Lessons from Spotter Exam

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” 
― Henry Ford

Most times, I'm usually well prepared for my "spotter" examinations, especially those at the end of the shorter blocks. For those of you reading who may not be familiar, a spotter examination is a laboratory based exam specifically over Anatomy and Physiology in the first 6 blocks of medical school and strictly Anatomy in the last semester of second year.

There are jars, radiographs, histology slides, micrographs, models, laboratory instruments, wet specimens and plastinated specimens that are all fair game for the examination. Questions range from simple identification of a pinned or labeled structure and give a feature or function of it, to naming the innervation of and vasculature of the pinned or labeled structure. Seems easy enough right? Well try doing that in a minute knowing that at any second a loud clock is going to sound, signaling time is up for that question and you need to move onto the next.

To date, how I prepare for these examinations have changed drastically from reviewing jars and writing out the function, innervation, vasculature of every pinned structure in every jar we covered in lab, to simply reading lecture notes, reading my textbooks and looking at the jars and the notes at the same time to familiarize myself with the anatomical layout of every organ covered in the five systems covered thus far. I must say, the more school progresses, and the more anatomy I learn, the easier it's becoming to see how each system is integrated with the next. I am now appreciating the curriculum's structure and embracing my education as simply adding more floors to the foundation which is these first two years of medical school.

For this spotter examination, I found myself waiting until the weekend before the exam to really concentrate on the fine details covered in lab and I must say I began to panic which didn't help my situation at all but made me waste a lot of time trying to motivate myself to study hard and effectively. This wasn't my best choice for preparation, but I was glad that I accomplished everything and had a thorough review (believe it or not) of all of the anatomy that was to be tested.

I would NEVER recommend last minute preparations for any examination, because the amount of pressure I felt had me on the fence contemplating throwing in the towel and just going to bed and studying hard for the final. Well you better believe I did no such thing, rather I had moments where I needed to take a break, regroup and sweep that overwhelming feeling aside and tough it out. After all I had no one else to blame but myself for my poor time management especially since during Carnival I had two days free where I could have just studied for Spotter.

Here are five things that worked for me during my last minute study sessions and what Spotter has taught me over the blocks on time management and effective studying.

1. Write It Down.

When you're faced with a lot of things that just must be done, it's vital to your sanity and overall productivity to write everything down that you must accomplish and then to rank them based on their priority. 

2.  Set A Timer.

Based on that priority list, set a timer to ensure you are making the most out of the short time you have to complete your list. There are all kinds of study apps out there to chose from such as Pomodoro timers for both iPhone and Android to Study Helper which allows you to set timers for your different tasks and to even schedule short bathroom breaks to lunch breaks and to create charts to gauge your most productive study days/weeks and months.

To prepare for my spotter a few weeks ago, out of the six lectures we had for the block, I missed one lecture, and so I reviewed all of the lectures I attended first. This worked for me because I was able to recall different points that were discussed in class and didn't have to spend a lot of time clarifying things I didn't understand as I had made notes post lecture. For the lecture and lab I didn't attend, it took me a little longer to get through the material because everything was new, and I had to reference my atlas and textbook as I read the lecturer's notes. By doing this I was able to cover all of the material from the lecture and from lab and then to spend a day just with slides and jared specimen while making the connection with the material I had read.

Whenever I study for spotter's now, I try my best to imitate the exam conditions by either testing myself and allotting a minute to answer or by reviewing the jars and coming up with my own questions based on spotter exams I've previously survived. 

3. Do NOT Multitask.

This relates to number 2, in that what you didn't get done during that timeframe will have to wait until you're finished with everything else.

For me this is a hard pill to swallow because if I don't accomplish what I had set out to do in a certain timeframe I find it very difficult to move onto the next task without thinking about what I did not complete. However, by moving on and tackling something else you are able to cover more ground. Crazy how that works right?

Whatever you do, do NOT  try and split up your time for one thing to work on two things at once. This can lead to confusion, false sense of accomplishment and understanding and it can very well be a waste of your limited time.

Focus on one thing in a certain timeframe and move on to the next when the time is up. 

4. Unplug From The World.

I learned this the hard way.

Whenever I sit down to study, like seriously study, I have to turn off my wireless connection on my phone, computer and iPad to avoid distractions. Then the door sign goes up, to ensure NO ONE disturbs me during my focus time.

I have found that being unplugged from the world and social media allows me to be more efficient and to get through my list of things to do in a timely manner and limits my multitasking. 

5. Keep It Real, And Plan.

I tend to set unrealistic goals and have high expectations whenever I find myself in a procrastination pickle, trying to do a mountain of work in a short time. This contributes to panic and my initial poor execution of tasks. So, I have to keep it real with myself and plan what will be done over the span of time I have. I literally have to allot the various tasks to specific timeframes, and pencil in what textbooks or notes I will need to get through the task, especially if I won't be studying at home (I tend to overpack and have to tug a bag full of books that I don't use whenever I don't do this). Once I set realistic goals I am able to focus on one task at a time and find it easier to check things off of my list. 

Time management is one thing you will learn from the inception of year 1 is vital to success in medical school. 

Try to work on it during your holidays, learn to rise early and to be effective during the morning hours. You will find that this will pay off during the semesters and you will be amazed at how much you can get accomplished during less hours and reduce the amount of time spent procrastinating. 

Let me know how you make your studying effective after long bouts of procrastination. 

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