Published on 2nd April 2018 by lauram

Balancing A-Levels and medicine

As cliché as it sounds, balance is so important to both happiness and success. It is something I emphasise in most of the blogs I write, and this one is no exception.

Balancing A-Levels and your medical school application may seem like a difficult feat, but with enough organisation and determination, it is more than possible.

In this blog, I will give you my biggest piece of advice for balancing A-Levels and applying for medicine: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, break everything down into manageable chunks. Here’s how…

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1. Write everything down

During my A-Level years, I developed a habit which still helps me to this very day. Whenever I have to do anything, I write it down. This is particularly helpful when you feel completely overwhelmed by how much you have to do.

I liken it to having your “to-do list” swimming around in your mind – it feels completely unmanageable, because you can’t see it, and so you always feel like you’re missing something. Writing everything down removes that feeling and makes you realise that the list is finite.

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2. Make lists and break tasks down

Once you’ve written it all down, start to organise it into separate lists. If one task seems particularly onerous, break it down further. For example, “prepare for UKCAT” is not an appropriate item on the list. You need to subdivide it, for example:

  • Read over The Medic Portal’s UKCAT Guide
  • Try some practice questions for Verbal Reasoning
  • Read GMC guidelines to help with Situational Judgement

Equally, “revise biology” is not the most helpful item on the list either. When faced with a task so large and non-specific, it’s easy to put it off. However, if you write down a list of chapters you want to read, or past papers you want to complete, then this is much more manageable. For example:

  • Complete 2015 past paper and check mark scheme
  • Make notes from chapter 5 of textbook
  • Learn the Krebb’s cycle

There is also much satisfaction from crossing items on the list, and this should help to spur you on (although I wouldn’t blame you for avoiding that last item!)

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3. Include everything, even the little things

Don’t be afraid to write anything you want to achieve on the list – whether it be “have a bath”, “have a snack” or “tidy bedroom”… As long as these tasks do not outnumber the others, then this is also helpful. You should be doing things that are not work, and you should feel a sense of achievement when doing so.

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4. Decide on a time scale

Once you’ve made your lists, you need to decide the time-scale for completing them. Perhaps you want to organise it into targets for the next hour, or day, or week. This is where balancing A-Levels and applications comes in.

Ensure that you are always completing tasks both for your UKCAT/BMAT and your exams or coursework. However, don’t worry if at one particular time, you feel the need to focus on one more than the other. This is perfectly normal.

For example, if you have your UKCAT coming up in two days, no one is expecting you to learn the Krebb’s cycle. Having your lists help you keep sight of what you need to do, whilst prioritising certain things at certain times.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others. Be organised, and work at your own pace. As long as you know that you have a plan which you are sticking to, you don’t need to worry what other people are doing. People have UKCAT at different times, and they revise at different paces. Worrying about what others are doing will only hinder your own performance and waste your precious time.

Good luck! I hope that you benefit from these tips. Now I can cross “write The Medic Portal blog” off my list…

Words: Mariam Al-Attar

Mariam is a 5th year medical student at Lancaster University. She loves writing and medical education, and is hoping to specialise in rheumatology.

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