Epidemiology at 48: My top 10 exam tips

lshtm_logo_blackSo the topic of this month’s blog post must obviously be the exams. Is there anything else?

Actually, there is. My eldest son took his younger brothers to town on their bikes for the first time ever, just the three of them. My middle son started learning to barrel race (yes, there are cowboys in New Jersey!). My youngest son is simultaneously learning some new soccer moves and putting the finishing touches on Mozart’s “Turkish March.”

But still—let’s face it. EXAMS. June 3, June 5 and June 7, conveniently scheduled the same week as my 49th birthday and my 15th wedding anniversary.

Here are my top 10 tips for prepping:

1. Still finishing the courses themselves? Your synapses are frayed. So outsource your brain: Take. Good. Notes.

2. Get enough sleep. Don’t even bother cracking the books if you can’t get at least 7 hours.

3. Make sure you are registered. Really registered! In my experience it will take hours to make sure you have done everything necessary for the privilege of sitting those exams. I am still not done. Downloading the forms from my local exam center (emailed back in January, so I had to search for them), figuring out how much the local fees were (a whopping $175 including the courier fee which is not listed in any written materials—you have to ask for it), going to the bank to purchase the bank check, and traveling to the exam center in advance of the exams to make sure I know where the room is (which involves a roughly 5-hour round trip from my house—nothing compared to my fellow students who may have to travel internationally to reach their exam centers at great expense, I imagine).

4. Done with all your coursework? Condense your notes into study sheets. Mine are a lot longer than I’d hoped—over 12 double-sided pages per course—but at least everything is now legible and easy to find. The process of essentially rewriting my notes has actually been a fantastic new learning experience for me. For instance, I can more easily see how the sessions fit together and how the courses build on one another, and that has also helped me remember things better.

5. Practice with the old exams! I’ve done four so far now, and they have been incredibly helpful. I am starting to see how questions are phrased, what is generally expected by way of answers, and most importantly, where I tend to trip up. I’m keeping a list of “Things to remember” and it’s starting to get redundant. “State the obvious.” “Think simple.” “Slow down.” “Explain every term you use in the context of the particular example.” “First guess is usually right.” “If explaining study results, ALWAYS refer to chance, bias, confounding and true effect.” “What’s the next logical question? Think of it, and then answer it!” And finally, that frustrating source of needlessly lost points: “Always check your math!”

6. You’re busy. Really busy. Exams are less than a month away. If you study continuously from now until exam week, you might pass. So, it’s a bit counterintuitive to take time for yourself. But you have to. Even in the depths of studying, go outside in the sunshine for 10 minutes. Take a hot shower. Play a card game with your kids. Enjoy a chat with your significant other over a decent cup of coffee. It’s not “time away from studying.” It’s “time for keeping you sane so you don’t completely lose it when you sit your exams.”

7. Use a weekly list. Mine helps me not completely lose track of the myriad other things I am responsible for in the weeks leading up to the exams. I don’t get to every task, either when it is supposed to happen, or sometimes at all. But even when I don’t get to everything, at least my list helps me keep the important things on the front burner.

8. Make good use of the discussion forums. I have to say, these are a bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s wonderful when fellow students and tutors engage on questions in a timely way, but often a question—mine or someone else’s—will linger a while, unanswered. This is definitely the most challenging part of distance learning: essentially, it’s raising your hand with a question in class, related to what the professor just said—and having it answered a week later. You’re probably long past the question by that time. And yet, discussion forums can also be a wonderful opportunity to learn from the many other interested and experienced students as well as the tutors, with their thought-provoking questions and helpful pointers. It’s just right for exam prep.

9. Remember why you’re doing this to yourself! My youngest is still a bit astonished that I’d pay good money to…go to school and take exams?! But I always feel better about the equation when I can draw a straight line between what’s before me on the page, and where I want to go professionally. And usually it is really easy to draw that line. More than that, I am fascinated by epidemiology. I love what I am studying, even the really icky bits—not quite sure why, but thankful that I feel that way. It does somewhat alleviate the unpleasantness and worry of studying for exams.

10. Relax. It will be fine, and then it will be over. As my dad always said to me growing up, In 20 years you probably won’t even remember this. Well, I’ll remember the epidemiology, I hope, but hopefully not the anxiety of these next 4 weeks.

Good luck to everyone in the same boat as me, and see you on the Other Side! 

Susannah is studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) through the University of London International Programmes.

2 Responses to Epidemiology at 48: My top 10 exam tips

  1. Ifiok Asuquo says:

    Many thanks Susannah for your insights. Very daunting experience doing school this way but like you mentioned; I look beyond the finish line and that urges me on knowing that it will eventually be behind me.

    All the best!

  2. Susan Nakubulwa says:

    Dear Susannah, thanks a lot for sparing time to write those very nice exam preparation tips! I have enjoyed reading them and I have already taken good notes from them, I know they’ll be a good guide.

    I’m in the same boat as you, so success, I wish you the best of luck! I know we shall meet on the other side with good preparation!



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