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6 Top Tips for Succeeding in Your First Medical School Exam

Medical school can be quite daunting at first, with a very heavy content load and a whole new way of learning. At some point in the first term, most medical students will be faced with their first exam, be it formative or summative. Regardless of whether it counts towards you passing the year or not, it is essential to develop good habits right from the start. Here are some top tips for succeeding in your first medical school exam:

1. Plan ahead

You’re unlikely to have completely free weeks without teaching before your first medical school exam. Chances are, you might even have scheduled classes the day before! Therefore, it is really important to plan ahead and know when your exam is in the context of your timetable, and the time you will have available to revise.

This allows you to be realistic about prioritising and covering all the content you need to cover. Try to schedule in small bits of revision time even before you have finished teaching on everything that will be in the exam, in order to have sufficient time to cover everything without cramming!

2. Know what the most important content is

Medicine is totally different to A-Levels. There is so much content that it is almost impossible to learn every single bit of detail you will be taught. Prioritisation will become your new most important skill. You may have heard the term ‘breadth not depth’ talked about and this is really important.

It is way better to know a little bit about all of your topics than learn one in loads of detail, as this will not help you to score highly. Gaining a broad understanding will be the most important way to do well in the medical school exam, the small detail will help you gain fewer marks than the key concepts.

3. Do little and often

It is hard to really crack this one as medical school seems like a never-ending stream of tasks and assignments. Learning the content as you go along seems like ‘hidden’ work at first. However, by doing this your future self will thank you around medical school exam time.

You can’t cram for a medical school exam as there is just too much content. Doing little and often will ensure you stay on top of all the content, and hopefully when you do your final bits of revision around exam time it won’t feel like stuff you’ve never seen before!

4. Cover everything and then revise in depth

There is so much content to get through that it is a risky strategy to revise topic by topic. Not covering a specific topic will definitely mean lost marks, as medical school exams are ‘blueprinted’ to the curriculum. If you have covered four topics, chances are each will be worth 25% of the exam content. It is way more important to learn the key concepts and most important bits of each topic than do every single detail of one and then rush through another.

5. Revise actively

Reading over your notes does not count as revision! It is vital that you are actively recalling the knowledge from your brain. This strengthens your knowledge and helps you to more effectively identify your weaknesses. Using flashcards, doing practise questions or teaching a friend a section of a topic are all great ways to actively revise. Also, bear in mind that going over a topic once is not enough for it to sink in; you need to go over content multiple times to gain a deep understanding.

6. Take breaks

No one really knows how much revision they should be doing for their first medical school exam. It is so different to A-Levels and is so much more content heavy that it can be tempting in the weeks (or even months) leading up to it to spend all of your free time in the library to learn as much as you can. However, this will only lead to you feeling miserable about medicine and might even cause you to burn out.

It is important to pass your medical school exams, but it is also essential that you enjoy medical school and look after your wellbeing. Revising too much will only be counterproductive and lead to lower quality revision. Plan your time well; schedule your revision alongside other activities you enjoy, such as sports and socialising with friends. Ensure you have a small break at least once every couple of hours to give your brain a chance to refresh. You need a balance of revision and other activities to stay happy and motivated.


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Your first medical school exam might seem daunting, but with a balance of hard work and effective revision you will do well. Ensure you make the most of your revision time and don’t spend every spare moment revising. Have a plan and don’t cram at the last minute and you will be successful.

Words: Safiya Zaloum

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