It’s hard to dive into things that are big, amorphous, and not necessarily fun. Studying for a board exam can fit all of these criteria and be something that is easy to put off again and again.
When I took my NBME part one exam, I hated Anatomy. I spent most of the year studying Pharmacology and Physiology because I love them. Studying Pharmacology and Physiology for me is like eating chocolate; great. But studying anatomy just wasn’t doing it for me. So, I decided to save the last three months before NBME part one to just study Anatomy. My Pharmacology and Physiology study time cut into that, and when I got down to the last three weeks, I decided I really needed to study Anatomy. I dug into it and found out that I wasn’t just reviewing things, I was learning them for the first time. In the world of Anatomy, my coursework got me through the exams, but the information did not stick. This sent me back to my Physiology in Pharmacology texts. Finally, I decided the last three days before the board exam would be all anatomy – all day, all night anatomy.
When it got to the day before the board exam, I realized this was just sending me into a panic. I knew I wasn’t going to learn anymore anatomy, so I went and played tennis for eight hours. It was very relaxing, my body felt good, my mind was relaxed, and I thought I was in a good place… Until I figured out that I had just played eight hours of tennis and is stage-2 smog alert in San Diego. I spent the night sitting up in a chair, tachypneic but still oxygenated. To my great fortune, about half of the anatomy that year was neuroanatomy, which I happen to like. Anatomy was still my lowest part one NBME score, but it was not low enough to pull down my overall score. Lesson learned.
How to avoid procrastination:
- Be honest with yourself – figure out why you were procrastinating. Is your life out of balance and you’re having no fun? Are you doing something you don’t really like to be doing? Is it someone else’s idea that you need to be doing this?
- Try to tie your passion and your long term goals into the reasons that you’re studying. The more you feel the connection the more you will be able to concentrate and focus even if the short term process you must accomplish is unpleasant.
- Allocate dedicated study time – do this in reasonable size blocks, not intervals where you will surely get bored and walk away from the task. Intersperse it with things that are fun, relaxing, and meaningful.
- Tie in rewards – give yourself little rewards for accomplishing small blocks of studying and larger rewards when you complete an entire section.
Understanding why you procrastinate and using these specific strategies can help you focus and succeed at studying to pass your Board Exam.
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