My Exam & Revision Techniques
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
As you progress throughout university, you will have to rediscover the revision techniques that work for you or as I like to think of it: learn how to learn. For Medicine, the most difficult thing to do when it comes to revision is manage the large amount of content you have to know within the time frame you have before you sit your exams. But also remember: you are not just expected to memorise content for examinations but apply them to real-life patients and scenarios!
What do you use to organise your study schedule?
I use the app Trello. Notion is a similar platform that is also fantastic. This allows me to write down small specific tasks that I can tick off when done. You can create lists for a number of boards - these boards act as the compartments of my brain. I have a board dedicated to 'STUDY', 'EXTRA-CURRICULAR', 'PASSION PROJECTS', 'HOUSE CHORES' and so on... you name it! It also allows you to attach documents, links and add further checklists to help organise how much you have to get done.
How do you prioritise the important subjects?
Your university will have examination guidance which may provide details on how the exam content will be divided. Use this to focus on the what you need to know inside out.
Have a look at the learning objectives for the modules you are studying and if you are lucky, your medical school may even have a specific list of diseases or concepts that you are required to know for your exam. The greater number of learning objectives for a specific topic can indicate that it is more likely to be tested in the exam.
It is also worth speaking to older students and testing yourself using any past papers you can find, to get a feel of what types of questions are more often tested than others.
So how do you revise for medical school exams? What are they like?
My medical school has a Single Best Answer (SBA) format for exams. These are multiple choice exams where you are required to pick the best and most suitable answer to the question (i.e. all the answers could be right, but one is the 'most right'). Therefore, it is crucial that you know your stuff – memorisation and active recall are key here.
Throughout the year, after attending lectures/seminars or watching them online, I write my notes on Microsoft word. OneNote is also a popular note-taking tool if you like colour coding and I then finalise them with the use of online educational videos such as those found on YouTube or Osmosis.org.
Once all my notes are complete, I move onto active revision and recall. Different study techniques can be tailored to the different topics you will learn in medical school and the variety will keep you on your toes, helping you to stay motivated as you are revising.
Mind-maps are a great way to write out complex and detailed biological processes, cycles (e.g. menstrual cycle) and timelines (e.g. Antenatal screening timeline). After I’ve drawn out a few posters on topics that I’m finding difficult to visualise, I then cover them up and try and write down the key facts.
Flashcards can be one of the most effective revision techniques if used correctly. The most important part of revision is NOT the note-taking or textbook-reading, but it is the consolidation and understanding of that knowledge and being able to answer questions about it. I create my own online flashcards using the programme Anki and use these to test myself BEFORE attempting past papers. The programme also automatically shuffles cards, so you practice the flashcards you don’t know more often than the ones you have mastered. If you have exhausted your past paper question bank or are tired of doing them, flash cards are a quick and easy alternative. I you do not want to make your own flashcards or do not have the time, then there are plenty of ready-made decks available to download online since clinical studies are similar across the world. Quizlet is also a great site for ready-made quizzes to test yourself. Flashcards are perfect for learning quick facts and figures like the total number of chromosomes in a human cell.
Mnemonics are a good way to learn names, short processes and relationships. However, basing all of your revision on mnemonics can get you very confused when it comes to examinations (I wouldn’t recommend mnemonics for learning anatomy, for example, because there is just SO much to know!). Mental associations with unique scenarios, images or things you enjoy are a popular way to memorise content.
I use Netter’s Anatomy Flashcards to practice my anatomy and I have a dedicated drawing book for me to write my notes down. King’s also does human dissection which helps me consolidate my anatomy knowledge and has optional open anatomy sessions for further revision.
What helps me stay motivated through revision:
Maintain a good work-life balance during ‘revision season’
I lose motivation when I have nothing to look forward to but doing more revision – this can be very counter-productive! To make it easier to motivate yourself to revise, you should break up your learning with hobbies or fun things you enjoy doing. For me, it’s very important to not isolate myself from my family and friends – you do not need to be revising 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Revision is really about quality and not quantity. Revise smart NOT hard!
A good way I approach a large amount of revision is focus each day on a subject (sometimes I find that creating a revision timetable is useful as it means you aren’t feeling scatter-brained about where to start). Try and work for 2 parts of the day: for example, morning to late afternoon or late afternoon to evening and use your spare time to do what you like. You can take a morning off to sleep in or spend an evening with your friends. You’ll feel less guilty about it because you would have put the solid work in during the day.
Reward yourself after every exam… but don’t slack!
Most of us have more than one exam and must not burn ourselves out or have too much fun before the next. It’s important to reward yourself with a small treat or some time out after one exam before your next one comes around. Have your favourite food for dinner, meet up with friends or give yourself one day/few hours off from studying. This will re-energise and re-motivate you to tackle your upcoming exams.
Think towards the future… what am I going to do when exams are over?
Having something great to look forward to when all your exams are over is always a good motivator. When I finished my A-Levels I travelled to Malta with family and planned my subsequent gap year (which included a lot of travelling too). Keeping this in mind kept me on track to do well in my exams. Although travelling is always fun, it could be just looking forward to all the free time you have coming up in the summer!
You can use a combination of these revision techniques as I do, and you will find your own ways of studying that are best for you! Leave a good few months before your exam dates to revise properly.