Medical finals can be daunting after 5 years or more of medical school. The wide range of topics that can be examined and volume of multiple choice questions mean that you need to have adequately prepared to reduce stress and ace the finals exams.
Preparing For Medical Finals
Before going any further, you absolutely must remember one thing - you cannot learn it all. Medicine is huge in both depth and breadth; therefore you need to revise tactically.
Allocate your time tactically and efficiently to maximise your marks by:
- Get started early and plan a revision timetable well in advance to cover the syllabus. Don't spend too much time passively reading, rather jump into questions early and use active interrogation to help identify your weak areas and then take notes to help memorise the topics. Flashcards can be great here too.
- Learn the content you are good at first. This includes reading around the subjects to pick up those top marks that often get allocated to ‘extra reading’.
- Don't waste time on areas you struggle with. The key here is to pick up the basic marks and sacrifice the top tier marks because obtaining those would eat up lots of your revision time that could be spent more efficiently elsewhere. In order to do this effectively, you need to acquire a breakdown of marks per topic e.g. 20 marks allocated to Surgery whilst only three marks might be allocated to Radiology.
Topic prioritisation when creating your revision timetable is key, especially for the big specialties such as paediatrics and O&G. For example, you don’t need to learn all the different types of paeds inborn errors of metabolism, but you do need to know everything about meningitis.
Aim to cover topics in a cyclical or spiral manner if possible, using multiple sources. For example: Firstly, see practise questions, then read the corresponding page in oxford handbook (of medicine and clinical specialties) and then take notes and read around the subject to ensure understanding.
Medical Finals MCQ Exam Technique
The first thing to focus on is analysing the question stem. Everything is included for a reason, be it valid info or a red hearing/distractor. Experience and subject knowledge allows you to differentiate most of these. Pattern recognition plays a large part in this, consciously or otherwise, and so MCQ practice is key.
Your biggest enemy in the final MCQ papers is time. It is vital that you identify the time and number of questions on the exam well in advance and then calculate the amount of time you can spend on each question. This also allows you to practise by timing your questions. Shiken's custom revision setting allows you to set total time or time per question and practise exams recreate the real thing.
At the start of the paper allocate one to two minutes to quickly scan through the paper and let key words (gall stones, pancreatitis, neonate, renal etc), images, figures, graphs etc register in your subconscious. Remember to check the back page so you know what the last question is. There is a recognised phenomenon that your confidence increases as a paper progresses (the beginning often seems the hardest). This is more reason to leave earlier questions you are struggling with to the end as your cognitive wheels are well greased by then.
When you finish the paper try to avoid changing your answers. You may often second-guess yourself and it is invariably best to go with your gut or first instinct. Remember exams are designed to test you and you aren't expects to get everything correct.
Looking after yourself
As medical finals approach revision will become your primary job. Here are some pointers on looking after yourself during this intense period:
- The only thing more important than studying during exams in not studying. You absolutely have to factor in breaks and sleep into any work schedule (a break is one that should ideally get you away from a screen or computer)
- For the vast majority, all-nighters in the library are completely non-conducive to content retention or concept intake. Those ‘extra couple of hours’ you devote to revision instead of sleep are detrimental to the next day’s work
- Remember to factor in exercise and mindful meditation and healthy eating into your revision timetable. If you are tired you will be less productive and research shows that students perform better when rested, health and energised.
- An extra hour of sleep is worth an extra three hours of revision through the night
- Be sure to switch off the day before your exam, relax, exercise and get a good night's sleep this will improve your performance
Medical finals questions are the cost of a cup of coffee or two a month so there is no excuse not to turn on speed repetition and try and master all of the questions between now and your exams.