A Brief Reprieve


The first exam is over! I can’t believe that I’ve finally broached and completed the first major assessment in medical school. I thought the three weeks before the first exam would pass slowly enough to allow me to worry about the exam but I have never experienced a quicker three weeks. Between trying to stay on top of all the material and determine the best study technique for my learning stye, I barely had time to count the days passing before the exam was literally upon us.

A glimpse at my study cube

The exam itself is somewhat of a blur. I took the practical portion first—the two-hour section was appropriately challenging: some of the identifications were simple, instant tags while others kept me guessing until the moment I turned my exam paper in to the TA. Our course directors posted the answers to the practical outside of the lab immediately following the written portion of the exam so I was able to go back to the lab and, based on what I remembered submitting, approximate my score. I liked being able to get a sense of how I did by checking the answers but I felt confident I had passed without having to check the key. I found myself counting my answers at rest stations throughout the practical; when I knew I had hit 35 correct answers, and thus the 60% passing mark, some of the pressure dissipated and I was able to really reason through the ones that were giving me trouble. I still don’t understand how I identified a lactiferous duct as a suspensory ligament but I think I’m just going to have to let that one go.

The written part came next: 4 ½ grueling hours of identifications, true and false, five short answer, and three full-length essays. I went through two mechanical pencils and may have initiated early-onset carpeltunnel. The exam was tough, no doubt about it. I felt I was able to at least intelligently write about every question asked but I wasn’t able to write everything I would have liked. While 4 ½ hours may seem like an excessive amount of time, I could have easily spent two hours on each full-length essay. I ended up delegating 40 minutes per essay and literally had to stop myself mid-sentence to stay on task. When I turned the exam in at the end of the time, I felt I had displayed a good amount of my knowledge but I won’t know my score for another week or so. Again, 60% is passing and I will be VERY satisfied with anything above that hallowed marker.

Perhaps the best part about taking a medical school exam is the promise of a relaxing weekend following the marathon testing session. This weekend I indulged in doing my laundry, dusting my room, sleeping in until nearly 10 AM, going out with friends, and watching television. I honestly felt self-indulgent and pampered. I went shopping with my friend Alexis at the Outlet Malls, drank several glasses of wine and spent another fun night in Harrisburg with the rest of the M1 and M2 class. Needless to say, I am beginning to live for every third weekend.

Alexis and me-Harrisburg is becoming the new "Big City"

I did do some studying this weekend (it’s becoming more normal to study than take a break) and I’m hoping I was able to get a jump-start on the next section of SBMP: abdominopelvic region. Should be an interesting three weeks filled with dissections of rotting gastrointestinal structures and more pathways of lymphatic drainage…I really don’t enjoy memorizing lymph drainage pathways. It’s an interesting way to start a new section though; our exams are not cumulative so all of the information we just committed for the lower extremity and thorax will need to be filed away (for Boards and such) while we try and learn a whole new region of the body. Most of my previous science courses have been cumulative and while Anatomy as a subject is cumulative in the way that everything interrelates, I think I’ll be able to maintain a better grasp on the new material without feeling pressured to review past information. A bright spot in an otherwise dark cloud of unknown material.

I’m anticipating the start of another tough three weeks so I’m going to sign off for now and go to sleep at the ridiculously early hour of 10:30 PM to relish these last moments of relaxation, devoid of guilt associated with neglecting new anatomic terms. I’m oddly excited to start another section…guess this is my new normal!

Thanks for reading, and for the good vibes sent my way this past Thursday…I definitely think they helped!

What I learned while taking a 7 ½ hour exam: putting icy hot on your hand and taking Tylenol prior to entering an exam is an excellent way to postpone cramping. See, I’m a doctor already!


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