Last month before the exam and I think this is the worst time during the whole process. This is the time when you are so tired you actually feel the aches down to the core of your skeleton. Your nerves are so exhausted, all you want is to get over it. Even worse if you have failed a previous attempt, it’s the déjà vu and the fear of ending up at the same situation that further drains you down. Overall, this last month is the most challenging period to go through during the whole process of exam prep.
Here are some quick tips that are very helpful to alleviate a good chunk of the toll that it takes. Very commonly, we have mood issues, overwhelmed memory, eating problems and sleep disturbances with the common denominator of exam getting closer. This difficult phase can become very much manageable with a proper planning for these 21-28 days.
Stress is directly related to how out-of-control you feel. In my experience the single best thing that you can do to feel in-control is to organize a few things. There is a lot to do and there is no way you can do everything in these few days but if you follow the recommendations below, this is definitely going to be of some help.
- Declutter: Cutting down the load of to-dos is extremely important because there is no way to get your head around everything.
Prioritize!! Chart out a few lists e.g. topics that you haven’t read at all, topics that need revision, topics that are okay to leave without revision etc. Accept that you have to let go of a few things at this stage.
- Let go of perfection, comparing and competing. If you have a study partner, it’s time to be by yourself now. By doing so, you are not being selfish, but you are giving your partner and yourself a space to catch up with individual priorities. Stop seeking new advice at this stage.
- Take it one day at a time. Make a small to-do-list for the next day earlier in the evening. Make sure you add practice mock tests in this list to do daily. Prioritize things every day.
- Practice exam questions by timing yourself, but be selective on the material you use. CPD questions from TOG, any RCOG publications and OGRM are the most reliable sources of practicing questions. Remember that most of the people fail the exam not for the lack of knowledge but for not understanding the question properly. Using any random source for questions practice puts you at risk of adapting the approach of that particular person who has created those questions. Try to focus on original RCOG practice stuff instead, so you can practice decoding RCOG style questions. Remember, the quantity is not important here, it’s the quality that you should focus on.
- Taking a small break helps improve concentration. Take a little break every day in which you can either self-care, sip a warm drink or do nothing (‘ME’ time). This refuels you and helps a faster catch-up of your to-do-list. Once a week, take a 2 hours break and spend that time with your family. This keeps your guilt level low for not being available for your loved ones and certainly helps to restart more energetically.
Life in general
- Family suffers more if not equally with your exam stress at peak. I think, a reasonable approach to deal with this situation is to sit with your family and talk to them about what to expect in the next few weeks. Prepare them for your temporary non-availability, but also assure them that you are there to take care of any urgent issues. Plan something fun soon after the exam is over so they can look forward to it. But most importantly, prepare them for a possible failure and make sure they know that this is not going to be the end of the world.
- Sleep deprivation and disturbed sleep is very common in these days. Never sleep thinking of what still needs to be done, instead think of what you completed successfully that day. There is a tomorrow for what needs to be done tomorrow. Plan the next day earlier in the evening, not just before you are going to sleep. Make practically doable lists, don’t stretch yourself instead cut down the less important topics but keep a note somewhere so you can return to those if you have some spare time. Be kind to yourself and appreciate the hard work you did that day so you can rest peacefully.
- Eating problems are not uncommon. Over eating, carbohydrate craving, eating just for distraction and loading yourself with caffeinated drinks is quite common. This just worsens the whole thing by putting on weight and releasing chemicals that make you sluggish and depressed. Don’t abuse caffeine. Drinking a lot of tea or coffee may actually increase anxiety and cause dehydration.
- Exercise…I know, I know, no time! but I am not asking for a lot really. Walking is an excellent destressing activity if you can’t manage a proper work-out. As a minimum, don’t just sit inside your room, go out and breathe some fresh air while you study.
- Like I mentioned earlier, you have to let go of a few things. So, stop being obsessed if your house is not tidy or if the food is not been cooked. You need to make sure that your study material is arranged properly though or else your nerves would be wrecked; and that people in the house do have something to eat. Eating ready-made food or having the house upside down for a few weeks will not disqualify you as a human being for the rest of your life.
Trust me, life outside MRCOG is still beautiful and is waiting for you. Don’t be thankless to the millions of other blessings in your life just because these few months demand a hell out of you. Just remember, in the grand scheme of things, this too shall pass.