Whether it is due to anxiety or forgetting all the mnemonics, many students struggle with taking tests.
“I just blank out.”
“I know the material, but when I get to the exam, something happens and I lose it.”
“I get down to 2 answer choices, but I always pick the wrong one.”
“I’m just a bad test-taker.”
“Maybe I’m not cut out for pharmacy school.”
I don’t know about you, but many students, including myself, are aware that they are not proficient at “test-taking.” Whether it is due to anxiety or forgetting all the mnemonics you made to remember the adverse effects/drug interactions of SSRIs, there seems to be a barrier that prevents you from doing your best on an exam even though you are confident in the material. So what can you do to help yourself? Here are some helpful tips that I found when I was searching for an answer:
Bringing Specificity to the Material (Studying for the Exam):
When studying for the exam, although cramming can be effective for most students, because pharmacy school teaches different materials that build on each other, this method does not always work as one progresses through the program. Studying ahead of time is likely more beneficial. This being said, creating a “study” schedule may prove fruitful during the exam. Mapping out a week-to-week schedule may enable you to balance school, work, and a proper study hour each day for an upcoming exam.
Studies using medical students have shown that hypothesizing what types of questions will be on the exam has prepared students because they study concepts that will most likely be on the exam. For instance, at The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, students are given a set of objectives with each P&T lecture that will allow them to know which concepts are important for clinical practice as well as the exam.
This specificity to studying can be accomplished by creating study guides, flash cards, or a Q&A paper of the material. Bringing specificity to the material could also involve creating patient case scenarios and discussing them in groups to determine the appropriate therapy option. Knowing what the professors want students to focus on is a key to success when preparing for the exam. The more specific and detailed your studying becomes, the more ingrained the material becomes in your mind as well!
Pre-Living the Exam (Being Prepared During the Exam)
One strategy that has become more popular according to psychologists is to have students “pre-live” the exam the night before taking it. This includes imagining what you will wear during the exam, what you will bringing, and how they will feel to do well on the exam. This allows the student to overcome the initial rollercoaster of emotions they might be feeling in the first 10 minutes (or longer) of the exam.
The morning of the exam, students have suggested in a series of polls that waking up at least one hour before the exam, eating a well-balanced meal, performing a series of simple stretches, and reviewing the material have helped the morning of the exam.
Another strategy is to answer questions on material you are the most confident in first, especially if your exams are divided into sections. For example, if you are confident in your understanding of the therapeutics of asthma compared to eczema, tackle the questions on asthma first before moving on to the next topic. This is said to “keep spirits high” if the student feels confident on answering the first set of questions because they are likely to continue with that confidence throughout the remainder of the exam.
The final tip is to come back to questions during an exam that might leave you stuck. Focusing on such questions may take up time during the exam, which may increase a student’s anxiety and hinder them from answering the remaining questions with a clear mind.
After The Exam
While you can’t do anything to change the outcome after the exam, it is important to attend exam reviews (if this is an option at your school) or to review with your professor if your grades are not reflecting your confidence in the material. This is because the teacher may be able to point out mistakes in your logic while answering a question which may help you in future exams. Although it might be painful to relive, it is important to not let history repeat itself.
Whatever you may try to become a better test-taker, do NOT let this make you believe that you are not “cut out for pharmacy school.” Pharmacy school is tough for everyone in different ways but if this is your passion, so keep fighting and pushing forward, because your passion and knowledge will shine through in practice and you will know it was worth it in the end.