Preparing For Finals – Top Tips!

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If you’re looking for positive thoughts and helpful advice, have a quick read. We asked recently qualified doctors for their top 3 tips for preparing for finals.

“1) Eat well & sleep enough. It will make such a difference to your ability to concentrate.

2) Have a structure. What I mean by that is break down the subjects you need to learn about (Cardiology, Respiratory, Neuro…) into smaller manageable topics (for instance, asthma, COPD, lung cancers). Then for each of these smaller topics, break them down into logical headings (e.g features, diagnosis, management)

3) Slow & steady wins the race – doing your revision little and often is less stressful and more effective than trying to do “revision marathons”.

4) Organise your revision notes in a visually appealing way – it’s much more difficult to remember long lists than it is to remember pictures or diagrams.

5) Prioritise by importance – it’s much more useful for your exams to know about the management of asthma than it is to know every detail about something rare like Klippel-Feil syndrome.

6) Ignore the management at your peril – a lot of the questions in last year’s written finals focused on management of diseases, rather than their diagnostic features. ” Dr Harvey, graduated 2015, he gave us some extras!

“1) Bite size learning: it can be so overwhelming to pick up your Oxford handbook and sit in a library, not knowing where to begin. I found it useful to pick a system a week and go over it

2) Practice questions!! It’s the best and easiest way to learn. I found bmj on-examination so helpful. You can do a random paper of tailor practice papers to specific systems you’re struggling with, and then it’ll give you detailed explanations of the answers after

3) Start early: it’s nothing you don’t already know. But to avoid stress and anxiety, begin early by just picking up a book and reading a chapter an evening. You still have portfolios and things alongside finals revision so just start the term off with light reading every evening and go from there.” Dr Simi, graduated 2015

“1) Start early. This is the most obvious point, but it is so important. Why stress yourself out with 5 years of material? There is a lot to get through! You can be asked anything. Despite the volume you do have a lot of time if you use it wisely. It makes the whole process more manageable. Also don’t forget there will be a lot of repetition of material via tutorials, evening sessions or bedside teaching. The earlier you start the more you can cover material and experience the reinforcement benefit of scheduled teaching!

2) Learning for life. You are going to be working as a doctor in a few months. Finals is not just about passing exams but the only time you have to consolidate everything you should know over the last 5-6 years training to use in your working career. Use the time to identify any weaknesses in what you know and ask anyone and everyone to ensure you understand. Ask the stupid questions now: you’ll have enough to ask when you start as an FY1!

3) Avoid “stress medics.” Fellow medics are your best friend and worst nightmare. Whilst you couldn’t ask for a more wonderful group of people to call your peers, come exam time everyone stresses the hell out of each other. Now I am not saying lock yourself away! It is SO important to have time out and chill with friends. But try not to get too stressed by the 100 hour a day, 5am starting, £100 a day crash course attending, I know it all already people. There is no truer fact when I say: you have gotten this far, just do what you normally do. You’ve got this.” Dr Viren, graduated 2015.

“1) Start early, do lots little and often.

2) Get organised, what topics do you need to know, what have your weaknesses been? I recognise this from doing practice questions.

3) Don’t stress too much, you’ll never know it all. Stick with horses not zebras!” Dr Kellie, graduated 2015.

” 1) Well my main advice would be not to panic both before and after. There’s a big feeling of stress and as if you really cannot learn absolutely everything you feel you ought to know beforehand. The truth is you simply cannot know everything and that’s OK. Medicine is difficult and it’s easy to still expect to be able to go into an exam and know all the answers like it was possible to do at A levels. Its important not to work yourself too hard, take time off.

2) Ultimately I did tons of work but felt that in practice I could have done much less and much more revision and it would have made very little difference to my marks cause the written papers were more skewed towards experience from years at medical school and being involved than from book reading. So get stuck in, don’t devote all your time to reading text books. Spend time on the wards learning the theory of what investigations are useful when etc.

3) During the exam the main type of question for it was “what is THE MOST LIKELY diagnosis” or “what would be the most suitable first line investigation?”. This felt difficult a lot of the time but just take a deep breath and think about it logically, it’ll be alright. These questions might be frustrating at points cause you might feel they are too vague and you don’t have enough information to differentiate between some of the answers but I guess that’s the point, it’s about seeing how you deal with not only what is a realistic diagnosis, but how common/likely it is.

4) Know your ECGs.

5) Also worth noting is that in the written papers there were several questions that were in the style of the situational judgement test and some statistics/epidemiology questions, but these were pretty basic so just revise the basics briefly and you should be fine.

6)Finally, it’s easy to feel you have definitely failed after finals. I genuinely thought I’d failed both and was ready for failure (having bet my entire firm I’d buy them a bottle of wine each if I passed).  If you feel bad after finals, that’s normal, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, they’re meant to challenge you or it wouldn’t be a test of five years of medical school.” Dr John, graduated 2015, he gave us some extras!

“1) Start 1-2 months prior to exams with an hour/so a day.

2) Focus on Medical & surgical specialties, give some time to all the others (pathology/Paediatrics/Obstetrics & Gynaecology/GP/epidemiology etc) but you will only get a handful of questions on each so don’t go crazy, be familiar but don’t stress about the details!

3) Divide the slides between your academy group and put them on a google drive for everyone’s reference, saves revision time. (applies to clinical data exams)

4) Remember to have a life!!!! These exams are tough but it’s all stuff you’ve done before and not as bad as 4th year exams!!! Balance your time, don’t burn out, you will all be fine!!! You can still do sports, have nights out etc. I didn’t work beyond 8pm at any time!!! Good luck!!!” Dr Daniel, graduated 2015, he gave us some extras!

“1) They want to see that you’re safe. They’re not looking for you to be a specialist in anyway, but they want you to have a fair amount of knowledge and be able to recognise red flags. Obviously if someone doesn’t have a heart you may want to ask some questions.

 2) Common things occur commonly, make sure you know the basics for the basics, don’t tell them about the 1 case that happened in Zanzibar in 1901 before the pandemic that happened last year.
3) Group work, goes such a long way. Practice makes perfect and going through the motions of things you’d have to do in an exam makes you look and be more confident.” Dr Habib, graduated 2015.
If this is helpful, please share, don’t keep it to yourself! If you have anything else to add, please drop it in the comment box below!

One Comment

  • Absolutely great advice, especially point 3 from Dr Viren, really resonates with me. Your finals are not the time to change your strategy to success: if you’ve done things a certain way for all years prior to your finals and you’ve been fine, stick to it! Other peers will only stress you and waste your time with their suggested extras and alternatives. Know your way and work it!

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