This is your guide to Medical School exams, what you can expect and how to tackle them.

Dan is about to start his second year of Medicine at Southampton. In this guide to surviving your first Med School exams, he shares what to expect and how to prepare.

When To Expect Your First Exams?

Your first exams are likely to be around December or January depending on your university.

At Southampton, I sat papers with three formats: a multi-choice paper, a written paper that consisted of many questions ranging from two to seven marks and an anatomy paper, which tested identification and application of information.

This is different to OSCEs that come later.

Though I can only speak for Southampton, most Medical Schools sit two sets of exams a year. The first set in January are considered formative and are mainly to check that your Medicine learning is progressing. The second set is summative, and you must pass these in order to progress to the next year.

How Are Med School Exams Different?

You will soon find that Medical School is a large step up from A-Level and therefore you need to be more efficient with your revision. This means you should incorporate active recall and spaced repetition into your revision as studies have shown that they are the most effective.

There are a variety of ways in which you can incorporate these into your work. I learnt by making flashcards and consistently going through them. You can do this with tools such as Quizlet, which are designed to improve your active recall skills.


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Build Your Note-Taking Skills From Day One

I cannot emphasise enough how much easier it is to revise from clear and structured notes. It’s a good idea to think about how you’ll take notes and organise them before you even start Medical School. This will save you time having to look for lost notes or replace any missing ones. It could be as simple as saving notes in a free Google Drive account or Microsoft OneDrive – or by using a tool like Quizlet and organising assets like flashcards as you study.

Whatever note-taking method you use, you will thank yourself later if you are able to make them very clear. If you have to spend time reorganising your notes then that time is being wasted and you may not be able to revise important concepts.

Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress can be one of the most difficult parts of revision so if you are able to find healthy ways of coping with this, you will be in a good position. One of the factors I believe helps with this is making a schedule and planning breaks. This can be general relaxing or a specific activity and it will benefit you to take time away from revision. If you are really struggling with stress you can speak to student services at your university or your GP to discuss the available options

Stick To A Study Schedule

Another good habit to develop is sticking to a study schedule. For my first Med School exams, my process for planning my study schedule was:

  1. Write a list of everything you need to revise before your exams
  2. See how much you can get through in one day, and use that to plan a schedule
  3. Make sure you give yourself two days before exams to focus on practice questions and quizzes

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Tips For Tackling Your First Exams

Choosing how to prepare for exams is largely a personal decision, however, there are some key features that most high achieving students will have in common. These include:

  • Give yourself enough time to revise. If you leave all your revision to the final week, then no matter how hard you work, you will not be able to cover the content in enough detail to perform to the best of your abilities in your exams.
  • Work on active recall and spaced repetition, as studies have shown that they are the most effective. There are a variety of ways in which you can incorporate these into your work, making flashcards and consistently going through them.
  • Focus on learning outcomes. These are arguably the most valuable resource you have at your disposal. Most schools will have a webpage where you can check them and then base your revision around them, as that is what the exam will be testing.

Finding your study method is the best tips you can get for exams. Each person will have their own process when preparing for exams and trying out many different techniques can help you find yours. From spider diagrams to making posters, every method can be effective as long as you incorporate some key concepts in there e.g. active recall


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