I’ve always struggled with test taking, from taking science courses in college, to the MCAT, and now in medical school. I used to have the issue of overthinking questions, second-guessing myself, and changing my answer from the right to wrong answer as a result. Even when I do feel confident about my knowledge base and feel I know the exam content well, I still do not perform as well as I would expect, and I truly do believe it is rooted in the way I take tests. This has become even more evident to me with med school exams. I knew I had to change my strategy of going back through my answers after the test and changing several of the answers after thinking about them a second time because this probably resulted in some of my right–>wrong answers.
I began trying a new method last year, which was spending max no more than one minute on a question, finishing the exam an hour early, and not double checking my answers. This seemed to work better for me initially because a lot of med school exam questions contain “buzz words” and associations that you can quickly draw in your mind. With the last exam I took (the topic was Microbiology, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases), this approach did not work so well. I realized that with more basic-science oriented exams, you really need to take your time on questions, rationalize through them, and come to a logical answer. These are trickier questions that require critical thinking and not just drawing from memorization. I met with someone about ways to improve my test taking skills, and she suggested some useful tips.
- Firstly, start by reading the last sentence of the exam question, because this will contain the question that they are asking you to answer. A lot of exam questions are extremely long clinical vignettes that contain extraneous information; when the only information you need is at the very end. You do not want to waste time perusing these long paragraphs when you are short on time.
- Second, she suggested previewing the answers so that you have an idea in your mind when you are reading through the question what you are looking for.
- Third, a strategy that I like is to already start coming up with a differential diagnosis in your head with each sentence you read in the question stem. Begin the process of elimination with each clue given to you.
Something new that I am going to try on the next exam is to take my time with each question and try not to breeze through everything first and go back to the ones I’ve marked at the very end. I will try to answer each question to the best of my ability after reading the question stem in whole (because one mistake I made was not reading the entire question if I felt I already knew the answer) and think through my answer before selecting one intuitively. I think I took the mantra “go with your gut,” too literally, and have realized that my gut instincts do not fare too well with medical school exams. The better approach, in my opinion, is to take your time with questions and think carefully about whether or not this would be the correct answer in a clinical setting.