How to Survive Semester 2

When other students tell you that semester 2 is tough, they’re not lying. Even the people I know who passed with flying colors can attest to moments of misery and my Mini III neuro grade was like a chess gambit that could have gone horribly wrong (but didn’t, thank God!). Even though the course work builds on what you learned in semester 1, semester 2 is a whole new ballgame. Here are some tips that might help you play it better than I did.

  • Kill the Practicals!

The practical exams in Anatomy, Histology and Neuroscience may not seem like big deals but doing well on them can save you a lot of stress and grief when it’s time for the shelves. Try to knock them out of the park or at least get a nice healthy B. For anatomy, spend time in the lab, go to TA sessions (and ask your pals about their TAs! Not all TA sessions are created equal; just because you’re assigned to one session doesn’t mean you have to attend it. Shop around!) Also, spend some time with skulls and guts. You can check out a skull from the anatomy secretary (if you sign one out on Friday afternoon, you can have it for the whole weekend!) For guts, you’ll have to wait until that dissection. For neuro, the TA sessions are also very informative (again, shop around – different TAs have sessions each night). The neuroscience society holds a mock practical (mocktical) before the first practical and it is well worth the $5 EC admission fee. For histo, ask around for the labeled or powerpoint slides.

  • Peer Tutoring Sessions are Awesome!

Last semester, I vowed to attend the peer tutoring sessions and while it took me half a semester to make it into one, I finally did and they really helped me. I highly recommend them (and other Academic Success sessions as well).

  • Learn to Teach Yourself

Unless you have a background in biochem or neuroscience, you will find a few of the lectures to be woefully inadequate (purines and pyrimidines!!! heme!!!) When this occurs (and it will), you might need to take matters into your own hands. Don’t get frustrated – if something doesn’t make sense or if a lecture handout seems not to be worth the paper it was printed on, consult the books – BRS Biochemistry and the Meisenberg text are great for biochem, High Yield Neuroanatomy and the Haines book are awesome for neuro.

  • Physio Quizzes are like Rings…

Perhaps this analogy is a bit of a stretch but the quizzes given during the clinical application sessions in physiology remind me of how one collects rings in any incarnation of Sonic the Hedgehog – you only really need one, but the more you collect, the more cool stuff you can get (access to special stages, extra lives, etc.). Much like in first semester, if you average 70 on the quizzes, you get 1 percentage point (80 = 2 points, 90 = 3 points) – if your final grade is 78 and you averaged 80 on the quizzes, congratulations! You just got bumped from a B to an A. There are 4 quizzes this time and last semester, our lowest score was dropped and the average was taken from the top 3. With topics like acid base and renal physiology, you will need all the extra points you can get. Don’t kill yourself studying (you’ll need to save that energy for the Minis) but endeavor to do well on the quizzes and stay for the case studies.

  • Don’t Let PBL Bring You Down

As it is with TA sessions, not all PBL groups are created equal. Some of your classmates may talk about how much fun their sessions are and how their facilitators give them 10s every time while you may be struggling for 8s. I’ve endured two semesters of hard PBL graders that made what should have been an interesting, informative course into weekly warfare. This past semester, my fellow group members and I decided to meet 15 minutes before each session and strategize. At the beginning of the semester, you will receive an evaluation form – the one that will be used for the two evaluation sessions at the end of the semester. Practice meeting all of the guidelines on that form in your regular PBL sessions. If your facilitator persists in giving you 6s, ask for explicit constructive criticism and follow it. Also, make sure that your facilitator isn’t always the one with the reins of the sessions but that each member of your group is actively participating and contributing. It may seem like a lot of work for 5% of your grade in each class but that 5% can be what pushes you from a B to an A or keeps you from repeating. Even if you feel that your facilitator is being excessively or unnecessarily strict, you might want to think twice before you bring it to the attention of the PBL Coordinator – you may end up with an even worse (or more disgruntled) facilitator. Let that be your last resort.

  • Don’t Falter During the Fortnight of Hell

Shelf exams are probably the nastiest part of second semester. During the barrage of exams at the end, you start to feel like you are living in an alternate universe or are being punished for past academic misdeeds – it can seem brutal. However, you can make it through and as long as you get scores in the 60s, you’ll probably be fine. No matter what people say, do study for the shelves but make your primary focus Mini III and make sure you are solid on that material. Remember, studying for Mini III is studying for the shelves. The BRS books will also help you and there are often special shelf review sessions that give an overview of commonly tested topics. A note about clunker files: these files float from other schools where students have already sat for the shelves and someone with an eidetic memory or something has reproduced all the questions they can remember. However, they are not always entirely accurate and, depending on when you take the exam, may not look at all like what shows up on the test. Sometimes, the files are simply study guides and/or outlines, compilations of past questions released by the NBME or practice questions from other sources. It must be noted that viewing the files of reproduced questions constitutes cheating, which is prohibited, but you won’t know if the questions in the files you come by are actually questions from the exam until it is your turn to take it, so there’s the rub. Although I’m something of a goody-two-shoes when it comes to things like this, I won’t advise you to avoid any and all files you may receive because you can never tell which are the harmless ones and which are the ones that will compromise your integrity. My recommendation is to study normally and use your own discretion about the files from which you choose to review. Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, the NBME has a.pdf on their website with sample and retired questions for every shelf. These questions are great if you want to know the format/style of the questions you will have to answer but consider them the easiest ones you will see and don’t let your facility with them trick you into a false sense of comfort with the material. Use the study outlines, use the point distributions (from the website) and use the BRS books and First Aid.

I hope that this info helps some of you rock semester 2. If you are currently a 2nd semester student and have questions about (or need of) any of the files I mentioned, please leave a comment! Also, I have some excellent lecture notes from two of the most awesome neuro faculty members who are no longer at Ross and Peter Hsu’s legendary shelf and mini reviews (must-haves all). If you’d like them, leave a comment.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2nd Semester, med school

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