University exam for an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) student in India marks the tormenting end to the academic session for all the students. After giving the university exams as an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) student for 5 years, I can totally relate to what every student might be dealing with at this time of the year. Before I begin to bombard you with information on how to win the MBBS university exams, I want you to know why I am the right person to talk about this?
I have graduated from a dignified medical college with an MBBS degree in 2020, which means I have successfully passed all my university exams. In fact, I have consistently maintained my scores through all five years of medical school. No, I was not the first ranker in my class, but I was on the first page of the rank list. Wink! (Secretly, proud of it). When it came to the University Exams, it got harder to sail through it as the semesters progressed because the clinical postings and the practical knowledge demanded more attention. This is when I really explored the various methods that I can implement to score well in the university exams, alongside my clinical posting, extracurriculars, volunteering and preparation for the competitive entrance exams. In brief, I have been the guinea pig for you, and I am sharing the conclusions I have drawn over the years. From things that worked in my favour to undertakings that I wish I had done better; here is an article packed with information for you.
A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.Confucius
Count the number of weeks you have left for your exams.
Subtract 1 day from each week. Now note down the total number of days you are left with.
List down the subjects you have to prepare for the exam. Depending on the difficulty and weightage of each subject divide the days you calculated above among these subjects. Now, you have a tentative idea about how much time you need to dedicate for each subject. Bear in mind, if you have enough time you can always use the remaining days for revision. So do not get too easy on yourself while determining the number of days you will dedicate to each subject.
In case you do not have time for revision, do not worry, we will ensure that you study in a way that you do not forget the material by the time of the exam.
Example – I have 3 months (12 weeks/90 days) left for my exam.
(i) Subtract 1 day from each week = 90 – 12 = 78 days
(ii) Divide the days between the subjects = Community medicine (30 days), ENT (20 days), Ophthalmology (20 days) = 70 days
(iii) Extra days = 12 [from step (i)] + 8 [step (i) – step (ii)] = 20 days
(I have discussed further how to use these extra days.)
Once you have sketched out the number of days for each subject, it is time to take a step further. Distribute the days to each unit/topic for every subject. Be mindful you are prioritising it correctly.
You have already decided the number of days you will give to each subject. Also, be aware that it is impossible to go through every page of your textbook in this short time. So, prioritise it correctly.
First and most important is, to have a list of the high yield topics for the exam. How will you know which topics are high-yield?
- Take a look at the old question papers, note the topics that have been repeatedly asked. Remember you have to pick the topics out of the questions and not the questions. It is less likely for them to copy-paste the questions. The examiners will likely ask something around that topic but in a different format.
- Do you remember those topics that your professor mentioned during the lecture as “important” or “expected in the exam”? If you do not have the list of those topics, take help from a friend. The professors are intuitive, they know what might show up. It will be even better to contact someone from the faculty to learn about the FAQs.
- The teeny-tiny minor details that you have marked with 3 highlighters; in the deepest corner of your textbook are NOT important for this exam. You should first know your basics thoroughly.
Since you are aware of the high yield topics now, ensure that you prioritise them in your plan. Do not keep any high yield topic for last, even if it does not fall into your liking. You gotta face the devils first.
Moral of the story – while creating the study plan, make sure you first start with the most ‘high yield’ topics and move forward in descending order.
Ok, so enough of planning, now let us get to the action.
Planning is the fanciest part when you start your studies for any exam, but it will all be in vain if you do not put the sweaty hard work into it. Let me keep it straight, you have to stick to the plan you have set for yourself and start SMART study from there. I will try to be more explicit about it:
- The university exams are subjective/theory papers. Thus, when you are studying, divide every topic into various subheadings. Make sure you remember all the subheadings. For instance, you should remember the following subheadings for medicine: aetiology, pathogenesis, clinical features etc. It helps in creating a well-formulated and organised answer which is liked by all the examiners.
- Also, learn at least 2 points under each heading. You might get a long answer out of that topic.
- While studying, try to practice with flowcharts and mind-maps. It will not just help you to learn well but also creates a good impression on the examiner. The examiner can effortlessly get an idea about your knowledge by a single glance at your answer sheet.
- If you have notes prepared already, do not commit the mistake of re-reading them. Close your notes and roughly jot down whatever you can recall from the topic on a piece of paper, without peeking into your notes. This will reinforce your memory if there is anything you missed out then at the end go back to the pre-made notes and learn those specific parts only. Remember, I told you it is ok if you do not have time for revision! Implementing this game-plan, you will not just save time but enforce a lot of material into your memory.
