Monday, September 27, 2010

203. Mindset and motivations for vet undergraduates

Monday Sep 27, 2010
Perth Royal Show, Queen's birthday today is a public holiday in Perth

Mindset
It is hard to change your mindset when you tell yourself you just can't do it. If you tell yourself you can't beat the top student in your class, you fulfill your prophecy every time you see that your exam results are lower than hers or his.

Passion for veterinary medicine and surgery
Human nature is such that 80% of the vet student population will not have passion for veterinary medicine and surgery. Passion means putting much more time and effort in your undergraduate studies to excel in the top 20% of the class. That is how I judge passion quantitatively. It is not for everybody. There has to be time sacrifices and the capability.

Yesterday I met 2 vet undergraduates whom I know to be in the top 20% of the class and another one probably in the bottom 20% of the class. I will call them A, B and C.

The recent SAM (small animal medicine) exam for the 4th year was packed to the gills with questions such that most students would not be able to complete answering all questions and therefore "had an excuse to fail". It was apparently a new examination format according to C and so I was interested to know more.

"The top student got 88% (High Distinction)," C said. "How about A and B?" I asked with very high expectations. C replied: "They got Distinction which is 70-80%."

"If nobody can complete answering all the SAM questions, how could anyone get Distinction or High Distinctions?" I asked C.

C replied: "They got correct answers for the questions they completed. This just does not cut ice with me. Unless the professors use the standard deviation curve and award the Ds and HDs according to this curve. So, even if no student completes all questions, they still can be graded according to the bell curve. Know what I mean? Go and research statistics.

C said to me: "It is impossible for me as I need >90% in the forthcoming exam to pass the SAM." Nothing is impossible if one is very hungry. "What if you get 80-90%? Will the professor be kind towards you so that you need not repeat the whole SAM exam?"

"Your mindset is already fixed," I took some time to talk to this young man who was once a straight A student in his A levels. "Why don't you just drop out of vet school and do something else if you have no passion for vet medicine? Do something that pleases you.

"You had straight As in his A levels and I know you have the capability to at least pass the examinations. Your parents will be disappointed but why do you care about their feelings?"

As a parent myself, I feel really sad for his father and mother who must have had high hopes for him and would not know his examination performance.

Is there any hope for him? If he cannot get over 90% in the final exam, he will need to repeat the whole SAM exam which involves much more subjects to study. I advised the following which may be useful for other undergraduates in vet school.

1. Males who tend to study 2 weeks before the 4th year examination may fail because there is a vast amount of info to remember.

2. Study daily your lecture notes. Use "cards" to write down the important points from past year exam questions. Read the cards one at a time when you are free. And do it daily, not 2 weeks before the exam.

3. Do wider reading but since you just want to pass, I don't expect you to bother. A wider reading reinforces and adds to the knowledge from your lecture notes.

4. Cut off the addiction to watch downloaded TV movies or use the internet till 3 am in the morning. If not possible, restrict to half an hour. During my undergraduate days in the early 1970s, there was no internet and I watched only the 10pm news in Glasgow. It was back to the grindstone every evening, except weekends, to study and read other books on vet medicine.

5. Vet medicine is full of information to remember. There is no other way but to spend time to memorise the facts. It is easier than law which requires case precedents to be quoted.

6. Stay-in at a practice to help out. But this option does not appeal to most students as it means responsibility. Only certain students who need the money saved from not having to rent a place will do it. A and B did it. They would have seen real cases which bring vet medicine and surgery alive to their mugging. That is one way to get top marks. Reading text without seeing practice or real cases can be sleep inducing.

7. "I open the text book and I fall asleep immediately," is a common observation for vet students whose motivation is poor. The reason is due to addiction to online pleasures of gaming and video watching.


Life is full of ups and downs for families - financial, health and death of young ones preceding the death of the parents. If you are an undergraduate with no financial problems, know that you are so fortunate to just simply having to pass the vet course. Many aspiring vet students will sacrifice a few years of their life if they were in your position.

Competitive spirit. A competitive spirit in the top 20% of the vet student. Is it inborn or acquired? It is hard to know. From my observation of A, it seems to be inherent in her based on my observation of the Mad Cow Rodeo performance. I heard her commenting to herself that she got the lowest grades as she was thrown off the cow earlier than B, C and another classmate. The other 3 vet students managed to hang on with two hands (incorrect way as one hand was the trick to rodeo riding)for a longer time.

A competitive spirit and a photographic memory will be hard to beat but never say "can't do it". Once your mindset is negative, you will never beat her at all if you have only acquired a competitive spirit by being associated with her. Both A and B will encourage each other in good company. So, much depends on the "porer"performer (B) to get a very positive mental attitude to study correctly and excel to be top of the class.

Do top students take multi-vitamins, grinko nuts and ginseng? I don't know. I presume A does it. Most likely she has a photographic memory as C told me that the classmates were impressed that she remembered the name of some plant causing sheep diseases during class. Unfortunately for me, C could not remember what was the name of the plant when I asked him!

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