Preparing For Vet School Finals

This blog, authored by Dr. Carleen Tough, a newly graduated veterinarian working in Colorado Springs, discusses various aspects of being a final year veterinary student. The blog provides advice and insights on topics such as managing rotations, dealing with feedback, preparing for assessments, and revising for exams.

Dr Carleen Tough is a newly graduated veterinarian of the University of Glasgow working as a veterinary surgeon in small animal medicine in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is a part-time contributor for VetTutor. She is excited to contribute to the future of both veterinary medicine and veterinary education, working to guide and encourage current colleagues and students in their journeys in veterinary medicine. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling and hiking mountains with her husband, and spending every possible moment outdoors! 

 Final year veterinary students: 

You will make it. Those are the words I kept repeating to myself the entire twelve months of final year. Through the highs and lows, the triumphs, and the failures, remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. And you will cross that finish line! 


    • Do not compare yourself to others. Everyone has areas of veterinary medicine they prefer or have more experience in, especially since covid stripped away opportunities for in person experience prior to final year. If you struggle with horses but you feel like the only one, remember you are not alone and some else is currently feeling the very same. If you struggle with emergency medicine and feel overwhelmed, remember you are not alone and the clinician standing next to you most likely felt the same way at your stage of life. If you struggle with sheep or cattle, remember you are not alone and soon you will be more comfortable and might even receive the best feedback of the whole year during this rotation (personal testimony to this!). The comparison game is a trap – focus instead on improving yourself and your own abilities. 

    • Research your cases. I wish someone had told me this at the beginning of my final year – it would have made the year much easier! If you have a case with a diagnosis, you know little to nothing about, take the time to go online and research the condition using BSAVA, BVA, MSD vet manual, Vetlexicon or even past lectures. When you then are presenting rounds, you will have a bit more confidence and be able to mention or ask questions about your case. Remember that final year is about continual learning, not showing what you already know. Even being a vet is not based on having all the answers, but about recognising and being able to research treatments to give your patients the best care they can have. 

    • Take feedback with a grain of salt. Some universities have feedback at the end of each rotation, highlighting what they saw as your strengths and weaknesses, how you were doing based on ‘day one competencies’ outlined by the RCVS and how you can improve. During some rotations, you will feel you improved greatly from week one to week three and feel very confident, and then you will get rough feedback. Some rotations you will feel you hardly improved at all but will get the best feedback of your entire year. Remember that feedback is not necessarily fact or law; sometimes you may not have the most impressive interactions with clinicians and sometimes you will. Do not let this discourage you, but instead work on improving yourself in your own areas you feel you need improvement. 

    • Prepare for DOPs/assessments. Each university/rotation is completely different, and each DOP will have a different level of difficulty for you based on your own experience. Use the resources available and reach out to fellow classmates who have undertaken the rotation before to give you advice and reassurance.

Revising for Exams:

    • Prepare in advance. Final exams are different for each university, but if you begin studying a few weeks earlier rather than later you surely will not regret that decision. For some universities, exams are based on rotations. Outline a schedule of studying – one week focus on equine, the next production animal, the next small animal, etc. Give yourself reasonable goals and reward yourself when you complete them. 

    • Use study tools. I felt I studied a different way every single year – and that is okay! Some years, handwritten notecards helped me pack in the information better, other years I found ‘Quizlet’ or question banks such as Qbank concreted the information in my memory better. Some years I studied with friends and some years I found studying alone was the most effective. Last year I had Seinfeld episodes playing in the background as I studied in my student flat, other years I studied with friends in the library or coffee shops with background noise or classical music. 

    • Give yourself breaks. Remember the things you enjoy doing – Going for a walk, being in nature, baking cookies, speaking to family on the phone, exercising at the gym, going to watch a movie at the theatre, reading a good book? You are a human, not a robot, and humans need breaks. As so many vet schools have moved online the past few years with covid, the constant staring at screens is detrimental to our health in so many ways. Go for at least one if not two or three breaks per day, and if possible, give yourself one full day of no revising every week. I began doing this during my fourth and final years of university and found my exam results improved!  

    • Breathe. Each morning (or midday or even just before going to sleep) spend time to pray, meditate, think, or reflect (whatever works for you) on your day. What are your goals for the day? What did you accomplish today? What do you hope to accomplish tomorrow? Remember you learned more than you knew yesterday. Remember how five years ago you never thought you would be where you are today. Now get started or go to sleep with a fresh perspective. 

    • Get enough sleep. ‘All-nighter’ studying may have worked in secondary school, but five years of education cannot be ‘binged’ in one night. Set a time each night you will stop revising and give yourself time to relax (read a book, anything not with a screen!) before going to sleep. Ensure you get enough sleep but remember everyone is different. Some people require less sleep, but that does not mean you must be like everyone! 

    • Fuel your brain. As easy as it would be to drink red bull or coffee all day and at all hours, or to solely eat protein bars three meals a day, remember you are fueling not only your body but your brain! Ensure you are giving your body and brain the best amounts of nutrition and energy to perform at your best. 

Wishing you the very best for your upcoming exams!

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