- If you do not have pre-made notes for a topic that is fine too. You just have to make rough notes now; do not even attempt to make detailed or beautiful notes at this time. However, I want to repeat that you should still make rough notes, because they will pack all the supreme details in a structured format. This will be really helpful a day or two before the exam.
- Go back to where we started, I asked you to leave 1-day spare each week. It is time to know how to make the best out of this day. Every week use one day to review everything that you learnt for the whole week. It should include active recall, no re-reading of notes. It is very convenient to fall into the trap of skimming through the notes, but you have to promise me you will not do that. This day is the most valuable day of the week, and you have to make the best out of it. So do not get laid back. If you have a backlog, finish the weekly review first, then jump to the backlog bandwagon. (Ideally, you should not be having a backlog because you have a custom made plan. But life happens!)
With all the above put into action, you will be filled with a lot of information by the time you reach close to the exam dates. According to the example I gave above, we are still left with 8 days extra. So, where did these days go? 2 days out of this are to prepare for your first exam. The remaining 6 days are for LIFE; you will have some unplanned events, some backlogs, and some days where you really want to do NOTHING.
Having some stress before the exam is natural. But if you are someone who gets overly stressed or if you are someone who faces physical symptoms due to stress, do not take that for granted. You should take professional help, your mental peace is crucial.
Be calm and relaxed when you are sitting for the exam, I have most of the time underperformed because of my stress levels. Fortunately, I was able to identify it and started working towards it. I know it is a gradual process and you will not master it in a day but just be mindful.
Try to analyse the pattern your brain follows during the exams, or any stressful situation and address it piece by piece.
After getting the peace of mind on the exam day, you have already won half of the battle. The remaining half is about the way you attempt the paper. Knowledge is not a matter of concern now. Now, it is all about ‘the art of attempting’ the questions.
First, read through the whole question paper. Mark the questions that you are confident about and attempt them first.
Keep track of your time, even if you write the best answer for a 10 mark question, you will not be awarded more than 10/10. So, make sure you are attempting all the questions.
Your answers should be clean. Use bullet points and flowcharts to ensure that. Yes, good hand-writing is supreme. If your hand-writing is not majestic, try to highlight the dominant words to bring it to the examiner’s attention. Don’t scribble on your answer sheet. If you have to cancel out anything in your answer sheet, simply strike through it.
Most importantly, highlight the headings and the subheadings. The examiners are checking tons of papers, and there are chances they might miss out on something important in your answer. Moreover, the marks that are awarded are subdivided into various sections that you covered. So, you would not want to miss out on that.
True story - During my internals my professor completely skipped one section of the question in my answer booklet. I requested him to review my answer sheet again, which fortunately brought it to his notice and he awarded me more marks.
Use as much visual depiction as possible. With the help of diagrams and graphs, your answer will appear appealing to the examiner. For example, if there is a question to explain the Electron Transport Chain – draw a large cell with mitochondria on your answer sheet. Within this explain the movement of ions, the various enzymes and their location. While writing about clinical features of a disease, try to label it onto a rough sketch of a human body. Trust me, you do not have to make the most beautiful diagram here. The purpose is to make it easy to understand for someone who does not have time to read the long paragraphs.
My professors added positive remarks in my answer sheet for the use of visual depiction.
Draw break lines after completing each answer. It will ensure your answers do not get mixed up. Or you can also start the next answer from a new page. If your answer continues to the next page, then highlight ‘PTO’ or ‘continue’ at the bottom of the preceding page in bold letters. Also, double-check you have numbered the answers and subsections correctly.
In the last minutes, check whether you have attempted all the questions, and highlighted all the keywords.
Congratulations! pat yourself on the back for getting through the exam.
I am sure that even if I ask you not to discuss the paper with your friends after the exam, you will still do it. So, let me get to the next important thing which I want to highlight.
Make an expectation vs reality table to record the scores you are expecting after the exam. With a clear mind, evaluate yourself and write down the scores you think you should receive. This will help you later when the results get published. By the time we get the results, we have already lost the memory of how well we performed in the exams. If you see a significant difference between the scores you were expecting versus your score report then it is worth to send it for reevaluation. You can also consider reevaluating if you are falling short from a distinction just by a difference of few marks.
Exam day checklist
- [ ] Good sleep before the exam
- [ ] Nutritious meal before the exam
- [ ] Admit card
- [ ] Id proof
- [ ] Essentials you need to carry like – pencils, stethoscope etc.
- [ ] Confirm the exam timing
- [ ] Comfortable clothes
- [ ] Water bottle
- [ ] Check if you are carrying anything which is prohibited
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