14 August 2007

the medical school exam experience

at present, i'm breaking about 10 rules by logging on to blogger from school, but it's 8am and they've dragged our butts here for a presentation by the president of a medical association (i.e. pr bullsh!t talk) and now they're telling us it's going to start at 8:30am instead of 8:00am, and i'm feeling just a tad bitter about missing out on that extra 30 minutes of sleep. <--yes, that was a run-on sentence. this is the kind of verbiage i produce after one very long, stressful day yesterday and not nearly enough sleep last night. but the point of my post is not to whine about my fatigue and the multiple unnecessary events i'm required to attend on a regular basis...rather it's to relate my experience of medical school exams.

i actually wrote a post about medical school exams yesterday, as i was sitting in one of the afternoon lectures. we have a new professor here who is from the former USSR. he's an interesting guy--exuberant and hyper educated (an md/phd breed) and has a wealth of information to share with us. alas, between his accent and his utter inability to create a useful powerpoint presentation, we're not quite benefiting as much as we could be under the circumstances. it's a shame, really.

so during lecture, i pulled up word, changed my font to some crazy small unlegible from (so as to prevent the faculty in the two rows behind me from reading my ramblings) and pretended to be taking notes while i was really going on a very long venting rant about how much i hate medical school exams. i'm not going to post that particular rant here. it contained one too many expletives, even for my taste. ;-)

the whole medical school experience is difficult to describe. i think that's one of the reasons i'm so interested in attempting to capture this process--how do i explain what i'm going through to others? i think it's important, to somehow articulate this so-called life, not just for my family and friends (so that they don't assume i've just fallen off the planet!), but also for those of you out there who may be contemplating this path. i sure wish i'd had a blog or two to read before jumping into the thick of this. then again, can a pre-medical student really hear what a medical student is saying? it's hard to know. as open-minded as i'd like to think i am, i'm not sure i could've heard what i have to say now before i began.

yet, i digress. again. (i seem to be getting better and better at rambling. it's a function of how much i'm studying and how little social interaction i'm getting!) what are medical school exams like? what makes them difficult? why do they trip up students who have been consistently successful in every other academic endeavor they've ever undertaken?

i can only speak from my experience--i doubt it's the same for everyone--but i know there are some common threads, so here's my attempt at a description: i'll use the exam we took on monday as an example. the faculty dubbed it the "welcome to medical school" exam. it was "only" worth 10% of our grade. i say only because most exams in medical school are worth, at a minimum, 30% of a student's grade for the semester. most are worth more than that. in some courses last year, our grades depended upon one examination. in other words--if you had a bad day on test day, it sucked to be you, because there was no room for improvement or remediation. harsh? hell, yes.

comparatively, then, monday's exam was one of the easier ones, simply because there was less performance pressure. however, just because the exam was worth less, doesn't mean that there wasn't less material on the exam. the test on monday comprised the following:

  • gross anatomy of the:
    • vertebral column
    • back muscles (superficial and deep)
    • sub occipital triangle
    • shoulder
    • scapula
  • microanatomy of:
    • epithelium
    • connective tissue
    • bone
    • cartilage
    • muscle
    • lymphoid tissue

on the exam, there were 60 written multiple-choice questions (all board-style, meaning that they're supposed to be representative of the type of questions we'll be asked on the qualifying examination for basic medical sciences that we take at the end of our second year and have to pass in order to move on to third year and the clinical rotations therein) and 30 practical questions (also board-style, but based upon powerpoint slides that were shown to us of different images, like a picture of one of our cadavers or a histological slide of a blood cell, etc.). this was all based upon two weeks of classes. <--yes, you read that right--all that, from two weeks of classes, intermingled with orientation and two other classes (osteopathic principles & practices and clinical exam). that's 14 days. to learn all that. now do you see why the analogy of medical school being like trying to learn how to drink out of a fire hose when you're not really thirsty is so apt? ;-)

as you can imagine, every student in the class was stressed out about this exam. that's another aspect of the examination process in medical school that makes exams so difficult--no matter how hard you work, you never feel like you've learned enough or are prepared. no, not even the second time around. the combination of quantity of material, insufficient amount of time, and weirdness of the questions themselves--well, it just makes for one heck of an exam experience.


i ended up being interrupted in the midst of my ramblings, as you can well imagine. there's only so long that even i can type while in a lecture without raising suspicions. it's now sunday. i'm still exhausted from last week's marathon, but, guess what? there's no time to rest. the next exam is in 8 days. and counting....

our class, as a whole, performed better on this year's exam than last year's class. that made the faculty happy, so they haven't started in on us with the "you're stupid" attitude. at least, not just yet. as for the results of the exam? the highest score (combined written + practical) was a 98%, the low was a 48%, and the mean was 80%.

the good news? i doubled my score from last year. the bad news? the score still wasn't high enough for me to pass. *ouch* <--feel free to cringe with me on this one. three lousy points, two lousy questions...that's all i needed....

i'm not sure how i'm going to remedy my test-taking deficiencies. i know this material. i have been teaching the material to others. but i suck at answering multiple choice questions, particularly ones like these. is it test anxiety? some of it, for sure. but that doesn't seem to be the whole problem. guessing by what it took to get through this last year, it looks like it's going to be another l-o-n-g semester....

so, in case you were wondering, that's a small (very small) glimpse into the world of how it feels to take a medical school exam. i hope it helps those of you who are curious. and for anyone who has been through this--any advice on correctly answering multiple-guess questions? this C-BAD-DAD method of bubbling in the scantron doesn't seem to work so well. ;-)


1 comment:

Tiffani and Christopher Guymon said...

Your site is exactly what I have been looking for-an insite to medical school. I am currently an RN who has always wanted to become a physician. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about going back to school to get my MD, but wondered if I was too old or if how med school would actually be, how my family would handle it etc. Thanks for the insite on the examinations. Keep the posts coming!

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)