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8 Habits of Successful Students Who Sail Through Their Pan-Canadian Exam

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Acupuncture school is a grueling experience. Students begin programs with a fresh passion to learn a new medical paradigm. By the time they get to their 3rd or 4th year of school, they find themselves exhausted and sometime lacking inspiration, relieved to see an end in sight. Of course, the studying doesn’t end once the diploma is in hand because there is still the daunting task of sitting AND passing the dreaded Pan-Canadian exam.

The amount of anxiety produced by this last barrier between students and being a registered acupuncturist can be tremendous. I’ve witness students physically make themselves sick with worry and stress. But it does not have to be this way!

Having taught with TCM Review Seminars for the past 10 years, I’ve gotten a good chance to observe the habits of the most successful students. It’s not just luck that helps the most successful students: the answer is formulaic and can be applied to preparation for any big exam whether it’s comprehensives or a licensing exam.

These 7 Steps have been broken down below:

1. Regularity

✓ Successful students create a schedule for their board study and stick to it.

We’ve learned that the digestive system like regularity. Meals at the same time of day, not too much, not too little, with a mix of all the five flavours bring strength and harmony to the Middle Jiao. This signals our body to secrete enzymes and promotes more efficient digestion.

Similarly, studying at the same time daily signals he brain and body that its time to learn. It works even better if you can study in the same place. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to study each day at your desk in your room. You can switch it up as long as there is regularity. For example, on Mondays you might study at the library in the mornings, Tuesdays at a Café in the evenings, Wednesday with your study partner at their house, etc.

2. Repetition Repetition Repetition

✓ Successful students students spend part of each study session reviewing what they have already learned.

I often see students spend a week focusing on theory and diagnosis. They then move on to a new subject, acupuncture point prescriptions, then the following week studying laws and regulations. Then they find at the fourth week when they return to theory and diagnosis that they don’t remember anything. How frustrating! The biggest way that board exams differ from school exams is that there is no way you can cram for them.

Successful students approach board study slowly and steadily and with a lot of review, review, review. Once you learn a subject, you want to make sure you are reviewing it regularly. At first that might be daily until it sinks into your longterm memory. Then review it every second or third day. I had a roommate during acupuncture school that was a year or so ahead of me. She entered all the information she was learning into a quiz program on her smartphone. She’d then review everything nightly and again first thing in the morning. It was amazing to see how much information she could rattle off the top of her head.

Studies show that to memorize quickly and effectively, look at what you want to learn last thing before going to bed and first thing upon rising. This means as soon as you open your eyes, before getting out of bed. This helps to assimilate new information quickly into your long-term memory. New research shows that the brain is like a muscle: it gets stronger with practice.

3. Take Breaks

✓ Successful students take regular breaks.

It’s impossible to spend all day studying without taking breaks. The brain is like a muscle in that it tires from stress. Students that score the highest take breaks regularly. We recommend our students take a 10-minute break after every 50 minute of study time: stretch, drink water, or have a protein snack during your break time.

The productive people don’t necessarily study the longest hours: instead, they take the smartest approach to managing their energy to solve tasks in efficient and creative ways.

Taking breaks often will help you integrate the material you have learned and refresh your mind for the next hour of study. Taking a short, brisk walk during your break increases block circulation and brings oxygen to to the brain.

4. Blocking

✓ Successful students break up big subjects into small, digestible blocks.

Successful students block what they need to learn in smaller, digestible sections that are not going to overwhelm them. Often I hear of students who sit down in a 4-hour period and learn ALL the CAM point prescriptions. That’s around 50-60 point prescriptions. Yes, they’ve learned them that day but do they still know them the next day? Most likely not. What’s in the middle of a longer study session is hardest to retain. We remember best what is at the beginning and end of a study session.

Successful students learn 4-5 CAM point prescriptions a day during a 15 minute period. By studying smaller blocks of information, you’ve shrunk the middle of your subject matter from 40-50 CAM prescriptions to 2-3 CAM prescriptions. This technique guarantees better results.

5. Switch It Up

✓ Successful students change subjects often

The brain, like any muscle, fatigues with overuse. You wouldn’t go to the gym and only do biceps curls. You witch it up to target all the muscles in the arms or legs. It’s the same with the brain. The parts of the brain activated while learning diagnosis is different then what is activated memorizing point prescriptions is different then what is activated working through case studies.

Switch subjects often to keep the mind fresh and attentive. We tell our students to switch subjects after every 30-50 minutes. The harder a subject is for you the less you want to spend on it. Repeated short bursts of study time (10-15 minutes a day) over a few months most effective for learning difficult material.

6. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

✓ Successful students spend most of their study time studying material they are less confident with.

