worth burning out for.
Good luck with your exams!