This has been my most successful term yet in my education in Classical Chinese Medicine. I’d like to pass on some of the reasons why while also offering the both of us some advice on how to make next term even better. What do I mean by better and best?
Well, this relates to my goal during every term in Chinese medicine school – the same goal I had when I was a student of Biology and later of Philosophy. This goal is to achieve fantastic grades on my exams (or other final projects) while managing to actually learn the material in a way that I can access it later, while also staying healthy and happy. It’s a tall order for anyone – particularly in medical school or another graduate program! But I believe it is an attainable goal.
Which actually leads me to my first simple way to avoid sudden death during finals week …
1. Realize you can’t do it all. It’s hard, I know. This is probably the one thing I have done this term that has saved me despite some setbacks outside of my control. I want to be the best student in the universe. I want to do this while being a great father, partner, small business owner AND save the world while I’m at it. I want to get top grades in every class and leave every teacher impressed with my intelligence, stamina and general awesomeness.
But, I can’t. Neither can you. Pick your battles. Realize that non-academic setbacks (like your basement flooding) are probably some kind of sign that you need to re-evaluate your priorities. If you really internalize this advice, I can practically guarantee you will cut your stress in half or more.
2. Figure out within the first two weeks of the semester what classes matter to you the most. If you’re already suffering in Finals week, this advice may come a little late, however it is applicable for the semester coming up! Some people at school are really into Chinese herbs and formulas, some people find themselves more drawn to acupuncture. Still others thrive when studying theory as is present in Chinese pathology or even some Western medicine classes.
Regardless of your field of study, there are bound to be some classes that are absolutely central to your interests, goals or program. Create constant reminders to yourself that these are the classes that get your attention when attention is scarce. It can be hard to let others take lesser priority, but if you let everything be #1, there really won’t be a #1. Your grades and your interest in what you’re doing will suffer.
3. Once you’ve figured that out, work on your most important classes at least a little every day. Work on the rest at least a little every week. The most surefire way to get something embedded deep in your memory is to review it consistently. If you have flashcards for a given class, review them daily on the bus on the way to school. Read through your assigned chapters before going to bed. Whatever works for you. But do it. I know it’s hard to remember, and even harder to actually DO. But I promise you it makes all the difference. This IS helpful in finals week as well. Regardless of what final I’ve got coming up, regardless of its perceived importance, I always work a little on other material every day.
4. If you’re going to procrastinate, resolve to do so using something school-related. I know this sounds strange. Let me explain. I often get the urge to procrastinate. I’ve found that most often, I’m really just burned out with the current thing I’m working on. So, I have a cache of books and other materials that I work on when I get that familiar yearning to play Risk or Puzzle Pirates!
While I’m not saying you should never veer from school-related work, when you’re preparing for finals or working on an important project – procrastination can be deadly. If you’re just sick of sitting and reading/writing, try something more artistic or physical that is somehow related to your material. If you’re in Biology, go for a walk and identify some plants. If you’re in Chinese medicine, do some Qigong or contemplate the workings of the five phases in the natural world.
5. Designate at least an hour every day for guilt-free non-academic funtime. Yes, even if your most important final in the world is tomorrow. Take an hour out of every day to do non-academic things you enjoy. Take your dog for a long walk. Play darts with your best friend. Play football in the street. Read a novel. This will help recharge you and avoid TOTAL BURNOUT – a student’s worst enemy.
6. Please don’t forget to SLEEP. But, but, but – you just HAVE to get that project in tomorrow at 8am!!! I know that all-nighters are a common feature of college and graduate school existence. But they shouldn’t be. My opinion on this has changed over time. At this point, I cannot think of anything more damaging to your long-term academic health than forgoing sleep for the sake of a grade.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, skipping sleep is only going to damage your Qi and Blood, harass the heck out of your Shen and deplete your entire body. Adding tons of caffeine on top of this is only going to make matters worse. You’re likely to ultimately impede your ability to retain information, make yourself vulnerable to illness and make yourself a highly unpleasant person to be around. Don’t do it. Get *at least* 5-6 hours when you’re studying hard.
7. Do 10 power breaths and quickly walk around the block for every 60-75 minutes of study time. What’s a power breath? The ratio of breathing in, holding your breath and breathing out is 1:4:2. So, if you breathe in for a count of 7, hold your breath for a count of 28, and exhale over a count of 14. Take a couple of regular breaths between each power breath. Then take a brisk walk around the block, the yard, the dorm, whatever.
This will re-oxygenate your blood, get your Qi flowing and you might be surprised how much focused and alert you are when you return to your study place. I’ve noticed a steady increase in my ability to comprehend difficult information and retain huge numbers of facts just by doing this consistently.
This is what I have to offer for now, folks. Please leave any tips you’ve garnered during your long years of studying in the comments.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.