How to succeed at exams for medics

Get organised

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If you're not organised the easiest thing to do is to waste time - and yes, we know we sound like your mum, but with so much work to do, planning is vital for success. If only half the topics due to be revised are covered before the exams, you don't stand much chance of passing. Also, it's all too tempting to leave difficult topics (neurology?!) until last, so if you're avoiding a subject because you don't understand it, go and ask for another explanation.


Many students fall into the trap of revising in a certain way just because that's the way they've always done it. If you are great at revision and exams, that's great - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If however, you find revision and exams extremely stressful and unpleasant, and you never seem to do as well as you should given the amount of work you put in, then revise your strategy now. There's too much to learn at medical school to risk having an ineffective revision strategy.

The revision process is quite an individual thing, but it is best to have some 'method to the madness'. We've listed some 'top tips' for getting organised for exams...

Activity: Make a revision timetable - 30 minutes

1. Get hold of a copy of your exam timetable or schedule.

2. Using today as the first date, and the last exam as the last date, create a timetable that includes each day from now until your last exam.

3. Fill in each exam in the correct day, and highlight each exam day in a bright colour, so you can't miss them.

4. Fill in fixed commitments, such as lectures, tutorials, dental appointments...

5. Make a list of all the topics you need to revise.

6. Next to each topic, allocate the number of revision periods you think you will need to cover each topic - be realistic, and don't fall into the trap of over-revising things that you already know.

7. Add the time slots for each topic into your timetable. Plan to revise multiple topics in one day to stave off boredom.

8. Don't forget to leave time for 'catch-up days' and much needed days off.

Recommended Further Reading

Working to a timetable requires a degree of discipline, but self-discipline will come in handy throughout your medical career, so it's worth working on.

Take your timetable seriously, and for each topic only work for the allotted time - even if this means stopping halfway through a topic. When you return to the topic in the next session for that subject, you'll be able to continue much more efficiently than if you'd continued slogging on.

Also, try to avoid patterns in your timetable; for example, only revising cardiology at the end of each day, as you'll soon come to loathe that topic.

Another tactic is to find books that contain pictures of medical conditions and physical signs. Keep this in reserve for when you get bored or become tired; looking at pictures will provide some respite, but still allow you to keep learning.

Finally, if your timetable isn't working for you, be prepared to make changes. Is your concentration span shorter than you thought? Then make your study periods shorter. Try widening the amount of subjects covered in one day, to add variety.

Activity: review your timetable - 30 minutes

1. After a week of working to your timetable, take some time to review its effectiveness, and ponder the following things...

  • Have you allocated your revision slots effectively? Are you spending enough time on the difficult subjects?
  • Are your revision periods too long? Do you regularly run out of steam before you've covered all the information you'd planned on revising?
  • Are your revision periods too short? Are you in danger of not covering enough material?
  • Are you covering too many subjects in one day? Do you find yourself becoming confused by the end of the day?
  • Are you covering too few subjects in one day? Is boredom setting in?
  • Have you added in enough days off and breaks, or are you in danger of 'burn out'?
  • Have you added in too many breaks? Are you relaxing more than working?

2. Rework your timetable in light of your answers to the questions.

3. Keep regularly reviewing your timetable to make sure it's working for you.

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