Medical school exams have a reputation of being one of the most (if not the most) demanding ones. This is true pretty much anywhere around the world. We, the students, have to remember loads of data regarding the mechanics of the human body on as small a level as molecules and proteins. A lot of students lock themselves in their room for the duration of the medical school exam period to study. I decided to take a rather different approach. I experimented a bit about what to do to improve focus, restfulness, and well-being, while passing all my exams. Not only do these principles boost your exam performance, they also allow you to develop yourself along medical school, which is just as important.
Since starting medical school, I have, in all honesty, not worked out a lot. Except for playing basketball once or twice a week for the school team. Committing to a short daily workout routine during exams helped me clear my head, focus and feel better than in the past few months combined. I started by adding two skills to my Amazon Echo Dot: 5-Minute Plank Workout and 7-Minute Workout. As the names suggest, the first one is a 5-minute workout consisting of plank exercises. The second one is a simple but effective whole-body workout completed in no more than 7 minutes. The best thing: you don't need any equipment!
These two workouts provide the best return for the amount of time invested. 5, 7 or 12 minutes (if made consecutively) out of my day for a boost in focus and clearness. These two are a prerequisite during medical school exams. The only thing remaining is to keep it up for an extended period of time. Another important things is to understand that you don't waste these 5-12 minutes and are an investment in your efficiency. Alexa or an app will take care of the rest.
However, being a former athlete, a workout of moderate difficulty quickly became too little. So why not double the time investment and get an improved physical (not only mental) condition in return?. I headed over to Garmin Connect and made a workout based on my prior knowledge of training. I scheduled it for every other day and uploaded it to my Garmin Vivoactive 3. It consists of simple exercises (push-ups, planks and TRX exercises) that you can do with a minimum amount of equipment right from your room. On the “off-days” the routine of 7-Minute Workouts or 5-Minute Plank Workouts stayed the same. In this way, I managed to boost my physical and mental condition in exchange for 30 minutes of my time every other day. Awesome!
If you follow today's trends, it's a good chance you came across this wonderful app. Headspace is a guided meditation app developed by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk. I was a skeptic at first but decided to give it a shot. Especially after having read this Bill Gates' article and having seen it on the Tim Ferriss' favourite apps list. Right at the time, they offered me 40% discount for a yearly subscription and decided to give it a shot. Since then I recorded 33 sessions and 4 hours of meditation combined (the number now is 79 sessions and 13 hours). My routine generally consisted of two parts. I would do sessions of "Dealing with Distractions" and "Basics" in-between studying, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. After playing it on my Echo Dot I was ready to go to continue with studying.
While it may be that daily workouts also provided me with mental well-being, meditation was making the most difference mentally. It helped me me better clear my mind, focus and rest for 5-20 minutes per session. I had the best experience with 15 or 20-minute sessions, but shorter ones were more than beneficial as well. Again, a relatively short time investment (about half an hour per day) for a better focus and well-being in general. I recommend you give it a shot and see for yourself.
Turning myself off
With "turning myself off" I mean doing things that require complete and constant attention. They can also be the ones where you can just rest for a more extended period of time, but less frequently. The two activities I described above are most effective on a daily basis. However, sometimes one needs a rest or a complete refocus on something else rather than studying. This way, you can truly take your mind off of medical school exams and come back to them later, refreshed.
Without this principle in my mind, this website would not have come to live. When I felt down or completely unable to focus on my studies, I resorted to developing new features and trying out different designs for this website. Even trying out new programming languges proved to be beenficial. I found that especially the development part required 100% of my attention on the code I was writing. This meant I completely forgot about my exams, learned many new things, and developed the best possible website. Even though I recently switched over to Ghost I don't regret a second of it.
Another activity was making a skiing trip to Turracher Hoehe (Austria) for the day with some friends. It was one of the best decisions during the exam period. I was resting, in a sense. None or very few distractions, no studying, fresh air and a batch of fun provided me with a boost needed for the final leg of the exam period. And it was a weekday, which meant little to no crowd on the slopes.
The third "activity" I want to mention is getting enough sleep. Of course, there will be times especially during the exam period when you will have to be prepared to give up some sleep. But with planning ahead and keeping up with your study plan you can get more than enough of sleep-time to feel rested and energetic in the morning. In the last 4 weeks (the duration of the exam period) I managed to get on average about 7 hours of sleep per night (which is more than enough for me) according to my Garmin Vivoactive 3.
The total amount of time consumed by the above-mentioned activities (excluding sleep) was about 60-70 hours, which is around 10% of the total time of the exam period. Even when sleep and some other activities and errands not mentioned are taken into account, I was left with about 400 hours of "free time". This accounts to just below 2/3 of the whole exam period - provided that there are no classes to attend. Thinking about investing time away from thinking about and studying for medical school exams and into your well-being is a great reason to implement these activities. And they aren't even bound to the exams, but you can implement them to your everyday life and feel better in general.
- Building your environment around productivity - the simple principles about habits that let's you automate behavior
- Staying away from social media - some of my own ideas that I also practice and that really boost my performance and focus
These ideas are my own that I also implement and actively use. Their effects described are my own and may differ from person to person.