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In med schools, how do exams test your knowledge?

Discussion in 'Medical Students - MD' started by jae9970, Feb 22, 2007.

  1. jae9970

    jae9970 Freshman Member
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    I was just studying for an exam that is almost 100% from memorization, and I was wondering how med school exams are like.

    So which case of the following resembles the reality more accurately?

    Case I: You have to study enough until you can write out definitions of all the terms on a blank sheet of paper.

    Case II: You have to study enough until you are able to recognize the correct answer, and you do not need to know how the word is spelled / write out anything.

    :confused:
     
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  2. MD Wiggy

    MD Wiggy Member
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    I'm a first year med student and IMO med school exams not only force you to memorize all of the details, they also force you to apply those details to concepts you may have been made familiar with through lectures. The concepts may be clinical, possibly situations you've seen before but not always. You have to use all of the details you've memorized to figure things out, not simply be able to recite definitions.
     
  3. lilnoelle

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    Definitely. Although all of my tests are multiple choice, very few of the questions (the easy ones) involve simple memorization. Most questions involve several steps of application of knowledge i.e., not only do you have to know what something is, but you have to know what it does, what might go wrong and extrapolate how that might affect something that seems unrelated and that you probably haven't thought about before the test. Usually there are two answers that are likely correct, but you have to pick the best of the two.
     
  4. Biscuit799

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    Yeah, usually our test questions present a clinical vignette which uses that information to help you come to a diagnosis/problem list, and provides clues to narrow it down. And yes, usually there are two very reasonable answers, of which I probably could just guess and be about as accurate.
     
  5. Mayhem

    Mayhem Scut Bear
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    Nope sorry. I didn't have to learn anything until I started my rotations. Except for haematology, all my pre-clin exams involved memorization. It was all about recognizing the words, not knowing what they mean. Now, pimping tests knowledge because people want definitions and explanations. MCQ's are all about short term memory.

    For me, at least, it's mostly been case II
     
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  6. coredump

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    I think the answer might vary depending on your professor (or school). Some professors use questions that are straightforward (i.e., recognition). Other questions require reasoning and some recall. Usually, it's a little bit of both.

    In general, however, I'd stick with reasoning/recall over recognition - and not just definitions, but concepts and definitions. When you're studying, try to recall as much as you can after reading.
     
  7. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    You will get what people are saying when you get here. Generally, there will be multiple choice tests, but several of the answers will always look pretty good unless you know all the details/subtleties. "Study enough" is not a good phrase to describe the studying you will do for a med school exam, because you will never feel you get to enough. There will never be straight definition type questions -- ie. "define xyz? _________" is simply not the kind of question you will ever see in med school. As others have said, you will most often have questions caged within clinical vignettes. Except on wet practicals, you are unlikely to ever have to spell anything in med school. Just wait -- all will become clear when you get here. But notwithstanding that the tests will generally be multiple choice, expect to need more than a passing familiarity with the material -- you can't really go in hoping you will recognize the right answer when you see it.
     
  8. DoctorFunk

    DoctorFunk Get down with the boogie
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    Try telling that to my school's pharm department. Not only are the tests short answer and essay questions, but we need to have all of the drug names that we are covering completely memorized, and any misspelling of those drugs will result in the answer being marked incorrect. Sucks my big toe.
     
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  9. -Goose-

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    Pharm essays? :barf:
     
  10. anon-y-mouse

    anon-y-mouse Senior Member
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    None... usually they're all m/c, except for lab practicals. "A 65 yo male status post gastrotomy presents with ataxia, abnormal gait, spasticity, etc. Blah blah blah irrelevant information. He is most likely suffering from:" and then the correct m/c answer is B12 deficiency. Generally they are "thinking" type questions which give you pieces of information and you eliminate possibilities based on the information presented in the question stem. Sometimes there are gimme answers where you recognize key words, but largely the best way to succeed is to actually *learn* the material and be able to teach it to others.
     
