How I revised for finals?

This is the revision method I used to come top of my year in my medical school finals exams. This does not suit everyone, so just use it as a guide.

What will we cover?


The big exam is approaching, the climax to medical school, and you are starting that journey up the mountain. The good news is you are actually much further up than you realise! Finals can be daunting; it is a lot to cover in a high-stress environment, but hopefully, this article can give you some tips and tricks to make the process a lot smoother. 

As with all exams, my first tip is to understand everything about how the exam is set out, its syllabus, timings, and everything and do it early. This will allow you to tailor your revision from week 1, cutting down wasted time spent on things you don’t need to know. In general, finals will mean you have to know everything, but some specialties will be focused on much more than others. In many universities, finals are split up into multiple exams. For example, at Bristol (where I went), dermatology was only assessed in a data interpretation exam, meaning I tailored all of my dermatology revision towards looking at pictures and identifying rashes.

Secondly, give yourself plenty of time and structure your revision. With finals you have most likely covered everything before. I had made notes in my third and fourth years, which were very useful in my preparation for finals. If you haven’t made notes, there is usually a set floating around from senior years (If you are at Bristol, you may even find mine). The Alistair Scott notes (2012) are good and can be found on google but are now a little dated, so be careful. I would advise against starting from scratch as this can be very time-consuming. I then split my revision into four stages; with each stage, I pass over the material with increasing speed and focus. I will outline my stages below.

Stage 1 - Collating Notes

The first stage took me 2 months. I spent this time collating the knowledge I needed to learn for the exam. The vast majority of this I got from the pass medicine online textbook. I annotated and added to my third- and fourth-year notes to save time. My plan usually involved spending a week on a specialty doing all of the sub-headings on the pass medicine textbook and a chunk of questions (maybe a third of each specialty) at the end of the week. As I was still on placement, this revision was of lower intensity. I found time between my clinical commitments by going to the hospital library or working at home. I would also recommend trying to get all the box-ticking stuff your university requires you to do out of the way as early as you can, this will give you more time in stage 2.

Stage 2 - Learning

This stage took me about a month and required an increase in intensity. This is the most important stage as this is the learning stage. I would allocate each week to a couple of specialities. And in this time, I’d read over my notes at the start of the week and then spend the rest of the time doing pass medicine questions. If you give yourself a target number of questions for a day, this usually maintains your rhythm. The important thing here is learning from the questions! I used an A4 lined paper book to write down the facts I’d gained from the session. When you finish your question session, make sure you review all your answers. Good revision technique requires repetition! I was able to complete the pass medicine question bank in this time (including the few I had done in stage 1).

Stage 3 - Questions

You are now into your final month. You have covered everything you need to know twice already. Annoyingly things will slip out of your mind. The specialty you did at the start of stage 2 will be gone. I used this time to make my fact sheet and hit the questions hard. The fact sheet is essentially an A4 or less piece of paper for each specialty with annoying, irrelevant facts. For example, heart sounds. These are things that are just a dependent on memory, usually just short-term memory. It’s good to have a quick reference to jog your memory in stage 4. At this point, I refreshed my pass-medicine and started doing the questions again, but this time on overall shuffle. I didn’t finish the bank but managed to do a fair chunk. I looked at the pass test bank to vary the question type, but I’m not sure how helpful this is.

Stage 4 - The day Before

The day before the exam. I read through my fact sheets to get those short-term memory snippets in my brain, checked over anything I was unsure about, exercised and had a relaxed evening.

Final Words

Unfortunately, revision is a marathon, not a sprint. You want to look after your mental health and optimise your physiology for memory recall (sorry, that’s the anaesthetist in me speaking). Make sure you have a good support network around you, ensure you have time to switch your brain off, stay hydrated while working and develop a regular sleep pattern. I hope this helps! Good luck in your finals. 

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