Revision & Exams: Show them who is boss

Revising for examsYou want to be a vet. You want to go to vet school. Exams are one of the big ogres that stand between you and your goal. They will also be hiding under bridges at various, regular points along your journey through vet school itself, and even beyond into your professional lives. No-one likes exams. Well, that’s not strictly speaking true. I know some strange people who actually do like them. What I meant to say was that the vast majority of us dislike them intensely, myself included. However, they are as inevitable as taxes and English rain in August so we just have to endure. So, if you can’t avoid them and you know that you have to do well in them if you are to achieve your aim of getting to vet school, what tactics can you employ to show exams that they don’t rule you but you rule them?

The following advice is what I have managed to distill through years of trial and error with exams and what I found to, on the whole, work out best for me. This isn’t to say that what I suggest is the right or the best way to go about approaching revision and exams – I daresay many of you have far more elegant techniques and tips to propose. We will all have our own unique coping mechanisms for exams and if my suggestions merely serve to act as seeds of inspiration then so be it – I have achieved my aim. Feel free to share your own tips for getting through both revision and exams, either by commenting on this post or via the Vet School Success Facebook page.


Be the Boss Tip 1: Plan, Plan, Plan. Then do.

There is so much truth in the saying “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” that we have to consider it first. Not thinking ahead of time and preparing a revision and exam plan is tantamount to insanity. That’s not to say that you’ll end up sticking to your plan. In fact, the opposite is more likely, but the point is that even having a basic plan in place prepares your mind for the task of revising and ultimately sitting the exams that come at the end of it all. I am yet to meet anyone who has ever done well in exams – or indeed anything – without spending time in advance carefully planning their approach. Even if you only have a week to go before your exams start and are yet to start revision (good luck with that by the way), taking a couple of hours out to plan exactly what needs to be done and when you’re going to do it will be worth it. If anything, having a plan in place at least makes sure you remember to eat and sleep, both of which oft get neglected as exams approach.

It’s all well and good planning but you will ultimately then have to just crack on and do. The plan provides the direction and structure but is no substitute for actually sitting down, dusting off the books and actually doing what needs to be done.


Be the Boss Tip 2: A Poorly Maintained & Fueled Car Breaks Down

Exams rely on brain power. Brain power relies on fuel and rest. Eating and sleep are usually the two activities that fall by the wayside during revision, especially as the exams draw closer, meaning that many of you will enter the ‘exam period’ tired, stressed and feeling pretty ropey, all of which are not great hallmarks of being fighting fit. I’m going to sound like your mother here but she has a point: eating properly and getting enough sleep are vital. Oh, and FYI: chocolate does not constitute a square meal.

Caffeine drinks are another thing to try and avoid if at all possible. Your brain will not work any faster or more efficiently by being jacked up on rocket fuel. All that is likely to happen instead is that you crash, feel shite and perform poorly in the exams. Oh, and if you’ve seen The Inbetweeners then you’ll be aware of another potential side effect of too much caffeine. Not pleasant.


Be the Boss Tip 3: Prioritise

This will be a major part of your planning but knowing what is vital and what is nice-to-do-if-possible can make the difference during exams. You’ll have copies of the various syllabi and so will know exactly what needs to be revised in order to pass the exams with flying colours. If you don’t have this information then you need to do yourself a big old favour and get it by asking your teachers. Spending half of your revision time drilling down into some fascinating bit of knowledge whilst neglecting some important (ie, on the syllabus) subject matters because you didn’t know they were important is a really great way to feel all clever but still under-perform in exams. Know what needs to be done, do it and then build on this with the extras. It’s like planning work experience for your vet school application – there’s no point spending six weeks following round a specialist if it means you fail to spend any time on a diary farm. The vet schools will not give you extra marks for it; they will just give your place to someone else.


Be the Boss Tip 4: Be Your Own Boss

Do you think Usain Bolt gives his fellow sprinters a second thought in the lead up and running of a race? No, he doesn’t. The fact is he can no more determine how they will fare as they can him and so what point is there in expending energy and thought on their race plans. Usain focuses his full energies on perfecting his own preparation and execution. That is how you should approach revision and exams. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take an interest in what others are doing or engage in group learning activities, such as shared revision. What it means is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be distracted from or directed away from your own, specific revision goals and exam plan. I was always wary at uni of spending too much time in the evenings discussing revision with others as the result was usually that one or all us would end up feeling as though we hadn’t done enough and had to fight back the desire to scurry back to our rooms in order to rectify the perceived gaps in our knowledge. The simple fact is that we had probably done the revision already, or had it in our plan at some point, but we had allowed ourselves to be mentally highjacked by someone else and divert our focus away from our own race. Be wary of this happening in your own exam preparation.


Be the Boss Tip 5: Learn the Best Way For You

Do you retain knowledge and understand concepts better if you see them drawn? Or maybe you’re a listener and respond better to hearing things. I personally found that I was much better able to remember things when I drew them out on large sheets of white paper, creating elaborate A3 sheets of graphical notes whilst one of my flatmates wrote everything out and would view my graphical revision sheets as complete gibberish. We all learn differently and it is important to identify the modality that works best for us as individuals. Find what works best for you, whether it even be something like standing to revise, or revising in short ten minute bursts with a five minute break in between, and you’ll be surprised at how much more effective you will be at revising and performing well in your exams.


Whatever tips work for you, good luck for any exams you have coming up and all the best for your Vet School preparations.

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