  11. Ashers

    Ashers Bacteria? Don't exist.
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    Oh man, you got to that first. We also can't misspell the non-drug name vocabulary in pharm.

    But the "define this word" type fill in the blanks are nice in pharm.
     
  12. Mayhem

    Mayhem Scut Bear
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    Wow, I don't think anyone has written an essay at my school in the last 5 years. Not even short answers questions come on the exams.
     
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  13. cfdavid

    cfdavid Membership Revoked
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    Medical school does require you to truly understand what's going on. That being said, I've found it necessary to memorize quite a bit of info straight up. For example, you don't have time to always think through all of the specific mechanisms in acid base physiology. I love thinking that stuff through, and recalling the various receptors on the specific areas of the renal tubule etc. and how they impact ion and acid balance. But, during the exam, it's best to cut to the chase and just remember the overall effects as they apply to a pH/PCO2 diagram. So, it seems like there's a mix of understanding and memorization (for practical reasons).
     
  14. psipsina

    psipsina Senior Member
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    The format of the multiple choice exams at my school is what requires you to know the knitty gritty detail, there will be three answers, and then one that says A & B are true, another that says A & C are true and another that says all of the above are true. So sure you might remember that A is true, but are you sure B & C are wrong, or not really, or only one of them? You have to be really confident on a massive quanitity of detail to not be randomly guessing on an exam, so sure its mostly memorization and the ability to apply those memorized factoids to a clinical situation, but the true challenge is the quanity of minutia that has to be solidly in your head and the fact that you have 3-4 weeks to put that vast quantity of crap in there.
     
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  15. OP
    OP
    jae9970

    jae9970 Freshman Member
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    ...so, in other words, med school exam m/c questions are very similar to those from the MCAT?

    what a surprise :rolleyes:

    MCAT M/C questions are the worst.. having to know about every little details etc.. I'm almost out of undergraduate program and i have yet to encounter a class where the exam questions are as think-involving and applied as MCAT questions.

    Not to mention, they take a LONG time to answer, too. :(
     
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  16. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    Um no, the MCAT isn't particularly similar to med school exam questions. On the MCAT you had to know the material in a whole lot less detail to get the right answer and it was much more formulaic. The MCAT only seems bad because it is the first mountain to climb. Once you are climbing the med school exam mountains monthly, you will realize it was just another small hill.

    It probably pays to hold off forming an opinion of what it's like until you get here -- nothing you think now is going to approximate the truth. If you really need to know what the questions are like now, there are some board review type books with questions that approximate the kind of thing that might be asked (but without a prof's detailed focus into his own areas of interests). But I don't recommend starting this ride until you have to.
     
  17. 45408

    45408 aw buddy
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    eh, for me it's more like Case II. Recognize the right answer...although a lot of times, like in phys, all five choices will be a slight permutation of the others, so you'll need to know exactly what's going on.
     
  18. sebsvenmdc

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    ummm, i actually heard that med school tests are different to the mcat. the mcat usually gave you scenarios that you had never seen before...including a lot of information that was a first for most test takers. exams in med school can be prepared for. sure, it's very difficult, but at least you have an idea of what you're going to be tested on. i guess my point is:

    the mcat is just a thinking test

    whereas

    med school tests are thinking and knowledge-based tests

    studying shows a much higher yield and dividends for the latter. how do you really study for the mcat? you get better at taking the test, you get the fundamentals down...but still then you get some random physics passages about gravity affecting the trajectory of light.

    am i mistaken or grossly misunderstanding?

    i start in august.
     
  19. OP
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    jae9970

    jae9970 Freshman Member
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    personally, when i was studying for MCAT, i felt that the questions in MCAT, mostly passage-based, were really really difficult. I have never encountered, in my academic career, (engineering, FYI) questions that involve so much thinking and logic from what is given. It's all about critical thinking, and misinterpreting a fine detail by a tad bit could lead to a wrong answer, while making you believe that you got the right answer. This trickiness nature of MCAT questions were what led me to wonder if exam questions in med schools were similar.

