Last week of school: survived!

December 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

Exam season is in full swing and even though I took this past weekend off from studying to recuperate, I’m feeling pretty exhausted. A few weeks ago, Skjalg told me that he was going to take the first two days of exam period off. When he told me that, I immediately regarded it as a silly idea and told him that I couldn’t do that. It soon became evident that Skjalg knew better than me. This past week was a trudging waist-deep in mud, lighting and thunderstorms overhead, broken will, lack of sleep, heart beating heavily in your chest kind of week. By Friday night, I was over-exhausted in my entire body and I had a constant pain running around my eyes and across my forehead. Skjalg and I had planned to go out and celebrate his birthday, but he decided that watching a movie and cuddling on the couch was a better idea – and for that I was grateful!

Despite the huge challenge the exams of the past week held, I am happy to say that all the hard work paid off. I was prepared that one or two would go by the wayside, but it turned out that that mental preparation was unnecessary. In small news, I passed my Basics of Medical Chemistry final (an elective Skjalg and I were taking…for which we studied only two hours) and I got a 5 in Hungarian. As for the big ones, they went better than expected! I got a 5 on my Physiology lab exam (along with most of my group) and a 2/2 on my Biochemistry lab exam.

Then came the real kicker: the last physiology seminar exam. A couple weeks ago I discovered that, if I could pull off a 3 and a 4 on my last two seminar tests and get a 5 on the lab exam, I would be able to snag the elusive 5 bonus points. At that point, it felt like a shot in the dark. The last two weeks are the heaviest of the semester and it felt pretty optimistic to think that I could pull it off. But, that wasn’t going to stop me from trying! The first surprise came when I got a 4 on the first of the two – that meant I only needed a 3 on the last! That was possible, right? Problem was, the last was on the same day as the physio lab exam, which was worth 25% of our grade and therefore a much bigger priority…

By the time the day arrived, I felt that I had to make peace with the fact that it was not going to go as hoped.  I had spent one full day reviewing the material the weekend before, but that didn’t feel sufficient enough. Jannie was over at our place the morning of, since we studied for the lab exam together. As the potential time to study for that last seminar test slipped away, I started to feel horrible. I began to beat myself up, thinking that if I only I had done this differently and that differently, things would be better. It’s not a great mindspace to be in….So, I decided to remove the emotion and think about it reasonably. All I could do was review what I had managed to go over before and hope to do well on those questions that pertained to those topics. As for other questions, I would just have to remind myself that I don’t really deserve to get points on something I haven’t studied. The tests were an evaluation of our ability to cover and understand the material – and that’s it. Going into the seminar test I told myself, “This may not go well, but do your best on those questions that you can answer and learn from the ones that you can’t”.

The seminar test ended up being all open questions (normally there are at least 3 multiple-choice). Seeing that, as it was being passed out, made my stomach drop. However, once I had the page in front of me and looked at the questions, I had to do a double-take – I knew these! Most of the questions were based on the material that I had covered. Oh gosh, I thought to myself, as a glimmer of hope relit inside me, I might actually be able to do this.

Our teacher sent us an email with the results on Monday night, but forgot the excel attachment – talk about nerve-wracking! When he sent it a second time yesterday morning, my heart jumped. Skjalg and I were in the library and I brushed his arm and pointed at the loading document on my phone. It flashed on the screen and I scrambled to locate the results. My average: a 4.6. But how?? (You need between 4.5-5.0 average to get 5 bonus points. I was at 4.4 and needed a 3 on the seminar test to bring me to a 4.5. So where did the extra 0.1 come from?) I soon found that, to my great surprise, I managed a 5 on last week’s seminar exam! It’s unbelievable the feeling you get when your hard work pays off – and even more so when it pays off better than you had hoped. The best part of all this – even better than the actual bonus points – is the confirmation that the way I am studying is working for me, and working well. We are always worried about whether or not we are studying the right thing or studying the right way. There are countless possible ways to study and I feel so happy that I have found one I can work with. There are still many improvements to be made, but I’m really happy with the progress.

Gotta run! Skjalg and I are off to the library for the day 🙂 Happy December 18th! 😉

A little bit of inspiration goes a long way

December 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

I came across a collection of inspirational quotes today – and they couldn’t have come at a better time. I spent my morning cramming for my dissection presentation in anatomy, my afternoon studying physio, my evening cramming chemistry and taking the Basic Medical Chemistry final, and the rest of my night has gone to cramming Hungarian (is that even possible?) for my midterm tomorrow morning. Two “exams” down and 4 to go!

