Dr Sally Ayesa
Tips for time poor trainees
When I sat my exams I considered myself time poor for a few reasons. I had two young kids and I had a significant commute to and from work each day. What this meant was that I tried to come up with creative ways to maximise the time I had to study and make the time I did have available more productive. Here are some strategies that helped me to get more done in a shorter time.
1. Carry a case book
In the lead up to exams I found that I had random short bursts of free time. This might have been waiting 5 minutes for your study group to arrive, 10 minutes waiting for a bus or a half an hour break between scheduled tutorials. I have always been one to have a textbook in my handbag so this wasn't a huge change to my routine. I also invested in an iPad which I loaded with a bunch of electronic textbooks. Having a casebook on hand meant that I could flip through a few pages while I waited and get a little extra study in. What I found useful about case books was that the examples were short enough that you didn't need to be fully immersed or even fully engaged to get something out of the quick review. Little bits - and single cases - add up.
2. Podcasts and audio books
If you spend extended time commuting, you might feel that every minute on the road is wasted time. This is a problem which most candidates will encounter as you progressively have to travel to teaching sessions across your city. I found an excellent series of audio resources which reviewed pathology (Pathoma). Even though it was the audio from a video series, it served just as well on its own if you had a small amount of background knowledge (which most preparing RANZCR candidates will have). Other colleagues of mine have listened to podcasts as they cycled, drove or caught public transport.
If you need the travel time as a reset for your brain, however, don't feel pressured that you have to always have something exam related on your brain. Some days, driving home with the Backstreet Boys turned up really loud was exactly what I needed after a stressful day.
3. Quarantine yourself
Studying with small kids around is hard. The best (and sometimes most inconvenient part) is that they love you and want to spend time with you. When you are trying to concentrate or pour yourself into a difficult topic, the constant interruptions can make it difficult to get meaningful study done. The guilt that you should be helping out with jobs around the house or caring for the family can also make it hard to focus.
I found that sometimes the best thing to do was to remove myself from the house and go somewhere completely different. I would take myself to the library and give myself a specific window to get as much done as I could. No distractions.
The week before written exams I took myself away for five days to study on my own. Not everyone has the option to do this, but it gave me the chance to concentrate fully on the exam ahead and get myself into the right brain space. I missed my family but the time I sacrificed to get the job done paid off when I passed.
4. Make use of review courses and conferences
I love going to courses. To me, there is nothing more productive than sitting in a room and being talked at all day - laptop or pen in hand, ready to learn. Sounds nerdy, but it was super helpful for me. The most high yield courses for me were Dr Virginia Saxton's workshops, the Radiodiagnosis Review and the Flinders Pathology Course, with NeuroRad also giving an amazing overview (but this only comes along every few years). If you prioritise courses run with the RANZCR Part II exam in mind (or run by consultants who know what they are talking about) there is a greater opportunity to revise high yield topics and pick up gold nugget exam tips.
A bonus - if you fly to the course, you get a few hours of uninterrupted study time on the plane with no Twitter, Reddit or Facebook to distract you. And a sneaky glass of wine (if you are so inclined) can help you to destress and unwind on your journey if that's what you need.
5. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good
I have worked with some candidates who have told me that they can only study at home when the atmosphere is just right and they have a few hours to really settle into it. This seemed amazing to me as I can't think of many instances where I had this magical scenario appear in my house in recent years. Even if I did study for a few hours of an evening (which I tried to most days) I would have a child or a baby or a dog or a husband wander in every twenty minutes or so. Granted, sometimes this was with a snack and it was most welcome.
My point is, however, if you can only study when the conditions are perfect you will be missing out on a lot of available time. Make some compromises. If you are feeling tired but still feel like you need to do a little more - put on a video lecture. If you can't concentrate on a wordy textbook - flick to a Radiopaedia.org playlist. Doing something, no matter how small, will all add up.