How to use Zero to Finals
I got together with Dr Matthew Kimberley to write a book all about strategies for succeeding in every aspect of medical school. This is a fantastic place to start: The Medicine Manual. This post is a simplified version of a chapter in The Medicine Manual called “The Ultimate Strategy” that aims to give a template for approaching your preparation for medical exams.
- How To Use the Resources
- Planning your time
- Tracking your progress
1. How to Use the Resources
Zero to Finals is designed to provide you with complete, efficient and easy to learn resources to help you through your medical exams.
This section contains written educational material and diagrams on everything you should know to pass your final exams and get going on your career as a doctor. Medicine is a vast topic, so to include every detail would be impractical from a time and energy perspective. The Zero to Finals learn section focuses on the key and fundamental information that will get you through your exams, get you understanding what you are doing when practising as a doctor and allow you to build on a strong foundation that you can build on as you specialise in your career. By regularly reviewing these resources, you will keep them fresh in your mind so that when faced with a question or a problem relating to them, you can tackle it with confidence.
This section contains educational videos on key topics to help boost your understanding and learning. They focus on combining simple explanations of tricky topics with visual aids. My ambition is to take dry and difficult information and put it together in a way that is intuitive and engaging so that you can simply put each video on, sit back and absorb the knowledge without the stress and frustration of trying to teach yourself from complex or overly academic resources.
I have spent many thousands of hours studying medicine, over a decade reading and thinking about ways to optimise memory and learning and obtained a degree in psychology trying to find the optimal way to learn. Pulling together everything, I have not found a more effective, efficient and engaging way of learning than testing.
The testing section of Zero to Finals contains questions that are specifically designed and built from scratch to test your knowledge, clinical reasoning and data interpretation skills. When you get a question wrong, a detailed and helpful explanation is provided to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and explain where you went wrong. They allow you to boost your learning, track your progress and practice for your upcoming exams.
2. Planning your time
Build a calendar showing each day and week up until your exam, with a new week on every row. This will allow you to quickly see how many weeks and days until you sit your exam.
List the topics and material that you need to cover prior to sitting your exam.
Allocate topics to the days and times that you will cover them. Leaving your revision schedule to chance is never going to allow you to reach your potential, as you will be gambling when you arrive at the exam with whether you have covered each topic sufficiently.
It is essential that you build a few things into your revision plan:
- Repetition (covering topic material more than once). Leave a sufficient space between each repetition to take advantage of The Spacing Effect.
- De-load periods. This time to allow yourself to rest, recover your energy and motivation and consolidate that information into your memory by giving yourself the mental space to process it subconsciously.
- Catch-up periods. I have made revision plans for every exam I have been successful in. Despite this, I have always got behind schedule at one time or another. This is why scheduled catch-up periods are useful to allow you to get ahead again.
I recommend taking some time off just before the exam to allow your brain to settle and consolidate the information, and to regain all its energy in preparation for optimal performance on the exam day itself. It will also help you to relax and regain your motivation so that you are in the right frame of mind to put everything into completing the exam. This might be 1 to 3 days depending on how confident you are feeling.
3. Tracking your progress
This section is here to guide you through the process of using Zero To Finals to track your revision and learning process. Follow the simple steps below for a bulletproof method that I have developed and used again and again since my AS-Levels to consistently achieve fantastic grades in any exam.
The reason it is so powerful is because it tells you what you otherwise wouldn’t know. It tells you instantly how much revision you have done, what topics you have covered, what topics you know well and what topics you really need to work on. It also tells you before you even sit the exam whether you are going to do well in it or not.
Once you have achieved a certain level of competence across all topic areas you can sit back and rest assured that when your results come out they will reflect all the hard work you put in.
Step 1. Create a Tracking Table
Create a tracking table on excel, numbers or even on a sheet of paper. You need to include topics down the side, and attempts across the top. The objective is to record the dates that you review a topic and the score that you achieve when you test yourself on that topic.
If you would like to take it a step further and have the time, then you could create a column to allows you to record results of a practise test you take prior to studying the topic. The intention of this would be to get a baseline of your knowledge before you learn a topic, and by comparing these results to the test you take after studying the topic you can see how effective your learning session was.
Step 2. Study the topic
Using our example of cardiology, this is the point at which you put down your questions and answers and work your way through the course material for cardiology. Don’t try to make notes or re-structure the information, just focus on trying to understand and establish the information in your memory.
Step 3. Take the Zero to Finals test on that topic (or another relevant practice test)
For example, if you are going to study cardiology:
- Go to the “Test” section of the website, and click on the cardiology link.
- Once there simply click “start quiz”.
- Go through these questions.
- Check your answers and obtain your score.
Step 4. Record your results in your tracking table.
Find the section of the table that corresponds to the correct topic and the correct attempt. Use Attempt 1 for your first attempt. Once you have already been through it once, had a break from that topic and come back to it again, you can move on to Attempt 2 (and so on).
It is important to record the date that attempt was made so that you have a reference point in the future to see how long it has been since you previously studied that topic (useful for spacing your topics effectively).
Record your percentage grade in the corresponding box.
Step 5. Take a break and repeat steps 2-4 for another topic
It is useful to space your study sessions for a particular topic out over time. For example, if you study cardiology once, it is worth studying some other topics for a while before coming back to study cardiology again. Try to space your study sessions for a particular topic out over time as well. This will help you to establish a more robust and longer-lasting memory and understanding of that topic.
Step 6. Watch your tracking table grow over time
This is a fantastic feeling because you can see visually exactly how much work you have done, how many times you have been through each topic, where your strengths and weaknesses are and what topics you can relax about and what topics you should be focusing on. Use your tracking table to guide your revision schedule and efforts.