Exam stress and how to beat it

Exam stress. We’ve all dealt with it, and it only gets worse the further you get through medical school. One of the very first lectures I had as a first year was coping with stress, and every exam period that goes past brings with it another lecturer mentioning that they thinks we all need to get some rest.

Most pre-clinical exams are over and done with by now, which leaves the clinical students more space in the library- one tiny potential source of stress down. So without further ado, some exam stress tips everybody knows but no-one remembers:

1. Get some sleep. It’s all well and good to try and maximise your working time, but if you’re yawning into your notes and you’ve seen the shift change in the library three times, you need to sleep. Your brain is like a sponge- it needs time to take information in before you overload it again the next day.

2. Get someone you trust to check in with you. If they say you’ve done enough, trust them, and go have a break. Your mum, your best friend, your other half- just get someone to make you relax instead of saying ‘Oh, just ten more minutes of neuro!’ On the other hand, if they say you’ve been slacking- maybe it’s time to start considering increasing the amount of work you’re doing.

3. Plan, plan, plan. If you know you’re prone to overworking, plan in fun activities and make sure you stick to them. Don’t give up on going out and seeing friends, going to the gym, or even just having a night in with your favourite meal. If you know you’re likely to not get anything done until the last minute, plan early and make everything into smaller tasks that seem more manageable.

4. Talk to someone. If you’re feeling run-down, don’t keep it inside. Whether it’s studying with a friend and admitting you’re finding something hard, or talking to your tutor about deferring your exams, the earlier you ask for help, the better.

5. Stick to things you love. Avid runner? Missed the latest episode of Made in Chelsea? Make sure you remember there is more to life than exams. If anything, it might save you from daydreaming in the library. It’ll give your mind and body a time to rest, give you something to look forward to and you’ll feel justified in resting when you finally get to relax for the day.

6. Find a study space that works for you. If being in the library and seeing everyone else working motivates you, then maybe that’s the best place for you to work. On the other hand, if it stresses you out and you’re comparing yourself, get out quickly. If you work best in a tidy environment, make sure it’s tidy when you start so you can’t use cleaning as procrastination fodder.

7. Study in the best way for you. If writing everything out is slow and arduous, try drawing or typing. If you can’t read big blocks of material, try looking for flashcards. Try to switch between easy and hard topics so you don’t end up with all the horrible topics at the end, when your motivation is already running low.


8. Be patient. If the information isn’t going in, try having a break or look at a different subject for a bit. Some people may be able to read something once and have it stick, but the majority don’t and it will find its way into your brain eventually.

9. Don’t worry if you don’t get everything done that you had planned. Realised you’ve missed a section? Not made time to do your washing? Desperately need a nap but still have three chapters to do? We’re not superhuman. Some days you’ll be able to whizz through material and some days you won’t, and that’s ok.

Remember that you’ve got this far, and you’re in medical school for a reason. If everything is going wrong, try and remember why you wanted to do medicine in the first place. Lean on your friends, and look after them as well.

Medicine is a marathon, not a sprint.

Good luck!

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