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Medicine is tough, really tough but you’ve made it this far so you’re tougher. First year is a whirlwind and at times can seem overwhelming, but having made it through to the other side of those first few full-on months, I can hand on heart say that everyone is telling the truth when they say college will be the best time of your life. You’ll have ups and downs, I can guarantee that, but overall the ups will far outweigh the downs. Here’s ten tips to help you power past those downs and navigate your way through the minefield that is your first year at university.
The people in your year are not just going to be your peers for the next five or six years of your life, but for your entire future in medicine. Medicine can be tough so you need a supportive network of people who can help you push through and empathise with your situation. Go to the year events, on the class trip, eat lunch in the common room and go for that cup of coffee with your lab partner.
They’ve been through the mill, they know what they’re talking about. Some Medical Schools pair first years up with peer mentors from second year and honestly these are possibly your most valuable asset as a first year, as their memories are still fresh and their knowledge is invaluable. Make the most of them. I found myself texting my mentors for advice and help on at least a weekly basis and honestly I would have been clueless without them. Attend any mentor meetups organised because you honestly don’t know what priceless snippet of information you will glean from them even if it’s just a passing comment that will prove a lifesaver come exam time.
You are now officially on your own with no one to guide you and hand out pristine notes with exactly everything you need to learn highlighted, so now is the time to experiment, to find out what way you work best. Whether reading, writing or typing notes helps to stick information in your head, group study sessions and oral learning or a quiet corner in the library work best for you, now is your chance to try and test each method. You mightn’t get it right for a while but that’s okay. It’s all a learning curve. Don’t be afraid to mix it up either, sometimes different ways work better for different modules or even different topics, subtopics or tests.
Whether it’s a classmate, a student in an older year, a demonstrator or a lecturer, asking questions is the only way to ensure you understand something. If you don’t get a sufficient answer the first time around, ask and ask again until you’re satisfied you understand. Even if you don’t get the opportunity to talk to a lecturer at the end of a lecture, most will give you their email address at the start of a lecture series or are easily found with a little searching on university websites. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by their swift replies. Any lecturer I contacted via email this year was extremely helpful and quick in getting back to me.
It’s vital you go into your first year exams with a good idea of the exam format you are about to face as it will more than likely be unlike any other exam you have ever sat. Beware that exam formats can change so the exams your peer mentors sat may be slightly different to yours. It’s really important to confirm with lecturers whether anything has changed from previous years. Practice questions provided by lecturers and past papers are a good place to try and get to grips with the question styles but reviewing of past material should come with a warning that not all the patterns that appear to exist from year to year will necessarily apply to your exams. This is something which can and does catch out a lot of people come exam time.
This might sound like the most ridiculous piece of advice ever but trust me when I say that this will be the downfall of some unfortunate soul. I know of people who pulled all-nighters prior to exams and went for a quick half hour nap before the exam only to wake up after it was over. So buy an alarm clock, set four alarms, make sure your charger is working, phone each other to make sure you’re all awake in the morning of an exam or do what my friend did and have your flatmate knock on your door incessantly every morning to wake you…just make sure to have a backup in case they sleep in too.
Like me, you want to do medicine so realistically you’re a bit of a nerd and you’re going to be surrounded by other nerds. You will undoubtedly at some point end up talking about studying. There’s always going to be someone who says they are doing absolutely nothing, but let’s be realistic: that’s a lie if ever I heard one so don’t think that anyone is getting away with doing diddly squat and still acing exams.
People can post great links to notes or videos and info on exam times and group-work. Try and keep up to date with these but also be mindful not to let any panicked messages from others or information overload freak you out.
Once you see the size of any books on recommended reading lists you’ll come to the quick realisation that it is impossible to cram every minute detail from every topic into your head. Try focus on the important things but whatever you do don’t leave yourself short. For certain subjects you might be given a choice of say seven essay topics and have to write about three so don’t cut it fine and just learn three topics that rarely come up but that you like.
At times it can seem that all you do is study, study, study and it’s so important that this is not in fact the case. If all you ever do is work, you’re going to eventually crash and burn. You need to hit that balance between social life and academic life, which can seem hard at times. Try and keep up some hobbies and exercise to act as a release for any stress you feel and make sure to socialise with your friends both outside and inside medicine.
Written by Anna, who achieved 100th percentile in HPAT and is currently studying medicine.