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Optometry School Survival Kit

We’re in the middle of finals right now. First year finals were rough, but maybe because some of it was still review from undergrad, it still went great for me. I always pictured things would get easier, but alas, I was wrong. A wise upper year student once told me, “It doesn’t get easier, we just get more and more used to things.” I must say, after finishing half of my second year, I couldn’t agree more. Part of it is really getting into a routine that works, and finding ways to be more efficient.

So here are a few tips that help me succeed to the best of my ability–or at least make my student life at ICO a little easier.

Disclaimer: The following things have been helpful for me personally, but effects may vary from person to person.

1. Invest in stationery and writing utensils You are going to be writing a lot. Believe me, I used to type up notes, but that just isn’t fast enough, and with the paper slides that gets printed out and put in your mailbox, I would say the majority of students here handwrite notes on the slides as the professors give lectures. Good stationary could perhaps make studying notes more fun to read. It  doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. Ebay, Amazon, and even certain stationary stores sometimes have things on sale (like stacks of lined paper for just a penny, or 10 white-outs for $10).

Staedtler Fineliner marker-pens for flow charts and simple diagrams I’ve had my eyes on these for about two years during undergrad before I finally decided to buy them. They were a bit more pricey back then, but I can honestly say I’ll probably keep buying them as they run out. They don’t bleed through the page, they are ultra-fine, colors are bright, and every stroke comes out sharp and crisp for those times when I really need to outline something. I actually prefer these over highlighters sometimes, just because they don’t even dry out if you forget to put the cap back on.


They even have a stand case to make picking colors and taking the pens out a lot easier.

Fineliner diagrams and flow charts

Twistable crayons to replace highlighters I really wish I tried these out when I was studying for anatomy last year, since I spent so much money on coloring anatomy pictures with highlighters. I would recommend buying these in the brighter color sets and use them as highlighting tools instead. Again, they don’t bleed, they don’t dry out! Better yet, if you need to sketch images for ocular disease class, or any other class that’s heavily visual, they work great. The only down side is that you can’t sharpen these, so it’s hard to do any fine outlines of anything. However, if you’re quickly jotting down notes in class, you’re probably not going to have time to sharpen anything.

Here’s a comparison between what my notes used to look like, and what my notes look like with these awesome crayons:


Before: bland notes with dried-up highlighters


After: many colors to choose from in order to easily color code notes and draw pictures, and no more drying out or bleeding

2. Pick your poison For some people, coffee is their pick-me-up of choice, and it works great for them. But there are alternative options for caffeine consumers who absolutely detest the taste of coffee but still need to be conscious enough to be coherent and study.

Black Tea I’ve come to believe that my body doesn’t metabolize coffee very well. Black tea, however, works great! It’s cheap, you only need hot water, and it tastes good with or without milk, cream, or sugar. I have come to make this my regular source of caffeine, and I think it’s healthier than any of the alternatives I could be ingesti

Energy Drinks Some may wrinkle their nose at energy drinks, but on nights when I really don’t have a choice but to stay up and study, they are a lifesaver. I have tried several, and they all work/taste differently, but my favorite is the Rockstar Recovery non-carbonated orange. For some reason, none of the other flavors work as well as this one, and I don’t get a crash. The trick is not to drink the whole thing in one sitting, and sip on it when you know you’re going to be sleepy in a couple hours. I don’t recommend that anyone drink these all the time, but instead for the one or two nights per quarter of emergency study needs.


3. Acquire lens cloths and cleaner When I worked full-time, I never used to notice how dirty my glasses can get. For the most part, I attribute that the fact that I didn’t rely on them nearly as much as I do here. There was a while when I thought that my prescription must have gotten much worse because I couldn’t see as well as I used to. As it turns out, my prescription didn’t really change, and my glasses were just scratched and fogged up from constant use. There are people that only used to use their glasses for reading, and notice the same thing. You can’t help but to appreciate sharper vision when all you do is read the majority of the time. Even if you don’t wear glasses, I would recommend collecting microfiber cloths while vendors give them out in first year. Hold on to them, because they’ll bee very useful when you own an expensive set of trial lenses, or lenses for the BIO and slit lamp. The view is infinitely better when you wipe your lenses before you attempt any technique that requires them.

Make sure you don't throw lens cloths away. You can thank me later.

Make sure you don’t throw lens cloths away. You can thank me later.

4. Get study snacks, and/or roommates that bake You can’t help but be bogged down once in a while when you’re tired from studying for finals. So when I felt like my brain couldn’t digest any more drug knowledge for the pharmacology final, I stopped and baked some brownies.

You can’t blame me for wanting a break. I mean, look at what we needed to know:

All the drugs of this quarter, with mechanisms, contraindications, and toxicities

All the drugs of this quarter, with mechanisms, contraindications, and toxicities. This is a great reminder of why I didn’t want to become a pharmacist.

After that exam, we had another tough mountain to climb, the ocular disease final.


These are just a list of the diseases we needed to know for this quarter. Somewhere in another stash, are all the details for each disease.

I like my brownies à la mode. You can’t just put ice cream on top. Unless the brownies are fresh out of the oven, they have to be microwaved, so that the warmth melts the ice cream just a little bit. Delicious desserts makes studying a lot easier to bear. Each time I understand a concept, I give myself positive reenforcement with a bite of dessert. If it’s going to be a late night, you’ll probably get hungry. Having an emergency supply of study munchies like gummy fruit snacks, fruit, chocolate or fiber bars might make a difference in how much longer you can focus.

Brownie mix of choice: Ghirardelli Caramel Turtle

Brownie mix of choice: Ghirardelli Caramel Turtle

5. Find a timer or stopwatch I know the era of the Casio G-Shock and Baby G  is gone, but if you can dig up any old timer or stopwatch, it will come in handy in so many ways. First, all your practicals are going to be timed, and even though you might have a smart phone with a timer, you will not be allowed to bring that with you during your actual practical exam. The practicals we just had were two-parters, where we had to perform two separate techniques within eight-and-a-half minutes. I think I would’ve definitely performed better had I been able to keep track of how much time I had left and made sure I didn’t take too long on one technique. Additionally, in one technique that you learn first year, you are required to note a patient’s performance and the letter they are reading, all while timing them for exactly one minute. It was so much easier to have a stopwatch that beeps at the end of one minute, so I can keep track of fewer things during a stressful practical.

That’s it for now folks. Wish me luck for finals!


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