We all have similar but different experiences on taking the boards, but these are five lessons I learned when I took the recent Philippine Physician Licensure Examinations (PLE) last September 10, 11, 17 and 18, 2016. I am not a topnotcher or an achiever in medical school, so my fellow average students (and hopefully the superior ones) could probably relate. I will also mention a few tips alongside my experiences.

1. Preparation starts from the first day of medical school.

This is an advice I heard often but I didn’t completely heed to. I had a lot of problems in my study habits, not to mention relationship issues, but this is something one must put into mind. You can brush up your studies during review, but majority of your stock knowledge will be the long term ones (my knowledge was stuck). Since you have learned them since you were in freshmen year, topics will be repetitive and you will know them by heart, instead of just memorizing them during your 2-3 months in a review center. If you are still in your post-graduate internship year while reading this, I advise you to start reading the most difficult topics now (because I never did!).

2. Don’t underestimate the power of Dermatology and Preventive Medicine.

I don’t know if this applies to the previous takers, but there were a lot of questions about Dermatology in the Internal Medicine part of the exam. I was prepared to answer hypertension, asthma and chronic kidney disease questions, but none came out. Quick tip: Know your examiners because one examiner is a Dermatologist! Another thing is that you must not overlook the last exam which is Preventine Medicine and Public Health. Since you are exhausted already, you might just want to give up. Like what they always say, “Push mo lang teh!” The scores came out and behold, my lowest exam was Preventive Medicine. I saw it a mile away because there were computation items wherein I did a lot of calculating to the point that I jumbled the numbers already, but my answers were not in the choices. It was so frustrating and time-consuming that I just guessed the answers. I thought I could get away from math in medical school, but no.

3. Sleep early. Wake up early. Eat right.

As an overview, PLE is a 4-day exam in 2 weekends with 3 subjects per day, 1 hour apart per subject. Thirty minutes before the next exam, you should be back in your assigned room, so that is 30 minutes ripped off from your break. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you did not sleep well the night before the exam, and if you didn’t eat in between subjects and just decided to cram. You will be unproductive altogether. I brought the “lucky” empanadas with me and ate them during the breaks so I can multi-task, brushing up on topics that are good for short-term memory such as formulas, pediatric milestones and anatomy mnemonics. Also, bring your own water and candies. They allow you to eat while taking the exam. Just be careful on not spilling liquids over your test papers because they won’t teplace it as they are pre-numbered with codes. If you can, eat a heavy lunch between the second and the last subject because you will really fight the fatigue. I didn’t brought a rice meal or pasta with me so I still had to go down the concessionaires which ate up my time to rest or study a little. I had headaches on almost every last subject of every exam day because of burnout. But I was determined to complete the exam.

The night before, honestly, I quite crammed because I thought I did not retain anything. I slept at midnight and woke up at 5 in the morning. Looking back, I should have believed in myself more. Do not be intimidated by the others who brought super highlighted thick reviewers. Stick with what you studied and know them by heart.

4. Surround yourself with optimism.

During review, I was intimidated by those who already studied a number of topics and those who have a lot of resources. I knew I was not being true to myself if I followed their pace, because I had a long way to go. Slowly but surely is the key. I always surrounded myself with people who are positive and if I cannot avoid those who are pessimists, I will filter their rants, influence them with positivity, and focus on what I can do. We all have different learning styles and levels of intelligence, but determination and perseverance beats all that. You have to be emotionally stable for this important exam of your life, so why waste it with worrying? Yeah, they might have scored higher in the pre-boards and they might be active in review sessions (while I was just drowning in misery), but you won’t know what the exact exam will throw at you. Don’t hoard reviewers or practice sets you know you won’t even read. I was guilty of this because I needed them as a security blanket, but most of them I didn’t go through.

Optimism also plays an important role come exam proper. Since you have two separate consecutive weekends for PLE, you will be able to study the next weekend for 1 week. Just a heads up: While studying, you will be able to go through some items that went out in the previous weekend. If you feel like you failed to get a lot of answers right, do not be discouraged. Keep going because every subject counts! Remember that your family is rooting for you and you must believe in yourself. Together with this optimism, couple it with prayer.

5. Work at your own pace.

During the exams, I was one of the last ones to finish. I was so envious of those who pass their papers early and had a lot of time to study for the next subject, or who could go home already and rest. I kept reminding myself to keep my pace and answer to the best of my ability. This is just 4 days. Tiis lang. This is not a race in the first place.

If you think I just sailed through the exams, think again. It was a battle of physical, emotional and mental toughness. I still have a lot to share, especially tips, but those will be in another post. Remember to just keep doing what you do! Good luck!