Today I finished my last final, in Molecular Cell Biology (MCB), and I am happy to announce that….


I was feeling lots of anxiety going into the final, not because I felt I wasn’t ready but because I knew it would count as 30% of my course grade. Wouldn’t you be too? That is worth the same as my first two block exams combined! However, the final exam did go pretty well, and I’m pretty happy with my score.

There is one thing I learned this semester:

Whatever rumors you hear about classes, take it for a grain of salt. Think critically, form your own opinions, and be a leader in your own judgments.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “tips” or “advice” from upper-semester or fellow classmates that turned out to be personal opinions or conjectures posed as facts. I shouldn’t let another person’s fears or bad experiences about a class or exam cloud my own performance. Here are a few “rumors” about first-semester classes that I’ve heard throughout the semester:

Disclaimer: Before I begin the list, let me clarify one thing: I don’t mean to sound like all “advice” or “tips” are misleading or done with a malicious motivation. For the most part, people do want to help. Sometimes the advice is actually really helpful, like study tips, and sometimes the advice really is just an opinion or “venting” in disguise. It’s our responsibility as listeners to think critically and distinguish between the two, not just in med school, but in life.

  • “MCB is one of the two “weed-out” courses at AUC. If you don’t fail MCB, then you might fail Physiology!”

While I do not doubt MCB is a hard course nor do I doubt that there are those who fail, I think the hype is exaggerated. I calculated the class average for all the courses we’ve taken during first semester. they are as follows:

  • MCB: 78.37%
  • Anatomy: 79.24%
  • Histology: 82.6%

If MCB is truly THAT much harder than the other classes we’ve been taking, then wouldn’t the class average be THAT much lower (even if we assume we study more for it)? Instead, there’s less than 1% difference between MCB and Anatomy, which I don’t often hear people mention as a “weed-out class.” The course average for MCB is only 4.23% lower than Histology, which you’ll probably hear of as the “easiest class at AUC.” Only a 4.23% difference between the hardest and easiest class at AUC? This gets me to the next “rumor” I’ve heard.

  • “Histology is so easy!”

Actually, it’s not as easy as it sounds. This rampant rumor came at a price during the first block exam when a large portion of the class spent most of our time studying for MCB due to rumor #1, putting off histology because of its presumed “easiness.” Surprise! The exam grades turned out to be 70%, with half the class failing already on the first block, in the “easiest” course at AUC, to the expense of the high MCB exam average of 80%! Even though the course only lasted for three blocks, there was still quite a lot of material to handle. Although it may be the easier of the three classes we took this semester, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “easy.” It was still challenging for me.

  • “Robertsonian translocation will DEFINITELY be on the final exam! Every semester Dr. McI has always put a question about it!” (or any statements like this.)

I actually heard this only a couple of days ago. Well, the test is over and no where on it did I see anything mentioning Robertsonian translocation. Don’t believe it when anyone thinks they know what question will be on the exam. They don’t. Most importantly, study for the sake of learning the material, not for the sake of answering select questions you think will show up on some made-up exam. If you know the material pretty thoroughly, you can tackle any question creatively concocted that is thrown at you.

  • “Embryo is easy! Spend all your time on Block 3 MCB.. don’t even worry about embryo that much! Dr. Nash gives a review right before the Block and everything in that review will show up as a question on the test.”

Actually, this rumor cost the class the most points of the semester. Perhaps the last semester had an easy test and perhaps Dr. Nash’s review did match up very well for the test, but this semester is not last semester. The average for the embryology exam turned out to be 70%, and most of the test questions were far more detailed to be covered in a single review. Again, like the first histology exam, half the class failed because we didn’t expect it to be hard, because of the rumors. Every semester may be different. What you hear about one semester may not be true for another.

  • “Block 2 was the hardest!” or “Block 2 was the easiest!” or “Block 3 was the hardest!” or “Block 3 was the easiest!”

There is no “hardest” or “easiest” test. Whoever tells you these rumors, the “hardest” test was simply the test he received the lowest grade in, and the “easiest” test was simply the test he received the highest grade in, and these circumstances vary from person to person.

  • “You don’t need to know the details about Dr. McI’s Genetics exam… just know the big picture!”

While it is true that knowing the big picture is essential in solving problems in genetics, there was still quite a lot of question that also require knowledge of the details. This is what distinguishes a passing student from a great student.

  • “There won’t be that much material from Block 1 on the final exam.. don’t study it as much!”

Actually, Block 1 is still pretty important because it provides a basis for the rest of the course. The questions on the exams are not strictly from one block’s material or another. I was quite surprised to find that many of the questions were actually synthesis questions that combined materials of different blocks. For example, a question may ask about a certain compound involved in some disease that you learned in Block 3, but present the answer choices as compound structures that you learned in Block 1. In this case, knowing one block very well was not enough to answer the question.

  • “Just read through the blue-highlighted stuff on Dr. McD’s slides and you’ll be fine on the test!”

First, you won’t learn anything simply by just reading the blue words. Those may be important points to know but not the only points to know. Besides, you’ll have to read through everything to get a good grasp at the picture. You’ll get lost in the picture if you only read from one blue word to the next. Second, there were many questions on the exam about key points that were not blue-highlighted. Again, like I said before, study for the sake of learning the material, not for the sake of answering select questions you think will show up on some made-up exam.

As we are in a Doctorate program, our goal is to acquire just as much, if not more knowledge than the doctorates teaching us. Eventually we should be our professor’s counterparts. How can we achieve this if all we want to learn is what’s going to be on some test? It may let us pass the blocks, but it is not going to help us truly understand the material, let alone pass the boards. Let’s stop learning for the sake of answering some made-up test questions and start learning for the sake of becoming a doctor. After all, if your patient asks you a question, you don’t want to reply “I don’t know… it wasn’t on the exam.”

Let’s stop letting rumors like the one’s I’ve listed above affect our normal study habits, and let our own self-expectations, experiences, and judgments guide us!