    But it seems like MCAT questions are cakewalks compared to actual exam questions med students face in school.. :(
     
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  20. MarzMD

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    This is exactly how it is at our school also.

    Actually, I think that the MCAT is almost the exact opposite of med school exams almost. The MCAT requires you to memorize certain concepts, and apply them to novel situations that they make really hard. Med school, on the otherhand, requires you to apply ever little bitty fact on every page of the notes to novel situations that arent hard at all. What Im trying to say is, its not hard deciphering exactly what the question is asking, the hard part in many cases is remembering the exact adjective the professor may have used to describe something on page 15/75 of your notes.
     
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  21. Critical Mass

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    We don't get a passage to read in medical school. A given multiple choice item will often test 10-20 factoids all at the same time. My goal is usually to try to recall 70-80% of the factoids per question, and that will get me some manageable odds for hitting the class average. If I wanted to, I could study more and improve my odds on a per-question basis; but I haven't been that interested in the material thus far.

    Most people would say that you have to experience the discomfort of the exam before you can understand the feeling.
     
  22. Magic Hateball

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    It depends on the class.

    For a course like pathology your only option is prayer.
     
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  23. Tired

    Tired Fading away
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    What I hate is the way you have to memorize all the "interesting" factoids that you will never see in practice. The truth is, you can go your entire career and never run into a gall stone ileus or true saddle embolus, but you will get 30-50 questions about these phenomena over the course of your med school exams. Ditto for Leriche hernias, "grey baby" syndrome, and countless others.

    Given that my brother was prescribed Zithromax for strep throat last month, I would prefer that people be tested more on things they will actually have to do . . .
     
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  24. psipsina

    psipsina Senior Member
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    Yeah, I think the biggest adjustment for me is learning that the horrible sinking feeling in my gut is what it feels like to pass a medschool exam. Last block I swear I could't even make intelligent guesses on about 60% of one test . . . was convinced I was failing . .. days later when my HP apeared on the screen of my computer my husband nearly had to catch me I was so shocked, . . .lol.
     
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  25. racerx

    racerx ASA Member
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    Remember, when the professor says, "you don't need to know this for the exam," you need to know it for the exam. "You don't need to know this for the exam" is code for, 'if you don't know this, your setting yourself up for a screwing come exam time.'
     
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  26. LJDHC05

    LJDHC05 Former Chicken Slayer
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    Our exams aren't so much testing of your knowledge, they test how long your can maintain anal-retentive levels of studying before the exam...and it's really subject dependant:

    Anatomy/Biochem/Neuro- Pure memorization of mountains of random factoids
    Histo- Know what the tissue looks like, apply it to function...and regurgitate random factoids
    Physio- Understand cause, beable to name the effect, understand what the graphs are telling you and regurgitate random factoids
    Behavioral- Memorize what makes people tick, and what makes them crazy, regurgitate random factoids. Apply to everyone you know.
    Biostat- Sit through a week of lecture after first block that really doesn't matter because it is all that is keeping you from going home for thanksgiving, regurgitate random factoids, pray for pass over turkey dinner.
    Ethics- blah blah blah...beneficence and non-maleficence and other big important sounding words. Tolerate ignorant, self-opinionated and oblivious people in small group for 10 meetings discussing stuff that you don't really want to discuss (i.e. Mr. X is dying of AIDS and doesn't want his family to know, he is now unconscious on life-support and his ex-wife is his proxy). Read study guide...regurgitate random factoids.
    Intro to Primary Care- Um...show up, tolerate small group discussions of "feelings" and "how to talk to people" and "sensitivity". Go to preceptor site, feel useless, take thorough history of newborns to 6 year olds, and appear enthusiastic to preceptor. Read study guide...regurgitate random factoids again.

    At least that's how my school rolls...
     
