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Final Exams Provide a Reality Check

Aaronsingh72x721Aaron Singh -- It’s 6 am, and I’m sitting by myself on the top floor of my College library. The sun’s first rays are beginning to peek through the modern glass ceiling, and I’m still plowing through a series of Pharmacology lectures. In recent days I have earned the dubious honour of being the biggest customer at the College coffee vending machine, being too lazy to crawl all the way back to my room to make my own, and I’m now on a first-name basis with the College janitors who come in at 4 am to clean the library and prepare it for another working day. The librarian doesn’t bother cleaning up my books when she finds them anymore, knowing that wherever I’ve run off to, I’ll be back soon. Sigh.

So why am I working so hard, you ask? Well, firstly, it’s out of sheer panic. You see, ladies and gentlemen, just recently, about the same time I cracked my first textbook open a few days ago, I discovered an urgent truth that (I like to think) many medical students (just not the ones around here) probably discover around the time they sit down and begin hardcore revision (studying) for final exams:

I have forgotten how to revise.

No, really. All year I’ve been frolicking around on stage (which explains the death threats from my tutors) and making half-hearted attempts at studying (which explains the death threats from the lecturers who mark my essays). Now I’m getting death threats from my neurons, as I overload them in a last-ditch attempt to prepare for exams in 2 months.

So why this last-minute studying? Well, taking inspiration from Kendra’s last post, I could go on about how I signed up to be a white-coat-wearing, patient-seeing doctor hungry for clinical experience, and didn’t expect the hardcore academic training we get in our first three years.

But nope, the reality is simply that I'd lost myself for a while. I’d forgotten how hard I had to work to get into medical school in the first place, and how hard we all promised ourselves we’d work once we got here. But fortunately for me, a combination of caring tutors and overly competitive manic coursemates has opened my eyes while there’s still time. I may have to work overtime for a bit, but it’ll be worth it in the end; if I get my choice of third-year course, I may finally get some clinical exposure! But that’s a story for another post…in the meantime, I have a far bigger question looming on the horizon:

Black or white coffee?

April 10, 2007 | Permalink


Hi Aaron,

I just finished taking the first of 5 shelf exams (the equivalent of a final exam for two semesters), and it completely kicked my butt. I've been studying along the way, but trying to cram 2 semesters worth of material into your brain in one day, is just not a very possible task. But you have 2 months to study, so I know you can kick it into high gear and pull it off. They recently got an espresso machine here on campus, so I'll now able to transform into Super Kendra, with a big "E" on my chest (yay, espresso baby)! I'm only afraid the the baristas at the bookstore might get a little startled the next time I go in there, with bloodshot eyes, a wild look on my face, and wearing nothing but a big "E" painted on my chest. Hopefully, they won't cut me off. Cheers to med school!

Posted by: Kendra | Apr 10, 2007 7:49:33 AM

Black, definitely. More kick than white. Even better, get a freshly pulled double shot espresso, that should wake you up. Good luck with the exams, all the slogging'll pay of in the end.

Posted by: | Apr 11, 2007 2:37:33 AM

I wish I could order a triple shot non-fat mocha latte at our vending machine. I definitely know how you feel. My finals start in 9 hours and its 1 in the morning. I'm debating whether I should call it quits and get some sleep or forget sleeping, swallow a caffeinated pill, and cram everything there is to know about antibiotics, diuretics, anticholinergics, etc. into my poor head that still hurts from reading x-ray plates for the past 3 days. In a week, I'll know whether I graduate med school or not. There's no pressure. No pressure at all. *sigh*

Posted by: Michael | Apr 11, 2007 10:46:30 AM

Good Lord, Michael. You sound like me in 4 years *gulp* All the best to you! At least a week doesn't keep you in suspense for too long. Let us know how it turns out!