The anatomy dissection presentation was really a joke compared to what I was prepared for. My dissection partner and I were asked 3 questions, one of which we got horribly wrong – because it wasn’t something we needed to cover this semester (but should have remembered from first). Here is how it went:

  • Me: We did the gluteal region. We’ve only transected the gluteus maximus and haven’t yet cleaned out the contents underneath.
  • Examiner: What is this muscle?
  • Me: Gluteus medius
  • Examiner: What is its action? (this was the first semester question – easy when you have time to think about it…)
  • My partner: Adduction
  • Examiner: What does it do?
  • Me: Adduction
  • Examiner: Adduction? Where are you from?
  • Me: The US
  • Examiner: Where?
  • Me: The US
  • Examiner: Do they call this action something different in the US? How silly is it to put a muscle on the lateral side that should do adduction then? It should be?
  • Me: Abduction (bow head in shame)
  • Examiner: Yes, ABduction. And where is the quadratus femoris?
  • Me: It should be here (I pointed at the muscle with my forceps, which was covered by layers of fat and fascia).
  • Examiner: You should never say “it should be somewhere“. It IS here.
  • Me: Yes, this is the quadratus femoris muscle.

And then it was over. The examiner we had was much nicer compared to how he is during real exams. I was in the same room as him during the dissection part of my semi-final last semester and the student he was examining ran out of the room in a cloud of tears and apologies.

As for the Basics of Medical Chemistry final, we’ll see how well that went….

Now for the inspiration 🙂

When the hours feel like minutes

December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Snow storms rage in Northern Europe, but it has yet to reach the center of Budapest. I suspect there has been snowfall in the city outskirts, since several of the cars that pass below are covered by patches of snow. I’m excited to watch the snow fall from our living room windows. Now that the trees are almost completely bare, we have a view over the entire park. I can just imagine how beautiful it will be with a fresh blanket of snow.

These last days before school are flying by faster than we can comprehend. The end of this past week marked the completion of 31 exams so far this semester. This next week is all uphill:


Dissection presentation in anatomy
Final exam in Basics of Medical Chemistry (the elective Skjalg and I are taking…which is really for first year students…)


Hungarian written midterm (we had our oral midterm last week)


Skjalg’s (31st!!) birthday! Poor guy :/ Right in the middle of hell week, so we will celebrate it on Friday night


Physiology seminar exam – covering the first lectures on kidney physiology
Physiology lab exam – on all the labs from this semester, accounts for 25% of our bonus points


Biochemistry lab exam – covering the labs from this semester

The lab exams are really the worst of it. It’s tough to go through a semester worth of labs. We’ve done them before at one point, but hardly remember anything. At this point, I’m just crossing my fingers that everything will go smoothly.

This weekend feels almost as though it never happened. I feel like I sat down to study on Friday night and all of a sudden it’s time to go to bed on Sunday night. I’m dreading this week. Let’s hope it goes by as quickly as this weekend did…

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The best way out is always through

December 1, 2013 § 4 Comments

Quote by Robert Frost

It’s a little over midnight and while limos transporting screaming partygoers pass on the street below, I’m wrapping up a semi-successful day of studying. It was semi-successful in that I didn’t get done as much as I wanted to – though that never happens. I’ve been better about setting smaller goals for myself. One of my group mates Sophie said that, when asked how studying is going, the number one response is “slooooowwww”. She then mentioned that this is because we set such huge goals for ourselves that whatever progress we do make seems negligible in comparison. So, I’m trying to stray away from the “study physiology” type-task towards smaller more realistic ones. Plus, checking off the boxes makes me happy ;). This is my current to-do list. I don’t normally write things down, but things are getting too crazy not to.