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  27. LifetimeDoc

    LifetimeDoc EM Attending
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    I sense some sort of pattern emerging...
    :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: :laugh: :laugh:
     
  28. baylormed

    baylormed On the Search
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    Aaaaaaahhh....we've discovered the secret! :eek:

    Read the fine print, the pictures, and memorize the index if necessary.
     
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  29. Critical Mass

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    :thumbup:

    Be especially wary if the prof says it with a smile on his face. That's usually a clue.

    M1/2 exams at my place seem to be like M3 shelf exams. It's clear that most of the test items were written years ago, and the majority of the exam items are not written by the prof who gave the lecture over the topic. In fact, the lecture in many cases isn't designed by the person giving the lecture. You'll know it when they say, "I think the point of this figure is that..."

    Another favorite comment is, "I hope that they don't test you guys on this much detail..." I'm like, "Dude, aren't you the 'they' that you're talking about?"
     
  30. 45408

    45408 aw buddy
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    The MCAT was significantly easier than my biochem final and my first block neuro exam. No lie.
     
  31. mudphudwannabe

    mudphudwannabe Senior Member
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    For medical school exams, you can't rely on memorization alone or straight reasoning to carry you through. You have to do both. There's a huge amount of information to learn -- some of it simply needs to be memorized, like learning the vocabulary of a language. But to really do well you need to be able to problem solve and apply information to new situations. Most exams are not simply recognition of terms (drugs, diseases, bacteria, etc) -- yes, they do test your factual knowledge, but they will find a way to test it that challenges your understanding.

    The hardest part for me to get the hang of was the memorization. Sure, I can memorize a list as well as the next person, but it's easy for me to get caught up in the details and really try to understand it when there isn't time to do that with everything. Some facts you just have to know before you can take the next step and answer a question. My undergrad classes focused mostly on learning basic principles and applying them to new problems on the exams, which were essays or short answer, so there wasn't much memorization involved. In med school, both in M1 and M2 we have mostly multiple choice exams, and they really find ways to challenge you -- they are not just easy recognition type questions. The exams don't compare at all to the MCAT -- the MCAT is a prospective exam, testing mostly reasoning rather than knowledge of specific facts. Medical school exams, as I've said, test both reasoning and knowledge.
     
  32. psipsina

    psipsina Senior Member
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    I love the guest lecturers who have no clue about what you already know. One guy this block told us that someday we would have to learn all the cranial nerves . . .mind you this is months after head and neck gross anatomy, lol. Luckily at my school they let the guest lecturers write their own test questions so at least there is some continuity maintained.
     
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  33. Mayhem

    Mayhem Scut Bear
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    What really gets me is how they come to lectures in the first two years and teach all the uber-rare diseases and syndromes then when you get to the ward they don't want to hear it. Example, I remember in exquisite detail how one doctor masturbated all over himself drilling the whole scorpion sting pancreatitis into our heads. The dude even brought journal articles and then asked us about it on the exam. Cut to one year later we're on a ward round and he wants 5 causes of pancreatitis. Fine, the first two are easy, alcohol and gallstones. Well I get to number 5 and I say scorpion sting, the man is going to tell me that he wants another answer because scorpion sting is so rare that they've never had a case at the hospital. WTF? Last year when he was teaching us you'd have thought scorpions were on the verge of killing off the human race. Then he drops some smarmy old proverb on me about zebras or some crap.

    This happened at least once every rotation, to me or someone else. It annoys me because if you're going to teach, and more importantly, examine us on random factoids then don't be pissed when you hear it from us. I'd love to focus on the more useful information but I'd never pass an exam that way, so I memorize random factoids.
     
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  34. logos

    logos 100% Organic
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    Case II, no question. The volume of material is such that achieving case I is next to impossible.
     
  35. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    I'm not sure expecting to "recognize the correct answer" is quite the way I would describe it though -- it suggests to me that the test will help you along, which is far from the case. In fact you need to know a bit better than that level, because 3 out of 5 of the possible answer choices will seem awfully good a lot of the time. You pretty much need to already know the answer, before you can "recognize" it.
     
