Friday, June 30, 2017

What to Do Post Exam

As relieving as it is to be finished with an exam after weeks to months of study it always seems to leave me with a bit of restlessness.  I just never know what to do with myself, especially after my last two board exams.   Ever been there?  You finally have the freedom to do all the things you want to do, to attend to those "to-do's" you acquire in the days leading up to the exam.  At the same time, you don't quite have the energy to execute them.  Even worse for me, I never know where to start.  I often hear people talking about how they'll catch up on sleep; however, I have the exact opposite problem.  I don't know if it's adrenaline or anxiety, but I find myself staying up until early morning unable to go to sleep but getting nothing done during that time.  If you've ever found yourself in a similar position, here are a few things to try:

Post exam ritual.  I know some use this time to catch up on sleep (lucky you!).  I know others who get a manicure/pedicure or go out with friends later that day.  My first two years of medical school, my ritual was to go to Target followed by lunch at Chipotle.  Many times I didn't even buy anything, but in retrospect, this was something I did consistently after every exam.  I definitely would have considered this wandering without anything to buy to be a waste of time pre-exam, but reflecting on this habit I realize it became my way of decompressing.  It gave me something to do that allowed my brain to rest.  It also gave me something to look forward to post exam.  I rarely eat out, in part to save but I also really enjoy cooking, so the overstuffed burrito (with chips!) was a quick and easy way to fuel back up.

Get physical.  For most people, studying is a very sedentary activity.  Follow weeks of this with a 2 or 9 hour exam, and your body has probably been in the same position for quite some time.  I'm sure the hour I spent wandering around Target fulfilled this purpose, but I suggest doing something physical to get rid of some of that nervous energy.  Go the gym, take a class, go for a wall.  Do something to get your body moving.  Had I taken this advice and done something a bit more aerobic, maybe I would have been tired enough to fall asleep at a decent time!

Allow yourself to rest.  It's so easy to feel guilty about the time spent not studying or being "productive" to further your goals or career, but it's so important to rest, especially post exam!  You can't work on an empty tank, so whatever rest looks like for you (sleep, binge watching a new show on Netflix) take it, and don't feel bad about it!

And for balance...

Don't... replay the exam over and over in your mind.  Don't discuss the exam (some exams actually forbid this), but either way.  At this point there's nothing you can do about the outcome.  There's no need making assumptions about how well you scored.  Don't cheat yourself out of future and present joy by worrying about your answers.  Don't beat yourself up about changing an answer (though don't do this!).  Don't look up answers. You might tell yourself you'd rather know the correct answer for the future, but unless you're taking a standardized exam you can always go back later to at least look at the question to see the correct answer then.  I've tormented myself by stressing over the couple of wrong questions I remembered only to find that I did well overall.  Knowing whether or not you got a couple of questions correct now may not make much of a difference anyway.


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