On exams.

If you are in the field of medicine, you more than likely have had a negative experience taking an exam. The hatred for the certification exams students, residents, and physicians have to take seems universal.

After a constant stream of academic exams in medical school, I started to hate the testing process. Between the fatigue and anxiety that came along with each one, I never felt like I fully acclimated to the stressful environment of test taking. Having been a good student in college, this was a new feeling for me.

I went from telling myself “you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do better if this exam doesn’t go well” to “oh god this feels like the millionth test I’ve taken.. when will it end?” in a matter of just a few exams. There were so many days that my mind would wander when I should’ve been studying. I would wonder how much money and time I had invested into my medical education. I kept telling myself that I had invested too much of myself to back out now. It felt like as soon as one exam would end there was so much work in other classes to catch up on.

For the first year of medical school it felt like it was an endless cycle of focusing on one subject, cramming for the exam, and paying attention to the other subjects that I had blown off for a week. I didn’t feel like I started to understand concepts until halfway through my second year. Even then, it felt more like connecting random facts together rather than understanding the bigger picture. It felt like I would learn mundane details, dump them onto an exam and out of my brain, and have to keep learning the same details. I didn’t understand how to be an efficient learner in classes until I started exploring sources outside of class including educational videos and question banks.

When I started After taking my COMLEX level one and USMLE step one, I was left with very little energy and motivation to succeed on the first rotation that I had started. I felt like I had just gone through a traumatic event and needed months to recover from the PTSD from the 18 hour study days. I have only met a handful of people who enjoy being tested in a comprehensive way that can be incredibly draining to prepare for. While I feel like I did learn a lot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a more efficient way to test medical students while preserving their mental health.

My call to action to other medical students who feel just as exhausted as me from exams is this: take care of yourself through the grueling process of exam preparation and reach out for help if you need it. Rather than an impossible task standing in your way of becoming a physician, view them hoops to jump through. I know it can be incredibly hard to preserve your sanity during these exams, but it honestly does get better once you enter your clinical years. I know that I still have plenty more exams to take, but it has been getting easier with each one. Taking study breaks, finding time to eat healthy and exercise, and having strong support group to help you through it will definitely help.


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