Physiology: Check!

December 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Monday boasted what was quite honestly one of the most difficult exams I have ever had. The hours leading up to it were brutal. There is a certain sort of panic that sets in as an exam approaches. It is characteristic in that it handles only on a pressure you set on yourself. This pressure is to cover that one topic or read that one question that will make all the difference. There is always a possibility that you will just make it and the thought that you will learn or cover that topic that will make all the difference in the hours before the exam breeds enough stress to drive you crazy. This panic makes your stomach churn and your heart pound heavily in your chest. It becomes so consuming at times, that you aren’t even able to read sentences anymore. Instead, you stare blankly out the window and image all the terrible things that are about to happen. Seems over-dramatic, I know, but trust me, it’s even more amplified in that moment. The idea that one small, seemingly insignificant right choice can make the difference between success and failure is maddening.

This type of panic arrived much earlier than expected this time around. As the days dwindled, my panic grew. I had a successful study session on Friday, and was feeling really good about my progress, but then Saturday came and blindsided me. I was able to complete the tasks I had set out for myself, but quickly began to doubt that I was doing the right thing. Skjalg was studying at California Coffee Company all day, so I was left home alone with my study demons. My lowest point hit in the evening. I was staring out the window into the darkness flooding the park, when I received a message from Skjalg on facebook. The message said nothing, but included the link to this video. Trust me, it is more than worth the watch.

In the moment I watched it, I identified so strongly with his words that tears began to stream down my face – and this was only 20 seconds in! Soon, I was laughing through my tears and eventually, I was completely transfixed. After watching it two or three times, I found myself in a state of calm. I couldn’t come up with any of my own monsters in that moment, but I resumed my studying secure in the knowledge that I would be ready to tackle the next one to show its face.

It may seem silly, but boy did it work. What he describes in the first minute of the video is the most accurate description of how I feel pretty much all the time. By the end of the next day, I had come up with 20 or so little monsters. Every time I told Skjalg about one, he made me tell him what I did to make them go away. It made us laugh and that helped to dissipate the fear.

At 13:00 on Monday afternoon, we found ourselves in a cloud of nerves at the Basic Medical Science building. Imagine the tension in a room of 100 people waiting to take an exam – and not just any exam but one of the hardest exams (if not the hardest) of this semester. At around 13:10, one of the examiners stepped out and began informing us about how the exam was to take place. He then started calling in students by name one-by-one. We weren’t seated until almost 14:00, which didn’t ease the tension levels at all.

We had 3 hours to complete the exam, which consisted of three parts, each worth 30 points. We had to pass each section with 18 points, including our bonus points. So, for example, 3 bonus points means that you would need to have 15 correct in order to pass. I usually finish multiple-choice questions really quickly. I scan the question and then jump on an answer by almost pure instinct. I go through several rounds, one answering the questions I know, a second to narrow down answers to those I am unsure of, a third for those I have no idea about and then maybe 1 or 2 to double-check my answers. A lot of the time, I am so unfocused by the third round, that I don’t even read the questions anymore. This is where I get into trouble for having read a question incorrectly.

This is what the questions are like. These were taken from sample tests put out by the department, so imagine some of them being about…oh ten times harder. This semester, we covered physiology of cells, muscles, cardiovascular system, respiratory system and renal system (kidney).

PhysioExp PhysioExp2 PhysioExp3 PhysioExp4 PhysioExp5 PhysioExp6 PhysioExp7 PhysioExp8 PhysioExp9 PhysioExp10 PhysioExp11

I was able to go stretch the first part out over the first hour. Then I got to the second part – which was a heart-stopper! At one point, I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. I knew I wouldn’t last another two hours, so I decided to mark my answers immediately and not worry about going through them several times. By the end of the second hour, I was done. I could have stayed there and read through the questions again, to help me out if there was going to be a next time, but I couldn’t stay in that room anymore.

The results were meant to be posted by 19:00, but were an hour late. To fill the time between, Jannie, Skjalg and I had dinner at Vapiano. After dinner, Skjalg headed off to CrossFit and Jannie and I went back to school to wait for the results. The waiting area was tense. Some people had been waiting for the results since the exam ended, which meant they had had plenty of time to reflect on the possible outcomes. The examiner had but a few seconds to pin the results to the board and escape before being run down by anxious med students. The next 15 or so minutes were chaos. An entire spectrum of emotions marked the faces of each and every person. Here are the results, just so you can get an idea of just how difficult it is to pass – and even more so to do well. Bell curves are quite deformed here, to say the least 😉

I got curious, so I made a graph with the results…just to get an idea of what kind of “bell-curve” we’re dealing with here.


When I first saw my result, I didn’t believe what I saw. I tried to look for a little longer, just to be sure, but there were too many people knocking me around for me to be sure. I stepped back and waited until the area had cleared a little bit so that I could check again. It turned out that I had been right the first time: 21/20/19 on the three sections, plus my 15 bonus points (5 bonus points added to each of the 3 sections) brought me in at 75 points and a 4 as my final grade. I still can’t believe it. I think I’ve checked my grade book at least 20 times since then, just to make sure it’s still there.

After getting the results, Jannie and I had to wait around for another half an hour for our grade books to be ready. Then it was home to our place for movies and wine 🙂

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