Summer Series: Year One–Exam Time

Hey guys! Back again for another summer series post about year one! Today we reach the dreaded discussion of exam time. The best way to do this is talk about the exams in the order in which I took them and then talk about what happens afterwards.

*standardized patient exams were not included in the first two exam cycles so I’ll wait to explain that later in the Summer Series

Lab Practicals:

The first exam of the bunch was for anatomy lab. One week prior to the exam the anatomy instructors provided us with a structure list and told us they would only test us on the terms provided in that list. Luckily for us, the structure list would usually be no more than 200 terms (which is a condensed version of the high yield structures out of the roughly 300 we were required to dissect in lab during a 3 week lab session). Once we got the structure list, my friends and I would go to lab every evening for 1-3 hours and try to see a section of the structure list until we finished it all. We’d also go to lab whenever professors told us they would be there for help and ask questions about things we didn’t understand. A couple days before the practical, our Executive Council provided us with a ‘Mock Practical’–a chance to take a practice run on what a practical is like, under the same conditions as those for the exam before it actually counts. Professors stuck around after the Mock Practical to answer our questions about the things we missed (<–such a great opportunity my school provides!). After getting a couple more days to iron out the details about what structures look like on each cadaver it was time to take on the practical.

Our practicals were 60 questions or ‘tags’ long (tag = gross anatomy structure). When you walk into lab you get a number and you stand at that number in the lab in front of a body. When the buzzer starts, you have 60 seconds to answer that tag and then the buzzer goes off again and everyone shifts right to the next tag. You are only allowed to move forward and you are not allowed to go back to a tag once you’ve answered it. Crazy right?! To me it always felt like I was on a conveyor belt and the buzzer added that terrifying feeling you get when watching someone on a game show who has to finish a task before the buzzer goes off or they get eliminated. 😂

After a few victory pictures taken after the practical, it was time to get back to reality and prepare for the next exam.

Written Exam:

Although lab practicals seem like a lot, the real beast is the written exam. It covers a much more vast and dense amount of material so preparation for these is a bit different. To keep up with my schedule and to make sure I wouldn’t fall behind in course work I used a lecture tracker. It’s a common way myself and many other students in my class make sure we review each lecture a certain number of times. My magic number was 4 times. Once attending class, once repodcasting the lecture the same afternoon I had the lecture, once the weekend after that lecture, and once more during the dedicated study period.

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Week 1 of my lecture tracker from the first exam.

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At my school, we are given a dedicated ‘study period’ for each exam. It usually correlates with a 3-day weekend.

For the first exam cycle I was still unsure of a good study area so I rotated. If I wasn’t in the library, sometimes I studied in the school basement (it’s kind of creepy down there, but it works). Other times if I wanted to see more of my classmates I’d go to a local coffee shop. If I was feeling run down, I’d go to a friend’s apartment so my study breaks could be spent playing with puppies.

Studying all day can get a little monotonous, but the best feeling comes from knowing that you aren’t alone and that you have tons of classmates to lean on for support and help understanding concepts. Exam cycles really bring the class together and remind us how much of a family we are.

After preparing as much as I possibly could, it was time to take the monster that was Test 1. The exam contained 3 questions from each lecture which totaled to around 125 questions. All students take the test at the same time in a testing room on a computer. We were given 4 hours to complete the exam, and when 5 pm arrived we were required to shut down the testing program and leave. Since the exams contained subject material from multiple courses, we didn’t receive our grades immediately, but instead the next afternoon. While we [im]patiently wait for our exam scores to post, there’s only two things to do before the next set of lectures start: 1. take a nap. 2. attend the PTP


A PTP (post test party) is arranged by the Social Chairs elected to Executive Council for our class. They are themed parties in which medical students come together to de-stress and enjoy being a normal human before getting back to the crazy of medical school the next day. Our first PTP was 90s themed and it was so fun!


Me and two of my closest friends/study buddies at our first PTP. The matching was completely coincidental! 😂

And there ya have it! In a nutshell, that’s how exam cycles go. After the first exam I started changing a few parts of my daily schedule around.

Learn about how I refined my study plan, how crazy class got when we added a third course, and how I began incorporating community service into my schedule next Wednesday!


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