I’ve been meaning to write this for ages but life is so busy right now with work, and the baby and studying for the next exam that it’s hard to gather myself to coherence. I’m writing this because when I started studying with the baby, there was next to nothing on the Internet but a handful of forum posts debating it, lots of people saying it was too hard, lots of people saying it might be doable, and one really really good blog about a woman who studied for the American bar exam with a newborn baby – I took a lot of cues from her, although I don’t think I ever quite achieved the hours she did!
By the time I sat the exam, I was managing around 3 hours a day of study total, broken up into many fragments that varied on how long the baby slept for. Sometimes that study was ten minutes, sometimes 45, but I got there in the end.
Here’s my thoughts on getting through an exam with a baby.
1. Allow yourself to fail. When I started studying for this, there was so much opinion on the Internet on how it just can’t be done so I went in with nothing to lose. Every time I studied or procrastinated I would shrug and say ohwell, I’ve got nothing to lose, at least I tried. Not putting pressure on myself was a huge psychological boost.
2. You can do stuff when you’re tired, even though you’re tired. Because of 1), it doesn’t matter how much or how little you do. So even if your baby has kept you up for like, a week straight, just have a go. I think I did the same lymphoma flash cards every day for a month because nothing goes in. But it does eventually. I would sit there at 3am breastfeeding, nodding off, and trying to answer the same card over and over. But it didn’t matter because there was no pressure to pass or fail either way, so I just kept trying. The hard part is learning how not to emotionally respond to being tired, or thinking “I can’t study because I’m so exhausted”. You have to turn it into “I’m exhausted but I can have a go at studying, doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go in!”
3. Newborns are great for studying with because they can’t move, crawl, or do anything. They sleep and they cry. You can’t study when they’re crying, but you have two options when they’re sleeping. Sleep yourself, or study. Put no expectations on the lengths of either because mine would either sleep for 20 minutes or 3 hours depending on her mood. I had to be really really flexible.
4. Flashcards flashcards flashcards. Every time I did a practice MCQ, if I got it wrong (or fluked getting it right), I would read up on the condition, and then make flashcards about it. You can do flashcards on your phone or computer any time of day. The best type of study for an exam where you have to remember stuff is is practicing remembering stuff. I cannot emphasise this enough. Forget about reading and highlighting and summarising. Just forget it. It’s over. I highly recommend the Anki flashcard app. I made thousands. No it doesn’t matter if you don’t do them all.
5. Question banks question banks question banks. If I got a question wrong I’d done a flashcard on, I’d redo the card if I’d covered it, and make another card if I hadn’t.
6. Psychology. You have to believe you can pass. You have to accept you could fail. For me I decided that if the baby and my husband were okay, the outcome didn’t really matter. Yes I needed it for my career, but my family are my everything, not my work. I saw an educational psychologist who helped me work out what techniques worked for me, and steered me through the mountanous self-doubt that inevitable follows when you do something well outside the bounds of what society tells you that you can do.
7. You are not a cleaner. I’m not a tidy person, I’ve never been a tidy person, and I put no pressure on myself to be one, or cook or do anything remotely domestic. The baby is work enough, having a high stakes exam on top of that is more than enough. So my husband I did bits here and there – in hindsight we should have got a cleaner but were to sleep deprived to get ourselves together enough.
8. Meditate. Your exhausted. Hormonal. In love. Terrified. Trying to study. I used the Meditation Oasis app, although you can get the same podcasts for free from http://www.meditationoasis.com. Just do it. There’s no right way of doing it. No it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep doing it. Just do it. Really.
By the end of it all I had amassed thousands of cards, and signed up to almost too many question banks (although I mostly managed to finish them. My day would start with getting myself and the baby up, doing flashcards while breastfeeding, then playing with the baby, putting her to sleep, going back to sleep, playing with the baby, putting her down for second sleep, then doing past questions and making flashcards. My husband would come home from work, take the baby, and if I had anything left in the tank, I’d study some more. Over Christmas when he was home more I got some good 2 hour sessions done (our families are interstate – I highly recommend having at least one set near you!)
I failed this exam the first time I sat it without a baby. Too much happened in one year, bad headspace, no real understanding of what multiple choice exams involve, or the psychology behind them. I passed the exam when I sat it again. I didn’t just pass it, I destroyed it. I got above the average in both domains so if you’re where I was a year go, baby on the way and so depressed about giving up study – don’t be. You can do it if your head is right, if you have support, and if you’re willing to work on your mental fortitude.