  36. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    LOL - you should have played dumb and said you didn't realize zebras could sting. Bite maybe...
     
  37. turkleton

    turkleton Capeless Crusader
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    Yea that's the standard treatment it seams. Worse is when during lecture you get some hot shot researcher who spends two hours discussing phase one trials of some latest interferon blocker agitator absorber destroyer.... and at the end you still don't know what a damn lymphoma is.
     
  38. racerx

    racerx ASA Member
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    I am particularly disgruntled with the proximate cause questions. I understand why they are asked, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. :rolleyes:
     
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  39. Random

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    Mmmm...pathophysiology. I for one have resigned myself to the fact that my entire career is dependent on my ability to fill in circles with a number 2 pencil...answering questions about random factoids, of course.
     
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  40. Northerner

    Northerner Coquettish Haberdasher
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    Was I seriously the only one who was tested by a succession of holy crusades? Seriously?

    ....I want my money back.
     
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  41. vtucci

    vtucci Attending in Emergency Medicine
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    If you want a sample of the type of medical school exam questions, look at webpath online (do a google search and go in under the examinations). This is geared toward pathology, a second year subject.

    If you hate long passages with clinical correlations, you will hate second year at the very least and possibly first year depending on the program. Although in my experience, first year was memorize and regurgitate (and so is pharm in 2nd year).
     
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  42. vtucci

    vtucci Attending in Emergency Medicine
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    Agreed. :D
     
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  43. LJDHC05

    LJDHC05 Former Chicken Slayer
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    I dont know about you all, but Biochem is basically the most useless subject to test on. I can see my course director writing his questions now:

    "Since I invented Biochemistry back in 1748, I think I'm going to test on the interactions of every pathway in the body, including the ones that only happen in the intestinal flora. I've had nearly 200 years to memorize them, the students should enjoy learning them in a week. Then I'll throw in the 85 or so vitamin deficiencies and their causes and symptoms too! And sprue, I have to ask them about sprue..."

    Thank god there's less than 36 hours until I'm done with that class...
     
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  44. racerx

    racerx ASA Member
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  45. Critical Mass

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    We had the opposite situation last semester. A neurologist gave us a talk about physical exam skills with respect to the cranial nerves. He kept asking stuff like "Where's the nucleus of cranial nerve ___" We were all like, "Uh, we've just had anatomy. Neuro is next semester."

    I think that our clinical guests write their own Q's too, but half the time we don't recognize the material when we see it on the test. :(
     
  46. lilnoelle

    Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

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    Yuck!!! We have almost the opposite problem, but I prefer it to yours. Our questions are always written by the lecturers and so occasionally they'll ask a question that is so self inclusive that it disregards the rest of medicine (i.e. a social worker disregarding genetics) and so their answer is actually wrong. One would literally have to be inside the instructor's head to answer correctly. Those questions are all right though, cuz they usually get thrown out of the test.
     
  47. Magic Hateball

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    I remember when we had a neurologist come in and talk about the vomitting center of the brain and something like we'd never need to know the actual name of it, to which a student responded "You mean the Area Postrema?" The Neurologist kind of sat there stunned and said he didnt learn that until his 2nd year of residency. Seems times have changed...:scared:
     
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  48. psipsina

    psipsina Senior Member
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    Thank god for throwing out questions. Its kindof nice too because for the week after the test you keep getting e-mails where your score gets higher and higher and higher, lol.
     
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  49. DoctorFunk

    DoctorFunk Get down with the boogie
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    At my school they always tend to throw a large amount of questions out of the first exam of every course, then get proceedingly stingier after the remaining exams. By the final they could write a question that is contradicted clearly in 15 journals, Robbins, and the lecture transcript and the profs will refuse to throw it out simply because they don't feel like it. Honestly, half the time they won't even give us a reason.
     
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