Some students are just exam people – they have no trouble getting their heads down to revise and seem to fly through assessment periods without batting an eyelid. But for others exams can be incredibly stressful.
Although you’ve done a lot of exams by this point in your studies, the last couple of years of a medical degree bring the most challenging times yet. With years of work culminating in these tests, and hospital placements seeing you take on the most responsibility you’ve ever had, it’s no surprise that you might be feeling the pressure.
In this post we look at some of the symptoms of stress, how to manage them and some things you can do to make revision and exam preparation that little bit easier.Stress can be one of those things that creeps up without you realising the full impact it is having. To avoid this you’ve got to make your overall wellbeing a priority; as a medical student you can get so caught up taking care of other people that you forget to look after yourself properly! It might sound easier said than done, but you can beat stress. The first step is to be aware of the symptoms. Some typical signs that you might be overstressed include:
- Feeling depressed, irritable or more emotional than usual
- Feelings of anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Diminished appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
If you recognise any of these symptoms – or if your friends or family have pointed them out to you – you may be feeling more than a healthy level of stress. In that case, you need to address the symptoms, and put a plan in place to prevent things from mounting up any further.
If you are struggling with increased heart rate and trouble breathing it can be a great help to start the day with some gentle breathing exercises. Ensure that you take long, deep breaths and try to focus on staying calm. If you ever start to feel anxious or panicky these exercises will also be really helpful. By the same token, the power of fresh air and exercise must not be underestimated. Exercise makes you feel good, so make sure you get out there and blow the cobwebs away every now and again.
For a lot of people the stress of exams is exacerbated by procrastination. This can be a genuine problem, and it is often caused by feelings of fear or anxiety under the surface, manifesting as a lack of motivation. Avoiding procrastination and exam stress is largely to do with planning your revision and giving yourself time to get everything done. Breaking your work into smaller chunks will make it much more manageable. Instead of letting yourself become overwhelmed, set yourself one topic for the day or week and focus on that until you’ve got it. Make this weekend all about renal, next week cardio, and the following weekend vascular.
Revision timetables might sound like a cliché, but if you make one in earnest it can be a lifesaver! Plan it out weeks or months in advance, so there’s never a point where the work becomes insurmountable.
When it comes to getting your head down, get yourself into an environment that works for you – whether it’s the library, a coffee shop or at home; you need to be able to relax and get in the zone. It can also be really beneficial to revise in a group. You can test each other on particular questions, share revision tips and send some encouraging vibes around the group.
The last two things sound simple, but when you’re up against the last push through a medical degree and you’ve got all the other pressures of life on your shoulders too, they can actually be tough to remember. Firstly, you need to give yourself a break. Regularly! Letting yourself stop for a moment is as important as anything else for staying healthy and on track. Secondly, remember that to have made it this far you are, without the shadow of a doubt, an extremely capable person with a lot of achievements (both personal and academic) under your belt; which means you can and will get through these exams.
While we at Work the World can't help with your exams themselves, we are able to take at least some of the pressure off by handling the arrangements for your elective placement; so you’ll have yet another incredible experience to add to the list. In the meantime, look after yourself, good luck with those exams and, with your elective to look forward to, it will all be worth it in the end....