To do 1 To do 2

Thursday’s exams went more or less as expected. Less in that I think I actually did well on my physiology exams (though it may depend on how the open answers are graded) and more in that it didn’t go well for the biochem midterm. The hours leading up to the exams were gruesome. It’s a horrible feeling to not be able to do what you know you would be capable of doing if you had more time. In order to motivate myself to keep studying, I had to listen to my favorite motivational video on repeat for about 2 hours (while studying of course). In the end, my decision to switch my focus to passing the physiology exams might work out in my favor. All the exams we take during the semester are averaged and then added to each of the three sections of our semi-final exam as bonus points. I’ve done decently well this semester, and with the opportunity to improve two of my lab grades, I might be able to get full bonus points. However, I will need to land at least a 3 and a 4 on the next two seminar exams and get a 5 in the final lab exam. It’s a big challenge, but I am definitely going to work for it. Would be great if I could pull it off!

Tomorrow Jannie and I will be getting together to prepare for the lab exam in biochemistry. Unfortunately for us, we have the biochemistry lab exam the day after our physiology lab exam in the last week of school. Talk about going out with a bang! Hopefully we’ll feel a little more confident after getting a head start.

Steven Se(a)gal - Special circulations

“Steven Se(a)gal – Special circulations”. Finding a little humor in the day is key 😉

Food prep: check!

Food prep: check!

Biochemistry book unintentionally referring to cats as a source of protein? Probably not, but someone must have thought so because they've changed it to a chicken in newer versions :P

Biochemistry book unintentionally referring to cats as a source of protein? Probably not, but someone must have thought so because they’ve changed it to a chicken in newer versions 😛

Finally broke 400 hours of studying! Starting from Sept. 23rd.

Finally broke 400 hours of studying! Starting from Sept. 23rd. Only 10,000 more to go before we’re done with medical school!

Skjalg studying at a café near the Basilica.

Skjalg studying at a café near the Basilica.

After our physio lecture on Friday night, Jannie, Skjalg and I stopped for some mulled wine. It was nice to escape for a little while and talk about what an amazing experience it is to study here.

After our physio lecture on Friday night, Jannie, Skjalg and I stopped for some mulled wine. It was nice to escape for a little while and talk about what an amazing experience it is to study here.

The Christmas markets have finally opened in Budapest. I am so excited because we live right next to them and will get to walk by them everyday :D

The Christmas markets have finally opened in Budapest. I am so excited because we live right next to them and will get to walk by them everyday 😀

Physiology lecture notes from this semester. I'm looking really, really forward to going through all this before the semi-final...

Physiology lecture notes from this semester. I’m looking really, really forward to going through all this before the semi-final…

Beautiful view on an evening walk with Skjalg. I love all the lights that get put up for Christmas. Definitely my favorite time of the year :)

Beautiful view on an evening walk with Skjalg. I love all the lights that get put up for Christmas. Definitely my favorite time of the year 🙂

Enjoying life - even if only for a moment.

Enjoying life – even if only for a moment.

Put your pride to the side

November 27, 2013 § 4 Comments

Winter has arrived in Budapest. The cold air and snow flurries bring with them the promise of Christmas, cozy winter nights and…exam period. The obstacles we have to tackle to just get to the exam period are enough to make any one of us nauseous at the thought. It’s unbelievable how many exams we’ve had this semester. In one way, it is good because we have gotten used to having exams, on the other, we are constantly stressed and constantly studying. There is no chance for downtime and that means we will begin exam period completely exhausted.

Tonight is exam registration, which is quite possibly the most stressful event of the semester. At 20:00:00 on the dot, 220 2nd year students will furiously click away at the registration boxes for their planned exam dates. For some of the exams, there are only 20 or so spots – and those are gone within seconds! If you’re lucky, you’ll get all of your planned dates before the system crashes, which it always does. Skjalg and I spent an hour or so last night trying to figure out how our exam schedules should be. For the first time, we’ve planned to do our exams on the same dates. Hopefully we get them! Last time, Skjalg’s computer froze and he had to completely rearrange his schedule. Fingers crossed!

Tomorrow brings our dreaded tripple-exam day. Despite a decent study weekend and some hardcore studying on Monday and Tuesday, I’m not feeling good at all about our biochemistry midterm. I sacrificed going to several of the lectures in order to study for other exams, thereby risking not being able to prepare properly for this exam. Though it worked out for those other exams, I now have to face the consequences of my sacrifices – and it’s not an easy pill to swallow! I completely underestimated the amount of information we needed to cover for this exam – way more than what can be reviewed in only a few days time. The worst part is that I really, really like what we are covering in biochemistry this semester. I find everything so interesting and it is so frustrating that I can’t give it the time it deserves. Some light reading for summer break, maybe?

