Studying for finals and the weeks leading up to it are nothing short of freaking stressful. You might ask, In college, it was normal for me to have three to four exams in a matter of just a few days. Don’t even get me started about the final exams that I had in medical school.
While it took some time, here’s what I learned that changed how I approached my exams. If you want to ace your test, then listen up. I’ll also share the entire prepping process of how to ace your finals in med school. Let’s get into it.
Hold on there! If you want this post in a video format, you can check out my YouTube video below! Make sure to subscribe for weekly content if you enjoy this one.
Step #1 Planning Once And Planning Well
Back in my college days, finals weeks would be super stressful because it would creep up on me. I realized that I had too many lectures to review for different classes with too little time.
It simply wasn’t possible to cover each lecture well enough without doing endless amounts of all-nighters. Thankfully, I started this finals prep session, which I continued to use in medical school, and it worked wonders!
About two to three weeks before your exam or earlier, sit down and do the following steps:
Step 1. Open your calendar.
A digital version like Google Calendar or iCalendar works wonders.
Step 2. Mark deadlines for finals.
In your calendar, mark all of the deadlines for your finals, your papers, et cetera, that are due at the end of the semester.
During this step, I also like to add the respective lectures that will be covered in the test and count them. For example, you may add to your calendar the physics lecture 21 to lecture 41. That’s a total of 20 lectures.
Step 3. Mark deadlines for lectures.
Next, mark your deadline for reviewing all the lectures. Ideally, doing this two to three days before works wonders. Depending on when you start this process, it may not always be possible.
Step 4. Schedule your final exam review.
After knowing how many lectures per test you have to cover, add a start date for your finals review.
During this step, you’ll be able to see the practicality of covering all of your lectures for all of your exams. You may realize that you have to start studying for your finals today or tomorrow. It’s better to know that right away instead of later on so that you’ll now know how many lectures you’ll be responsible for each day on average.
To complete this process, do these steps for every single test that you have.
Now you know the average number of lectures that you’ll be responsible for.
For example, you may find that you need to review three lectures per day. You may choose to do two on the weekdays and maybe three to four on the weekends to help even it out.
For exam #2, you may realize that if you start earlier, you can do one lecture per day and two on the weekends. Exam #3 could be similar.
If you find that the number of lectures per day is getting crazy, that may mean that you have to start studying earlier or do more on a daily or weekend basis. You can also push your end date of when you’ll be done reviewing all of your lectures.
While this process may be stressful, when you realize how much work you have to do, at least you know the numbers you need to hit on a daily and weekly basis.
The final step is adding the lectures that you’ll be covering in those daily review sessions. You can do this numerically in the order that the lectures were presented or even based on the materials you feel weakest about.
And if you’re interested, I share a bonus method for planning your lectures in The Finals Playbook Workshop.
This may seem like a lot of steps for just the planning stage, but if you do this well and you do this early, you will be able to show up and do the work daily and avoid being stuck in this planning stage from day to day.
Step #2 Checklist Method
For any finals prep, it’s stressful for not just how many lectures you have to review, but how many topics you have to master. Here is an easy way to build some confidence.
Regardless of what study method you use to study for your finals, if you’re interested in some of the ones that I used, I shared the video below. Here’s how I got a 3.9 GPA in medical school and all the study methods to help me do that:
Once you have a study method of choice, I recommend keeping a running list of all the topics in that lecture or exam you want to master. Think of this as your hit list that you want to have mastered by the day of the exam.
An easy way to do this is to have a Word document with all of the topics for each lecture and the entire exam and begin color-coding them as you get through your review phase.
For example, if I feel like I have already mastered a topic, I would color code it green. If a topic needs more work and I have to come back to it, I would color code it orange. If something didn’t feel comfortable at all, I would color code it red.
The benefit of this checklist method is not only that you can see everything that you have to master before test day. As you review more, you can see this checklist become more green and less red, and thus feel that confidence going into the next step.
Step #3 Have A Weakness Review System
Some of these topics will simply need more repetition and attention. So if you’re using the checklist method from the prior step, you know where to focus using your visual color coding system. Then you can do one of the following study techniques to review them.
Here are three options to implement the weakness review:
Option #1. Review for 10-15 minutes.
Start each study session with about 10 to 15 minutes of reviewing the topics that you have color-coded to be difficult, which are color-coded red.
You can just simply go to the next red topic that hasn’t been touched yet and review those using your study method of choice.
Again, if you’re interested in The Finals Playbook Workshop, I share a few examples of study methods that work really well for finals prep as well as studying in general.
Option #2. Do a weakness review for 30 minutes each day.
Set some time at the start of each day for a weakness review. You can do it for 30 minutes and split that time based on the exams you have to review.
You can also split the weakness review per exam depending on the day of the week.
Let’s say that for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you may choose to just do weakness reviews at the start of the day for exam #1. And then for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, you may choose to do this for exam #2.
Option #3. Free recall method.
The third option is incorporating our free recall method at the end of your study session. What is that? Check out Step #4 below.
Step #4. Free Recall Method
By this point in your finals prep, you’ve used some sort of study method that allows you to memorize the facts and the details, but maybe it doesn’t help you connect the dots in the bigger picture. This is completely normal when we’re reviewing and studying for the finals, but it is stress-provoking because we still don’t feel comfortable enough with the material.
This is where the free recall method comes in. I like to call it a ‘brain dump‘. You can do this at any point during your study review. Often, I like to do this after I review a lecture or on the weekend when I’m reviewing my red topics.
Grab a blank piece of paper or a whiteboard. From memory, try to recreate the topic or lecture that you want to review.
This is super effective, especially if you do this right after reviewing a lecture because you’ll start to identify things that you know are part of the lecture, but you somehow still managed to forget.
Perhaps there was a topic that had three to four bullet points and you still only managed to remember two of them. This is perfect because you have identified a gap in your knowledge that you would need to know now.
You can do this again during your weakness review time, where you take things from your checklist and just do a free recall session.
Regardless of when you choose to incorporate this brain dump or free recall method, go ahead and identify those gaps. Go back to your slides, texts, and notes, and fill in the gaps. And then, erase your whiteboard or flip your paper over and do this process from memory again.
With more repetitions, you’ll find that your overall connection of the topics and the ideas becomes better. One to two days before exam, you can even try to create a free recall of each lecture or just go through your checklist again to make sure where you need more refining.
Step #5. The Final Pass
This is a bonus step, but a confidence booster that I love using.
If you follow the steps above, you should be able to go through your checklist on the day before the exam as well as the morning of the exam and be able to determine the topics you have mastered.
This step isn’t really meant for an extra bit of studying or review. It’s just for you to be able to go through all the topics you’ve learned and tell yourself that you’ll feel comfortable if they show up on the exam.
It’s that last bit of confidence that can help make the difference between having a B or an A.
Now, if you enjoy these steps and you want more in-depth help in studying for your finals, I put together a step-by-step breakdown of how to ace your finals and your finals prep using The Finals Playbook Workshop.
It’s the same process that I used in college and medical school to ace my exams. If you want to know more, click here.
If you enjoyed this article, then go ahead and check out these other helpful blog posts:
- Here’s How I Got A 3.9 GPA In Med School [Most Effective Study Strategies]
- Keys To Studying With Anki [Med School Tips]
- How To Read Textbooks In Medical School [Efficiently And Effectively]
- How To Stay Focused In Online Lectures In Med School
- 10 Tips On How To Memorize For Medical School
Until the next one my friend…