How Did That Happen?: How Did I Pass That Exam?

I have that sleepy and yet high energy feeling that comes from a post-exam hangover. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am done junior physics (minus the exam review) so long as I pass that exam.stethoscopes1

That brings me to this week’s “How Did That Happen?” post – how did I pass that exam?

Pick the answer you actually want to pick. My thing today (although passed exam is still kind of up in the air) was in one of the multiple choice questions I had to select an energy for an electron beam to cover a tumor but not kill the spinal cord. I misread the question initially and puzzled over it thinking photon beams (for everyone except the, like two people who understand this, photon and electron beams behave pretty differently). Then, when I was checking the exam over, I noticed my error and did the very simple math to pick an appropriate beam. I was debating two answers, then circled one as the person came to pick up the exams. I walked out and realized I had circled the wrong one. The definitely wrong one. Minus one point. The big question is did I pass that exam?

Don’t change answers. Someone told me this in undergrad and I struggled to believe it. Odds are, your first instinct was right and whatever you change it to is wrong, unless you are certain of your error. I had to do a mini analysis (because heaven forbid I believe things at face value, I say that makes me a true scientist), but it is true.

Get the right exam questions. When I wrote the MCAT, it was the first year it was offered on computers (that dates me) and there was some weird computer error where one of my verbal reasoning passages did not correspond to the questions at all. I just guessed all of my answers.

Efficiency or gas masks. I have a terrible taste (and smell) aversion to bananas. All through med school, the guy who was after me in alphabetical order liked to eat a banana part way through every exam. He ripped it out when he was about to check over his answers.   After having to sit through his banana stench once or twice, I developed a system. I would do the exam as fast as possible and bail before he ate the banana. It worked for almost every exam.

More efficiency.  There are time limits.  If you are like me and always finish exams early, stick with that because the one time you start to run behind, that will be the time that they will make you stop writing at the right time and act all unforgiving about it.  At least that is how my neuroanatomy exam went down.  Also, when you aren’t used to being there at the end, you do what I did today and pick the wrong answer because you get weirded out by the exam being over when you are just finishing checking it.

Choose your seats wisely. Because I am a creature of habit, I always sat by banana guy, even when I had options. I had a friend with OCD who had to sit in a seat based on some internal numbering system. I had another friend who couldn’t have anyone within eyeshot.  During part one of the LMCC, I sat between two friends, one of which had a bunch of candy we binge ate before the exam started.  Delightful.

Go in the room. During the LMCC, one of the doors to one of the rooms was sticky. I went to knock and go in the room and it wouldn’t open. I body slammed it and it still wouldn’t open. I started to panic. Then, I charged at the door and went bursting out the other side to almost land on the “patient.” Whoops.

Show up, preferably on time. I always want to punch the late person who makes things start late in the face. Or the person who fails to show up and makes things late. Don’t have me want to punch you.

Talk fast.  Many medicine exams are verbal and you need to cover a ton of information in not a lot of time.  In preparation for OSCEs, I had a few friends who I studied with by practicing old stations and suggested stations from textbooks. We timed ourselves and did every station at least twice as patient, examiner and student. As a result, we had memorized most possible stations and responses. I went into one room and hammered through a long exam, differential and a question in what was probably record time to have the examiner laugh at me because he hadn’t heard someone speak so quickly before. Its a gift.

Don’t whip the patient. Same OSCE. Just got done a psychiatry station which meant my stethoscope was in my pocket and not around my neck where the person could hypothetically strangle me (seriously, pro tip: you got points or lost points for this, can’t remember which). Next station was a cardiac exam. Whent to haul out stethoscope and it got caught in my pocket. Somehow then came sailing out to smuck the med 1 (because they make the best cheapest exam patients).

Tell them what they want to hear. Oral exams are probably one of the more daunting exams in med school. There is something bizarre about explaining your way through hypothetical cases. Someone once told me to include all details you think are relevant and do it in a systematic way as if there was a patient in your face. This becomes more challenging when you have the peds sick and can barely speak and then the fire alarm goes off.

Do what they say. If someone says wear a lab coat or bring a calculator, do it. I have heard of people who failed or lost significant marks for professionalism for not wearing a lab coat, not bringing a stethoscope or not having the stuff they need to actually do the exam.

Turn off your phone/pager. Seems simple. There is almost always one. Nothing sucks more than being that kid with the pager going off while everyone is writing the exam. And not thinking it is yours until someone pinpoints your bag. Then, having to creep forward to turn it off from the very back of the room while people stab you with their eyes.

Study the right material. Seems simple most of the time. I had an anatomy exam in the middle of our course in med 1 where the instructors failed to communicate and included a section we had barely covered and omitted another piece of anatomy we thought was on the exam. That makes for some mighty angry med students.

Put your name and student number on the exam. Why is this still an issue at this level of education? Looking back, I didn’t put my name on last year’s physics exam… Good thing there was only two of us.

If at all possible, read your examiner’s mind. The good old “guess what I’m thinking.” Agh. Sometimes, you can perceive the nods or redirects in an oral exam, but written or a stone faced examiner are more challenging. Psychic abilities are always helpful when trying to figure out what someone is actually wanting to know in that question or why the person administering your oral exam keeps cringing (is it just indigestion or is it my stupidity?).

What are some of your exam conundrums and how did you pass?

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5 thoughts on “How Did That Happen?: How Did I Pass That Exam?

  1. Yikes! You have had to take a lot of exams! I totally agree with not changing your answers and going with your first instinct. So true!!!! Weird about the banana guy. Wonder why bananas? I used to eat a peppermint before exams.

    Oral exams in veterinary school and the orals on the veterinary boards were SO nerve wracking. I learned the true definition of panic attack with my first oral exam which was part of a block exam in large animal medicine. Anything and everything we had ever learned in large animal medicine was game. I remember one of my questions was on some rare neurological goat disease!

    My very first exam in vet school was a microbiology exam. The professor walked in and handed out a latent image exam. None of us had ever heard of it or taken one. He wasn’t even going to explain it until someone asked him what in the heck the marker was for! LOL! Worst exam ever. I had studied so long and hard and it didn’t show. I left that exam in tears. It was an eye opener for sure!

    • A lot of exams and still many more to come. I’m sure you did a ton in veterinary school as well.

      Wow, it never occurred to me that goats get weird neurological diseases. Makes sense. I can’t imagine how hard it was to learn everything about large animals… I can barely keep humans straight.

      That microbiology exam sounds terrible. Sometimes it seems there are people out there that just do things like that to terrorize the poor students. Agh.

  2. Yep. Approach approach approach has been my go-to this year. Not only do you lose marks for not starting a simulated trauma case with hazards-hallo-help, but it also gives you more time to think! Approaches have saved me more than once.

    Also, I like “tell them what they want to hear”. Like on psych: you could tell them your management straight, or you could preface it with “I would use a biopsychosocial approach” which is what they want to hear from the beginning so they know that you know it.

    Love your other tips. Sorry about the banana thing. I love them – especially with peanut butter.

    • The banana thing is sad. I wish it wasn’t the case.

      Hahaha… Love the psych example… So true. It is all about approach. Those tactics are where all the little points are at and you’re right some things, like starting traumas in the right format gives you a bit more time to think.

  3. “Guess what I’m thinking” is legit the worst.

    In written exams, I always finish relatively quickly. And I never check over my answers. That’s probably awful, but I feel like I would always second guess myself.

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