Successful students push their limits and do not shy away from the task at hand. A mistake I see students make is reviewing a subject that they are good at and then under-studying or avoiding subjects that are difficult for them.

Successful students spend the bulk of their study learning what they don’t know or are less secure with. Yes, it can be uncomfortable. For many of you those weak spots are what you’ve been avoiding for the last 3 years of school. There is no skating by with the board exams. Roll up your sleeves and dive in.

7. Manage Stress

✓ Successful students.

This is a big part of studying for the boards. I know that many of our students are still in school when they begin our review course. Between finishing school, work and family life, and keeping up with our course, they are already maxed out. Make sure you are taking care of yourself.

  • Eat foods that will help keep you nourished and focused. High protein/low carb meals will keep your B vitamin levels high and prevent blood-sugar
    spikes. This is essential to help you process your stress.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation won’t help you focus during this time and it will weaken your memory.
  • Exercise at least a few times a week, take walks, get outdoors. In a study done at the UBC, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, boosts the
    size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Additionally, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress.
  • Clear your plate enough to have the bandwidth to focus on the task at hand. For three months before the exam, minimize your commitments and make
    studying your #1 priority. A couple of years ago, we had a really smart student who was already a chiropractor. She had a full clinic load and a new relationship. She couldn’t even make it to half the review classes and she definitely couldn’t carve out three hours to study. She had already taken the
    exam and not passed, and she didn’t pass again. When she finally hired someone to cover her patients and locked herself in her house for 3 months to
    study, she finally passed, and with 92%! That was a very expensive lesson to learn, mentally, emotionally and financially.
  • Start studying early, even if this means that all you are doing is assembling your study material. Procrastination and stress create a negative feed-back
    loop. Starting early, on the other hand, helps you to have enough time to implement the tips above and enjoy studying.

The best way to manage stress is to be organized, devote enough time, and put in the work so you are confident with the information.

8. Positive Visualization

✓ Successful students imagine how it feels to have already passed.

Successful students see themselves succeeding. I know that the thought of studying and writing your exam may sound overwhelming and scary. Imagine how it feels to receive the letter in the mail that you have already passed, to have your license framed and hanging on the wall of your clinic. Imagine that you confident and relaxed writing your exams.

You should know that the worst thing about the board exam is that you have no clue what to expect the day of the big exam. Of course all those urban myths that shroud the test in secrecy and fear, making it loom like a Goliath don’t exactly bring confident to the test taker. Unlike classes at school, you only have one shot at it. There is no mid-term before this final so you can get a sense of how it might be. All of this is simply the fear of the unknown and nothing more than that. For if you take a good review class, study and study well with a good plan, really putting in the hours, you will pass. The mind loves to project and create a future when faced with the unknown. So you might as well create a positive one where you see yourself capable and willing to put the study time in,
with the ability to learn the information with ease, taking your board exam, confident and well prepared.

Follow these images with an image of you receiving a letter in the mail one month later saying “Congratulations! We are happy to inform you that you have passed the Pan-Canadian Exam. Welcome to the club, RAc!”

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Patient presents with infrequent and difficult defecation. He has a bowel movement every 3-5 days. There is fever, dire thirst and foul breath. What would you expect the tongue and pulse to be? The best point prescription for this case is?

  1. Dry, yellow coat and thready rapid pulse: UB25, ST25, SJ6, KD6, UB20, UB21
  2. Dry, yellow coat and rolling, forceful pulse: UB25, ST25, SJ6, KD6, LI4, LI11
  3. Pale with a white coat and deep, slow pulse: UB25, ST25, SJ6, KD6, Ren8, Ren6
  4. Thick, sticky yellow coating and rapid, string-taut pulse: UB25, ST25, SJ6, KD6, Ren12, LV3


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The news is slowly sinking …Thanks for all your help.  I found the course very helpful.  I am so excited to finally move on from being tested to actually helping people.

Corinne M. Pan Canadian Exams 2016-2017 April 26, 2017

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Quiz Question Answer

The answer is B.

First step is to identify the relevant symptoms. Those are constipation, fever, dire thirst and foul breath. This is clearly a case of excess heat.

The answers give a tongue and pulse presentation, then a point prescription. I think it’s easier to determine tongue and pulse first. We are looking for a tongue and pulse that show excess heat.

  1. Shows excess and deficiency heat and so A is out.
  2. Shows excess heat.
  3. Shows excess cold and so C is out.
  4. Shows excess heat but with damp. There is no damp in this case.

B is the answer.

Let’s double-check the points just to make sure there are no mistakes.

  • LI11 will help with the fever and dire thirst and foul breath.
  • LI4 will help descend the bowels. KD6 and SJ6 will add moisture. This is critical to do with constipation to help to evacuate the bowels.
  • UB25 and ST25 will regulate the LI channel.

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