Medicine & Surgery
The Finals Roadmap: Your Journey To Smashing Medical School Finals
Medical School Finals are traumatic. Every doctor remembers them, and some want to forget how horrible that year was. Here are 4 steps to help you get through unscathed.
I'm Jack, a Doctor and Founder of DF*F. I want to help you stay sane during Finals year, because at times I lost my sanity and I want to help you avoid making the same mistakes as me.
This roadmap will provide you with a four-stage journey to revising effectively and efficiently for Finals.
Before we dive in, let me set the record straight: there are no shortcuts to success in Finals. No magical hacks. No effortless ways to breeze through it. It requires an abundance of time and effort. At DF*F, we're not here for quick fixes; we're here for those who are willing to put in the work and hustle.
Step 1: Crafting Your Learning Strategy
It's Finals year, and you've already honed your exam skills through years of medical school assessments. Yet, this time, the pressure feels different. Take a step back and examine your overall approach before delving into the details.
Working In vs Working On Your Revision
Throughout most of this year, you'll be deeply immersed working in your revision. You'll be answering questions, clarifying challenging topics, and creating notes to solidify your understanding. Amidst this busy work, it's easy to overlook the importance of improving the process itself.
This is where you need to shift your focus to working on your revision. Take a birds-eye views of your revision, analysing your note-taking methods, enhancing your planning and boosting your productivity. It's about crafting a clear, personalised approach to learning and studying effectively.
Here are a few principles to consider when crafting your strategy:
- Active Recall: Ensure your strategy encourages active recall to enhance learning.
- Spaced Repetition: Incorporate spaced repetition techniques for better retention.
- Time Management: Manage your study time effectively. You can try techniques like the Pomodoro method to stay focused.
- Revision Check-ins: Schedule regular revision check-ins to work on your revision.
- Note-Taking: Decide how you'll take notes. Whether it's digital tools like Word or Notion, or traditional paper notes.
Step 2: Discovering Valuable Resources
This stage complements the first. While you work on your revision, take note of the tools and knowledge sources that other students find valuable. Experiment with various options to discover what suits you best. You might explore resources like the Oxford Handbook, BMJ Best Practice, or DF*F Blueprints. Try them all, see what works for you.
For me, I found the process of working through exam questions in PassMedicine, alongside building notes in Notion incredibly helpful. I used to make flashcards but I never revisited them. I then refined these Notion notes over years to save you hundreds of hours of time.
Make sure you don’t burn out. That means balancing your health, social life, hobbies and revision.
That's precisely why we created The Finals Playbook. It allows you to prioritise the revision you’re struggling with most and to track your progress through each speciality.
Step 3: Building & Testing Knowledge
This is the bread and butter of revision, and where you'll spend the majority of your time: working in your revision.
Here's how I approached building and testing knowledge:
- Work through questions from PassMedicine (or your preferred question bank), incorporating active recall.
- Identify areas where your knowledge and understanding need improvement.
- Address these weaknesses by constructing a comprehensive blueprint for the topics within that specialty.
- Reassess my knowledge through questions, re-applying my knowledge and incorporating spaced repetition.
Prioritising Topics: Matrix of Knowing
I found myself overwhelmed when I hadn’t mapped out everything I needed to know. I had too many "unknown-unknowns”. Without understanding what you need to cover, it's impossible to develop a game plan for tackling these topics.
The next step is to take your known-unknowns and build out a structure to take you from awareness alone, to awareness and understanding.
There are certain high-yield topics that consistently come up in exams. Make sure you solidify those known-knowns. Ensure you have a firm grasp of meningitis management before delving into topics like renal tubular acidosis.
Step 4: Acing Exam Day
You play like you practice and practice how you play – Marcus Luttrell
I’ve always played sports, and I've always embraced the wisdom of practicing how you play. Exams follow the same principles: practice under conditions that mimic the real thing.
Practice with a time pressure. Practice without your notes. If your exams are MCQs, practice with MCQs.
Unlocking Your Knowledge API
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable different software programs to communicate seamlessly—like retrieving the weather from a database so you can decide whether to wear speedos or jeans. Your brain functions in a similar way during exams, think of it as your ‘Knowledge API’.
In exams, you read the question, work out the key information and then send a request into your brain for the answer. You’re exploring hundreds of pathways at once. Sometimes…no response. I’ve built DF*F as a way to train these pathways, improving the efficiency of your search engine and accelerating your output!
Analysing the Stem
When you read an exam question, every detail has a purpose. Age, symptoms, signs; they all change your API path. DF*F's high-yield resources provide you with the most efficient path to the answer.
Time & Question Planning
Before the exam, you'll have a clear sense of its duration and the number of questions. Use this information as your foundation, usually allocating around 1-2 minutes per question. Some will be straightforward, while others will challenge you.
Usually there are a couple of stupid answers that you can immediately rule out. This leaves you with a couple of contenders. I've often found it helpful to put myself in the shoes of the doctor that wrote it. Why did they choose those words specifically? This approach can help you make more informed choices, like distinguishing Scarlet Fever from Kawasaki disease.
If you’re stuck, star the question and come back. Giving your subconscious time to ponder the answer can be valuable. However, this approach carries risks too. Sometimes, your initial instinct is spot-on. Over time, your exam practice will help you strike the right balance between trusting your gut feeling and and logically breaking down the psychology of the examiner.
Make It Personal
There’s no right and wrong with these things. There’s just right and wrong for you.
We’d love to hear what works for you. DM us on Instagram with ideas and we’ll share them with our community.