Medical school exams are a huge adjustment for me: in undergrad I had mostly chemistry classes, so I could learn the main ideas and use reasoning skills to solve just about any problem thrown my way. Perhaps this is the reason I did so well on the MCAT. It is passage based, which means a short passage is given followed by 5-8 questions about it. I loved this style of testing because I didn’t have to memorize frivolous details I could easily look up in the passage. I hate to tell all the pre-meds out there, but medical school testing is NOT like chemistry exams and certainly NOT like the MCAT.
Exams in medical school measure how neurotic you are. Let me explain: the exams are not designed to evaluate knowledge or reasoning skills, they are made to test how many details you can memorize. This seems strange to me, considering doctors have technology such as iPads and smartphones which allow them to look up any detail about any disease in seconds. One of my professors gave me this pearl of wisdom: “medical school is designed such that you don’t understand anything you learn. They [the curriculum] rewire your brain to be a sponge, made to absorb all information you see or hear.” I didn’t believe him until I almost failed my first set of exams. I passed both anatomy and histology by only 2%. Now I know he wasn’t joking. This is good news for all the biology students out there. Their brains are already wired in this manner. For all the chemists and engineers however, this is a frustrating reality.
I think the first two years of medical school function as mental reconditioning: in order to memorize the vast amounts of information required to do well, one must sacrifice weekends, holidays, free time and most friendships. It forces students to completely devote themselves to medicine. This skill is necessary to succeed in the third and fourth years of medical school and residency, where we will work 12-16 hour days with only a few days off per month. Surviving medicine requires an incredible amount of focus and devotion. I have some advice for the pre-meds out there: do not go into medicine unless you are comfortable sacrificing most of your private life. Don’t get me wrong, I love medical school and I am glad I am here. But it is always an uphill battle. On a more positive note, I am learning more information faster than I ever thought possible. Every day I meet new, interesting people. I love the challenge. Some days are better than others, and I do not regret it (so far).
In order to do well on my next round of exams I need to change the way I study. Albert Einstein once said: “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them.” I have always loved Einstein. I also agree with him 100%. My study plan for my first exams, the ones that I almost failed, consisted of outlining the information, memorizing the main ideas and reasoning through the rest. I need to be more detail-oriented. Currently I am transcribing sections from the course-pack (notes we use as a textbook) onto notecards them memorizing the notecards. Essentially I am etching the coursepack into my brain one notecard at a time. My next exams are September 25 and 26. Wish me luck!