Lessons Learned from First Semester at SCO

To my surprise, the semester actually ended and I finally found some rest. My first semester in optometry school was like a marathon, and I just try to keep looking forward, beyond each bend in the road. But it is also important to glance back and learn from the good and bad moments that passed.
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I’ve heard repeatedly that time management is the toughest adjustment, and the rumor is true – that is exactly how I felt during the first semester. I thought I was decent at managing my time in undergrad, but optometry school is a different ballgame. This is why I don’t know what to tell friends in undergrad now – I don’t know how anyone can fully prepare for the rigorous schedule that optometry school entails. I tried to compartmentalize my life with a calendar on paper, on my computer, and on my phone, yet I still scribbled lists of “to-do’s” all through my anatomy notes. Let’s just say some weeks were more organized than others.

Now don’t get me wrong, I made sure to also “schedule” plenty of fun in my first semester too. However, balancing fun and school can sometimes be a circus act – albeit lacking the same humor. If I had to return to August and start the semester over again, I would actually not study more. I would study smarter. I would take breaks. I would study for shorter periods. I would learn during lecture more instead of only in a library cubicle. If I dice my study periods into shorter segments, I am confident I would retain more information. I think staying focused and actively learning in lecture rather than passively jotting down notes will carve away some of the work hours of the day, leaving me with more hours of freedom. Setting goals for myself during each study session will help make sure I’m utilizing my time wisely. I believe briefly previewing and reviewing notes of the day will turn me into a more efficient learner as well.

Finding a study partner and sticking with him/her can completely change your understanding of material and help maintain a positive outlook during the rough times of school. Though they are truly friends, I am ever grateful to my “study buddies.” Place your time and trust in friends to help see you through school and have fun – it works for me.

Exercising helped me empty some of the stress that built up from school. I was running for a while and then let school get the best of me and stopped around October. To go through a full semester while routinely exercising during only half of it, I discovered how much better I felt when I was running. I had more energy, which helped push me through the last chapter in my clinical refraction textbook or through the last ten pages of my neuroanatomy notes.

Starting to study early for exams and practicing early for lab practicals helped me tremendously. Inevitably, I still made a few senseless mistakes in my practicals, but the early and frequent amount of practice helped calm my nerves as proctors studied my every move in that dim exam room. I can still hear my old high school football coach yelling at us on the practice field, “Repetition, repetition, repetition!” Truth is, he’s right – repetition works.

It’s never too late to change study habits or refine my time-management skills. Therefore, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to create a better time management plan and stay true to it. I also plan on drinking less coffee … we’ll see how that goes. Here’s to a new semester and new year!

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