Being shoved into an unintentional gap year because of failing my college entrance exam definitely felt like being hit by a truck. Now that I have come such a long way, looking back, I can finally see the purpose of this journey. Here’s how I went through my gap year and how I studied effectively for my second entrance exam.
An insight into my gap year
During high school, my biggest and most important dream was entering medical school here in my homeland, Romania. When the time has come to take the entrance exam, I was a fresh high school graduate, in the summer of 2020, trying to understand how to stay organized amidst a sudden pandemic, when everything seemed very chaotic. I can now say that I was quite unprepared at that time and it would’ve been unfair if I had passed the exam on my first try. I somehow knew the outcome but seeing my name on the rejected list was still deeply devastating. I took two months off in order to clear my head and enjoy my free time with my family and friends.
Then in October, I started studying again so I could take the same exam in 2021. I just couldn’t give up on my dream. I knew what I wanted and I had to fight for it even more. I started slowly by taking new notes on everything and I kept on revising and solving several practice tests for both biology and chemistry. It was a rough path. Every day started looking like the one before it. There has been a lot of crying and overthinking too. I had times when I wanted to give up and I would sometimes question my dreams or even my capability of studying. Again, I just couldn’t quit. I would try several study techniques as I had to keep on revising the same details repeatedly in order to keep the information fresh and this became quite tiring and boring as time passed by.
After a while, I also started a “Studygram”, which is a study-related page on Instagram with the purpose of tracking my progress and maybe motivating others too. I have come to realize what a supportive community I had gotten into when so many people who were practically strangers kept on supporting me and stuck with me through my journey as if we were walking this path together. This had a considerable impact on my self-confidence. I made many great new friends and I am forever grateful for every kind word, every encouragement, every advice!
As a Christian, I look at life through the spectrum of my faith, knowing very well that God has a plan for me and He is never wrong. I put my trust in this journey that He has prepared for me and I just did my part, working hard and giving my best when studying. Whether you are Christian or not, I want you to know that everything has a purpose! Every battle makes you stronger in the end and you may not know the reason why you are struggling now, but someday, when you look back, you will understand the purpose of it all.
In my second attempt, I was much more confident and calm. I took the exam as if it was just another practice test I would usually solve at home. I came out of the exam room confidently telling myself: “my efforts didn’t go to waste”. And so, a few hours later that same day, I saw it: “admitted”. I have worked throughout this whole year for that one word, and it was finally here.
This gap year has taught me a lot, it has strengthened me, it has matured me. It’s an experience I never knew I needed. If you are also “forced” into taking a gap year, it could mean that you need to work on yourself more, and that’s not a bad thing. If you can come out of this as an improved version of yourself, then you should embrace the process and give it your all to make the most out of it! Always look at the bright side while encouraging yourself, even more, when others don’t! Along my path I clung onto the phrases “trust your efforts” and “growth is uncomfortable because you’ve never been here before”. Work hard and put your trust in that work. Own it! Don’t let it go to waste. Embrace the process even when it seems endless and exhausting. Of course, you may not always know what to do but that’s completely normal because you’ve never been through this same process before. You’ll learn to adapt along the way. As long as you don’t give up, you can still succeed!
Studying effectively: a few tips
I have come to learn that there is a big variety of study techniques and the most effective ones are those which include active recall, in any form. I will only briefly mention a few details on it but you can always find various YouTube videos with numerous explanations from actual professionals. Here are some tips & tricks on studying effectively, methods that I have also used:
1.Active recall: already so popular and one of the most effective ways of studying. This method focuses on remembering (recalling) what you’ve studied. To put active recall into practice, we need to mostly test ourselves as much as possible through various methods such as flashcards or, how most people prefer, sets of questions you make yourself. How I use it: using notion/a paper sheet, I write down questions on a chapter I’ve studied. I try to answer every question and if I remember right away, I color the question with blue, if I can’t remember the answer entirely /I struggle with it, I use brown and if I can’t remember it/get the answer wrong, I use purple. Then I keep on revising those questions because repetition is key.
2.Feynman technique: mostly based on teaching others what you’ve learned. It is important to be able to explain the information thoroughly so that “even a 5 years old can get it”. Practically, if you can’t explain something it means you don’t understand it either. Try explaining the information to someone(or even to yourself), in a simplified way!
3.Pomodoro technique: using a Pomodoro app to take regular breaks while studying. This one has helped me a lot! How I use it: 50 mins-study, 10 mins-break; after 3 study sessions, I take a 30-minute break. This method increases focus and helps your body get used to this routine of studying. Also, it is very important to take several and frequent short breaks in order to prevent a possible burnout.
4.Focusing on keywords: a few days before an exam, try making 2 columns: headings(of chapters) & keywords. This should help you visualize the little details better. You can also try explaining to yourself what each word means/is related to, in order to test yourself even more.
Productive even during breaks
Rest is just as important as hard work. Overworking ourselves without breaks can lead to burnout which will slow us down in our progress and possibly even affect our mental state. Taking care of yourself is productive, remember that! What helped me stay focused and kept me going was taking at least one leisure day per week to reset and charge up for the upcoming workdays. Here are some ideas on how to make the most out of your breaks, whether they are short rest days or longer vacations:
- Redecorate your room/desk
- Declutter your closet and donate unused clothes
- Deep clean your room to keep it fresh
- Try different cooking/beverage recipes
- Learn how to play a new instrument
- Create something! (crocheting, painting, sketching, etc)
- Go on daily walks/hiking
- Try restaurants/cafes you’ve never been to before!
- Try gardening
- Go camping if you can!
- Write down recipes you want to try
- Plan travel trips
- Start a diary
- Track your expenses
- Make a watch list with your favourite shows/movies
…and many more! Staying organized not only in school but during breaks as well is good and hopefully, you can get some inspiration from this list! Remember to prioritize your well-being! Life is not all about work, it’s about finding a good balance between work and fun, love, rest..!
I sincerely hope this article can inspire or motivate you in any way! Wherever you are in life, give it your best and leave no regrets! Dream big and fight for those dreams until the end!
Do you want to read more about Alex’s gap year experience and study tips? Check out her Instagram, @medschoolplaylist.