Helping hand

You are not alone. This is probably the one sentence I was desperate to read when I thought standardized testing would derail my medical career. It is unusual to need to “figure out” multiple choice tests while enrolled in medical school; the competitive selection process typically screens out those who don’t ace such exams early in their academic careers. Even so, there are many medical students each year who matriculate to excellent schools only to discover the currency of medical school, multiple choice exams, does not reflect what they know or how much they study.

For students that are in this challenging situation, there are few helpful resources. Medical school career advisors (Do something else) and counselors (Don’t be sad) were, in my experience, of no utility. My early attempts to understand standardized test lead me to the only resources available: the kids’ section (“test prep”) of the local bookstores. Advice such as “read the questions carefully” was not the type of guidance that helps a professional student when their academic world is crashing.

To add insult to injury, medicine is not a culture that values sharing past challenges or setbacks. It’s far easier to revise our educational narrative and sound like a hero. High-stakes exams that have a 20% failure rate ensure that a great number of doctors have failed such standardized exams at some point in their professional journey. It was my experience that those in medicine choose not to extend a helping hand and share their experience. It’s much easier to say, “not my problem” than “I’ve been there too”. This is, in my opinion, an opportunity lost. If nothing else is achieved by this blog, I hope my message is clear: I’ve been there and got through it (and so have many others).

Several ways to contact me are found below. If you are struggling with high stakes exams, or know someone who is, please feel free to share this link. My first suggestion is to read my blog posts from June 6, 2021, (HERE) to July 26, 2021 (HERE). These posts offer a little inspiration and the actual techniques that worked for me. I also work with students at all levels preparing them for high-stakes exams. Sometimes working with someone one-on-one can help. If you have tried everything else, I can’t recommend a coach—whether me or someone else—strongly enough.

My future blogs will focus on a variety of topics outside of standardized testing. Even so, I feel it is important to cover this topic because even today, nearly twenty years after my struggles with these exams began, there does not appear to be much helpful material available for professional students. I appreciate any feedback on how to improve the education we offer to future doctors and surgeons. Hopefully, we can look forward to the day when standardized tests are no longer a part of a doctor’s educational journey. Until that day…best of luck and happy testing.  


JAY on TWITTER @JayMacGregorMD






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