Vet school semesters are like no other. By the time you realize the semester has passed by, sometimes you’ve been too busy to even think about what the end of a semester means, let alone study for it, and then, finals time is here!
For me, this time comes almost directly after the Thanksgiving holiday, which means it’s possible we don’t get to go home for the break (and almost certainly many of the fourth-years who are working in the hospitals don’t get to go out of town). I’ve been lucky to have planned ahead so that I can see my family during these breaks because this really helps me push through to the end of the semester. By that, I just mean that I try to focus really hard on doing well on the first couple of tests of the year so that when it gets to finals time, I don’t have to worry about any “borderline” grades. Probably the most stressful tests I’ve had are ones that will determine the overall outcome of my grade for the year—if I do poorly, the whole class has gone poorly, if I do well, then it’s possible for the whole class to go really well! I think every vet student has, at some point, sat calculating “the grade you need to get” rather than study. But doing well is not always about that final grade! My best advice for finals comes in three parts:
- Take the pressure off! Try to do really well on your first few tests so that your last few don’t seem “worth” as much. This depends on the class, but I’ve found that even in the classes where the first tests are worth less points-wise, this strategy still works for me to ease the stress of finals and help me test better. Yes, this means that you need a little more focus in the beginning of the semester, but we’re all a little more bright eyed and bushy tailed then than we are at the end anyway, right?
- Don’t forget how much you really do know! It may feel like you’ve read the same lecture slide 800,000,000 times without retaining a single word of it, but I’m here to tell you that small animal surgery and grass tetany and equine limb anatomy “fun facts” will float around your brain for the rest of your life, and will pop up when you least expect it. Let them through! Trust yourself. I’ve learned that I’m a better “guesser” on tests than I ever thought, and all of this is based in the vast expanse of knowledge we all carry but sometimes have a hard time recalling exactly. So, guess away! Your instincts will not fail you, but your hesitations might. I’ve found that changing answers after I’ve already answered causes more missed questions that correct ones. YOU KNOW THIS! It also helps me to do something fun with this information while studying it—for some, that’s making flashcards, I’ve drawn comics of drug mechanism of action before, I’ve written poems about parasites before to help me remember! Do what works for you, but don’t be afraid to try something new. It can be super fun, and maybe be that difference you need to break through!
- This connects with the first piece of advice, but lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Take time to celebrate the holidays when you have them, see family, or friends, or whatever people make you happy. Do things outside of school. Yes, even during finals time. And also, sleep! You’ll be amazed how much more refreshed and ready to go you’ll be with a good night’s sleep after a dinner out with friends. I’ve done both—shut myself in to study, and thrown papers in the air and gone out to a movie instead—but I will say that those times when I took a little more “selfish” time, I felt so much calmer going into the test.
Overall, don’t stress too much! You’ve got this! Good luck to all taking finals (and NAVLEs!) soon.