Posted by: Angry Medic | Apr 11, 2007 5:50:30 PM

Hey Aaron... I depended on coffee too during my study week for my final papers. I just had to coz it's the only thing that helped maintain my consciousness and alertness. For me, black is the best. Oh yes, how can I forget about those last minute revision panic. I had those "I think I'm actually illiterate" moments when there's too much to cramp into the head yet too little time left. It's like my brain telling me that it's giving up. Totally. Anyway, good luck to you... 2 months is enough time so don't worry. I had only 2 weeks :p

Posted by: Cindy | Apr 14, 2007 8:21:53 AM

Hi Aaron,

I'm a medical student at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal. I'm in the 3rd year (here the course takes 6 years).
In the last days I've been realizing that, like you tell in your post, that I have forgotten how hard I promised myself I'd work once I'd get into medical school. I feel I've lost my natural curiosity, just studying the necessary to pass. Only this last week, that I've got the chance to taste a little bit of failure (bad grades, ruined presentations, some nasty comments by the lecturers, etc), I could open my eyes to see that. Now, 2 months away to final exams, I'm facing a ton of books and lecture notes to read.

Anyway, I think that's better late than never! Good luck!

Posted by: John | Apr 14, 2007 9:26:54 AM

your article reminds me of the days of my final exams 2 mths back.i think its a universal phenomenon to get all busted before the exams.all the pressure gets every bit of your body and soul charged up not to mention the anxiety and fear of failure. i am currently in my 2nd month of internship and surely wont forget the similar feeling like yours for a long time to come


Posted by: roshan | Apr 15, 2007 5:05:23 AM

Hey there Aaron! Wow...I gotta say....2 months and u're studying so hard. Well, there are pros and cons....u get it all clear in ur head and turn out be very smart and get a good grade, but u can overstudy like that. Man, u've got 2 months and u're already not sleeping. I'm a 3rd year medstudent at the University of Tartu, Estonia. We too have lots and lots to study, plus i'm trying to get a job at the ambulance and sit at school 10 hours a day...and we all manage! But good luck and take care

Posted by: Eneli | Apr 18, 2007 11:20:37 AM

Hi Aoron,
I know exactly what you mean. I have 2 months too and its scarey. There's so much to read, so much to understand and not enough time to get all the nitty gritty in the brain. At times its worsened by your colleges shinning on the ward as they are being "percussed" by the lecturers, while you're basically grassing. I wish you all the best. Try n do all you can now to read effectively. Am not into coffee, but black coffee'll be good 4u.
Its comforting to know that am not alone. I just hope u still have the zeal for clinical medine after it all.

Posted by: Darlene | Apr 19, 2007 3:47:34 AM

Hey everyone, my name is shalini and I'm a 1st year medical student at monash university malaysia.i was just browsing through the net when i came across medscape and decided to become a member.well, i was reading the comments posted about exams and i decided to post something as well as i just sat for my 1st medical school examination this morning.so 6 weeks ago i entered medical school promising myself that i will work extra hard as thats what all medical students are 'expected' to do.the first few weeks were pretty relaxing.then came the 3rd week when the 8am -4pm lectures and tutorials came into the picture.So starting from the 4th week i started to burn the midnight oil revising for the summative exam that was coming up.so i went through all the biochemistry stuff and everything else that was done.so came the day of the exam,when i opened the exam paper and there was this question,it read:describe talcott parson's sick role concept.Wait a minute did they get the papers mixed up.....???then came half of the other questions in which i have never even heard or even encountered during my life as a medical student.luckily some of the questions were multiple choice questions so i had the liberty of just simply guessing an anwser.so well,i guess thats what med school is all about..independant learning till eternity

Posted by: Shalini | Apr 20, 2007 5:41:49 AM

hi iam Marwa in 5th year Alexandria university i have one Q do u have medical practice in 1st 3 years?wooooooow

Posted by: Marwa | Apr 21, 2007 10:14:05 AM

what on earth is white coffee?

Posted by: amazed | May 4, 2007 3:40:43 PM

I am a graduate of the University of Adelaide medical school in 1988. Hang in there guys and gals, i certainly at the age of 46 still remember my med school days and exams etc. It is worth it and a career in medicine is truly one of the few things left that are so rewarding, constantly challenging, intellectually and artfully demanding. Good luck and never give up !

Posted by: Dr. Andrew Spick | Apr 29, 2010 6:15:25 AM

Congratulations to those who passed the exam! You guys were brilliant! I bet the reviewing, cramming and eyebrow burning paid off in dividends. I miss my college days.

Posted by: Aurora Orsini | Nov 24, 2011 1:02:57 PM

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