How to succeed at exams for medics

You have got to want it

when you've finished this page you will be able to...

If you feel the urge to learn, you'll be prepared to spend more time on learning. There are two types of motivation to learn: intrinsic motivation is the curiosity that encourages you to want to find out - it's your passion for medicine. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to achieve a goal outside of the desire to simply acquire knowledge - for example, the motivation to pass an exam.


Hopefully, you'll have a good level of intrinsic motivation,as without it you'll struggle to complete five years of medical school. However, even the most intrinsically motivated students can find their enthusiasm waning when they're faced with a mountain of knowledge that needs to be learned. And by fifth year, your stock of intrinsic motivation could be running on empty. In this situation your extrinsic motivation to pass the exam should - hopefully - see you through.

You need to be careful that you don't lose even your extrinsic desire to pass the exam by 'peaking' too early in the revision process. Maintaining motivation throughout the revision process can be difficult, and even with accurate planning, panic can still set in when you see the magnitude of the task. Don't exhaust yourself too quickly - you need to complete your revision with spare motivation left for the exams themselves.

Activity: Staying motivated - 1 hour

Revising with friends or colleagues is a great way to keep your intrinsic motivation levels high. Revising in a group allows you to discuss issues and controversies and get alternative opinions. Getting into a heated discussion over a difference of opinion on a diagnosis is always fun.

1. Arrange a time to get together with course mates. Make sure you can all meet for at least an hour.

2. Ask all your course mates to bring along a question or topic they wish to discuss.

3. Think of a topic you want to talk about; this could be something that you find particularly interesting or particularly difficult.

4. You can then discuss these chosen topics as a group, perhaps in the form of a presentation, debate or teaching session.

5. Remember, this is not a competition about who knows the most, it is about helping each other to strengthen your knowledge.

6. If a course mate mentions something that you find particularity interesting, ask them where they found this information, and read it later.

7. Stay on topic!

Activity: keep your eyes on the prize - 5 minutes

1. On a piece of plain paper, write down in not more than three sentences, your reasons for taking your exams and why you want to do well in them. Is being a doctor all you ever wanted to do? Are your family very proud of you? Have you been promised a convertible Mercedes (or a 15 year old Nissan Micra) if you pass? Are you having a ball at med school and don't want to be chucked out? Whatever motivates you to keep going, write it down.

2. Spend a few minutes thinking about how great you will feel when you do well in your exams.

3. Add any words which describe this feeling to the piece of paper.

4. Stick this piece of paper above your desk and review it when you are struggling to revise. It will remind you of why you're doing revision and taking exams.

previous page next page

Bookmark with: del.icio.us digg facebook reddit stumbleupon