It’s difficult to motivate yourself to study for an exam when you are convinced it is not going to go well. My trick has been to focus on the semi-final and how studying for this exam will help me there. But that trick can only go so far. Last night I hit a wall and since then, I haven’t been able to get anything in my head. The prospect of going to three exams tomorrow, two of which I will most likely fail, is a miserable thought and a serious blow to my pride. With the amount of time and energy I put in to studying, it’s hard to believe that I am even in this situation. But what can I do? There’s no changing the past, so my only option is to use these lessons to make me a smarter student.

Skjalg once told me something that I use to comfort myself on a regular basis. I’m quick to associate my exam scores with my intelligence and therefore tend to assume that any low exam score means I have a low intelligence. It’s natural to be a little self-critical (or, let’s be honest, a lot self-critical) and this is definitely one of my big insecurities. So one day Skjalg said, “You’ve gotten into medical school in part by your intelligence. That is one of the factors in a complicated series of events that enabled you to get to this point. Everything after that point is about preparation. It’s not that you can’t learn any of this, only that you didn’t learn it – for whatever reason that may be. Someone knowing more than you about something doesn’t necessarily mean that they are smarter, it only means that they had the time to learn it.” I felt so good after hearing that because it forced me to focus on something I can change – the way I study – versus something I can’t – my mental ability. You can be an amazing artist, but if you can’t market yourself, it’s going to be hard to make a living off of it. So, I have to work smarter, not harder.

That said, I’m off to study for a short while before exam registration. The adrenaline rush from that should be enough to fuel me for a few hours afterward.


Anatomy Midterm 3: Check!

November 24, 2013 § 6 Comments

This week has been completely draining – and we have to keep going! On Wednesday we had our 3rd Anatomy midterm of the semester. The topic for this semester is neuroanatomy, but this midterm included regional anatomy of the dorsal regions. This meant that we needed to be able to present all of the regions on the back side of the body through all layers – from the skin down to the bone. This required us to review a lot of information we covered in the first semester of first year.

To start the exam, we had to pass a written portion covering the cranial nerves and spinal nerves and plexuses. There were 10 questions total and we had to pass with 6 correct in order to be accepted to the oral portion of the exam. The questions were similar to the following:

  • Which nerve innervates the skin between the 1st and 2nd toes? (Deep peroneal)
  • Which nerve innervates the epiglottic vallecula? (Vagus, CN X)
  • Which nerve pierces the scalenus medius muscle? (Long Thoracic)
  • Which cranial nerve carries “guest fibers” from the spinal cord? (Hypoglossal, CN XII)
  • What are the terminal branches of the tibial nerve? (Medial and Lateral Plantar Nerves)
  • Which nerve innervates the interosseus muscles of the hand? (Ulnar nerve)

I passed with 7 correct. I have a stupid habit of not really reading the question correctly and it has cost me quite a few points on exams this semester. I’m working on it…but the habit still creeps up when I am nervous. There was 1 question I had to guess on (the scalenus medius one) and the other two were stupid mistakes – I read epiglottal tastebuds instead of epiglottic vallecula and “guest fibers from the spinal cord” made me immediately think the vagus nerve, since it gets its internal branches from the accessory nerve (although those fibers originate from the nucleus ambiguus and not the spinal nucleus of the accessory nerve). But I passed the written – and that is all that matters!

The oral part was extremely nerve-wracking. Normally I am called first, since I am last on the roster (they like to start from the bottom apparently). This time, I wasn’t called first…or second…or third…or fourth. The tension builds up to unbearable levels during the wait. We have to do our oral exams in front of our entire class. The cadavers rest on tables in the middle of the room and members of the group sit around the periphery of the room. My group is amazing, everyone supports each other and we are all hard workers, but that still doesn’t stop me from getting a little stage fright, to be completely honest.

