Studying for the acupuncture board exams has become more of a full-time job than I originally anticipated. What began as a carefree (careless?) review of class notes, lecture slides, and study outlines has turned into a demanding array of exercises and data recollection where I not only spend hours going over said notes and slides, but also practice test taking skills on how to choose answers in board exams.
It turns out the exams not only test a student on academic knowledge, but also their test taking skills. The confusing case study questions are not accompanied with answers that are easy or clear to identify. Instead, the answers one has to choose from are a selection of confusing remedies where some treatment plans are less wrong than others. Acupuncture points one would normally choose for a course of treatment are noticeably absent and in their stead one has a group of points that, while effective, are not the ones normally chosen in clinic practice. These type of answers play a mind trick for folk like me who can rationalize any answer given, no matter how wrong it is. The bulk of my time is spent practicing and figuring out how to answer a board exam question, and not learning or memorizing material that will help me treat a patient.
A friend who is sitting for the herbal board called me last week in a state. She didn’t want to study. She was having an anxiety episode because every time she sat down and opened a book to go over herbs and formulas, her brain “shut-down.” She said she didn’t want to sit to go over herbal categories, modification, and herb pairings. “I’m sick of studying!” she cried. “What’s wrong with me?!”
I tried talking her through her anxiety by sharing some of my own resistance to studying. “Do you think I wake up in the morning telling myself: I get to study today, whoopee! I get to spend five hours today going over crossing- and paired-points I’ll never get to use because, who many patience with dysentery and malaria will I get to see in practice? Woo-hoo!”
Maybe I should tell myself the opposite instead. Maybe my attitude will change and studying won’t feel like a chore. Or maybe, I should learn how to treat malaria since an Oriental medicine doctor won the Nobel Prize for medicine last year, and according to NPR, malaria continues to be a major health concern in certain parts of the world.
Right now, feeling excited about, or wanting to study is not how I feel. Instead, distractions constantly pull at me in different directions, none of which I’d normally consider. I’d rather go grocery shopping, do my neighbor’s laundry, mop floors in a greasy diner, or take up another master’s degree than sit and review for these exams. Pulling a gray pubic hair is less painful than figuring out an Oriental medicine organ pattern for diagnosis.
My friend asked what she could do in order to overcome her aversion to academic work. She wondered what I did in order to feel like I got anything accomplished with my days.
“That’s easy,” I said. “Scratch items off a list. Draw yourself a To Do or Todo (Everything) list (Todo in Spanish means everything) and the more items you scratch, the better you’ll feel!”
To Do, or Todo lists have become an integral part of my day. They help me organize myself and give me a sense of completion and self-confidence every time I mark an item as completed. They have become a magical spell of sorts. Every time I get through one, I feel empowered, confident, strong—like I’m able to tackle the most convoluted of questions in an exam. On days where I get everything done, I treat myself to one of the items I placed on my Amazon wishlist. On days where I have to carry an item or two over to the next day, I practice patience and compassion towards myself and decide to give myself a break from all the (todos los) chores I had for myself that day.
To Do lists keep me honest and on track, if only for the day, and serve as a map for me to follow that day. I may not always follow the established directions, but they tend to get me closer to where I want to go. They’re a journal of todo/everything I have to do that’s more honest than anything I write or tell myself in my journals. If I were to account for last three months of my life, these lists would summarize my days and practices better than an Facebook or Instagram post. My To Do lists are, in a sense, lists of Todo I have to do and done to be rid of these exams.