Jannie and I were sitting next to each other, waiting for our turns, when sunlight broke through the clouds and streamed in through the windows. We moved so that our faces were in the sun and laughed nervously at the thought of what we looked like. The examiner looked over at us and laughed, asking if we were always so smiley or if it was just nerves. Suddenly we heard loud sobbing from the next room. One of my group mates whispered the name of a notoriously tough examiner and suddenly it felt like a wave of fear washed over the room. When examiners are done examining their assigned group, they will check the other groups to see if they can help to wade through the students. This makes it so that you never know who you are going to get for your exam…

Immediately after the cries of the sobbing girl reached our room, the door opened and the aforementioned examiner stepped in. At that point, my stress level exploded. I was so nervous I felt paralyzed. I kept trying to calm myself with mature thoughts, but with that level of adrenaline coursing through my body, no mental trick was going to make a difference. Jannie was feeling the same way and looked over at me and whispered, “this is horrible!” Soon, another examiner entered and the original examiner motioned towards Jannie and I, smiled and said something that sounded like, “take the sunny girls” in Hungarian.

We ended up having our exam together, which made for a nice yet awkward experience. It was nice to not be completely alone with the examiner, but it also prevented me from getting into a groove. If either one of us didn’t get the question right away, he would ask the other, and he went back and forth in this manner the entire time. I really don’t think this is the best method because it doesn’t give the examiner a chance to assess your knowledge without outside influence. Plus, as Jannie said afterwards, it makes the entire exam about comparing us to each other rather than testing us fully on our knowledge.

It went well in the end, so I guess it wasn’t that bad 😉 I ended up with a 4, which was perfect. It reflected my hard work, but showed that there was still room for improvement. I put in almost 60 hours of studying for this single exam over the past few weeks, but I realized that a lot of that time could have been spent more efficiently. The guides I made detailing the layers of the dorsal regions were a great study tool, but I think I spent a little bit too much time on them. They will, however, be a great asset when preparing for the final exam.

Thursday required us to be up and at ’em again for our weekly physiology quizzes. It was so difficult to study on Wednesday after our anatomy exam – especially since I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before. I was able to go through all of the material before the first quiz, but I don’t think I did very well. We were asked to draw these graphs and I couldn’t recall all the details:heart3 Picture10

Thursday night ended up being a night off, though not really a whole night, since we weren’t done with our physiology lab until 19:00 and then didn’t get home until 20:00 since the subway wasn’t working. Now it’s biochemistry time! On Thursday we will have our physiology quizzes at 14:00 and 16:00 and then at 19:00 we will have our 2nd Biochemistry midterm. I still can’t believe we are going to have 3 exams in one day. This isn’t a game, folks! 🙂

In the wee small hours of the morning

November 20, 2013 § 4 Comments

Our anatomy exam is racing towards us and I feel the panic settling in my stomach. I’ve been studying for the past 11 hours and I think that I might need to call it a night and get a good night’s sleep. I have so many worries about tomorrow and there is so much more that I still want to cover. My brain is having a hard time wading through all the information that I am trying to cram into my head. It’s not that I waited until too late to start studying, but rather that I began to lose confidence in the things I did know and now I feel like I need to hold on to them as tightly as possible. So, in an effort to evade the panic, I am taking a deep breath and reminding myself of a couple key things:

  • This is medical school, which means that I need to know – and I mean really know – what should be covered for the exam. I’ve written before that I should look at each “failure” as an opportunity to improve my knowledge – and it is equally true now! If I fail an exam, it’s because I didn’t have a good enough foundation to move on to the next level. The best thing to do is stay strong through the critique, allow myself a few moments of self-pity and then do whatever I need to do to be better the next time around. Now is the time to make mistakes if we are going to make them at all. That’s what learning is about!
  • I have given everything I can to this and in the best way I knew how at that moment. I can’t expect anymore of myself and I should therefore not beat myself up over what I have or haven’t done up until this point. Whatever happens will only stand as feedback to my method of preparation, not my intelligence.
  • Despite all the stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, etc., I actually had FUN studying for this exam. The human body is amazing and I learned so much! Plus, I got to study with Skjalg and Jannie and we enjoyed ourselves while we studied.
  • I realized that going over material we covered last year is going to be a lot easier than I thought. I’ve been dreading the final exam in Anatomy, but in the past few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how much my mind has changed over the past year and a half. The way I interpret, learn, visualize and process information is on a completely different level than it was. I am able to consume vast amounts of information – both visual and theoretical – and memorize it within a few repetitions. I am able to relate structures to each other and deduce answers from few facts. Anatomy has it’s own language – and we’ve learned it!

Ok, on that positive note – and the quick escape from reality – I’m off to bed. I will be getting up in 5 or 6 hours, just to review…but at least it’s not an all-nighter. Progress, not perfection 😉

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