My PLE Journey 3 of 3: Four-day survival mode

Here are the four things that kept me sane over the four days of #PLE2021:

  1. Stay grounded. Take a couple of deep breaths before every exam, in the middle before you revise answers, and after. Five seconds in, five seconds out. Connect with your peers, friends and family.
  2. Keep yourself healthy and well-fed. There’s nothing worse than answering an exam with an empty stomach and a throbbing head.
  3. Take comfort in tradition. Wear a lot of red, grab some empanadas, kick the chair, and let go of your Mongol No. 2.
  4. Trust in your prayers and in your work. Tiwala at tiyaga, Ora et Labora. Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Dei.

PLUS: Bonus doodles reflecting how I felt each day of the PLE.

Survival Tip #1: Stay grounded

Take a couple of deep breaths before every exam, in the middle before you revise answers, and after. Five seconds in, five seconds out.

Mindfulness was a recurring piece of advice from our mentors, whether from ASMPH or Topnotch. Dr. Lou Querubin, during our last send-off event, advised us to remind ourselves of our reason for being in this moment. The mental health session from Topnotch asked us to “name our emotion”, which is the first step to taking back some control and peace.

A big part of “staying grounded” is the support of the people around you. The Pugad Agila board ops played a huge part in keeping our batch motivated and sane over the four days of gruelling exams. Thank you so much to the ASMPH community for giving us everything from Mongol pencils to post-boards goodie bags.

Endless amount of thanks to Doc Kirk for being the best Mother Goose.

Made2F1y. This is a screenshot from our first send-off (before the PLE was postponed by a month). Our hardworking Pugad Agila had to do everything all over again because of the postponement. I am very grateful.

If you don’t have a similar board ops system in your school, don’t fret!

Again, keeping open connections with friends, both in real life and online, can do wonders for nerves. Take a deep breath before every exam and look at the people around you: they’re going through the same thing. You’re never alone!

And just think of all the prayer warriors you have at home —your parents, extended family members, neighbors, and even grade school teachers are all rooting for you. Stay in that moment of love and support.

Count your breaths and count your blessings. Stay in this moment.

Survival Tip #2: Keep yourself healthy and well-fed

There’s nothing worse than answering an exam with an empty stomach and a throbbing head. And prevention, as they say, is better than cure.

In my case, I brought a veritable feast every day. My mom woke up every morning at 4 or 5AM just to make me two sandwiches (and the flavor was even different per day). I had at least one empanada from Red Ribbon (it’s for the luck), as well as an emergency mamon. I had a little bag of nuts for the extra cognitive boost.

(I naturally wasn’t able to finish all of my food, given only two breaks in between exams. But it’s always better to be overprepared.)

And, of course, a single bottle of Kopiko brown coffee. And two bottles of water.

*Unfortunately, with all the actual stress of the day-to-day, I didn’t get a good photo of what’s in my bag/snack containers. Oops.

Aside from food and drinks, it’s also important to get a good night’s sleep. By 9PM the night before each exam day, I’d be ready with my sleep setup —a lit lavender-scented candle, a collection of short stories and essays, a sleep-inducing podcast, and my favorite bedtime yoga stretches.

Find some peace. Also an aesthetic.

I highly recommend the podcast Sleeping Pill with Inka. Her voice is soothing. And as a poetry lover, I appreciate the content and format immensely.

Your body is a temple. (Keep it well-stocked, clean and fresh.)

Survival Tip #3: Take comfort in tradition

“Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity”. It happens when five years of medical education meet random traditions meant to bring luck and ligtas points.

I really loved this cute drawing from doc, pa-drawing! on Twitter. It captures some of the must-dos and brings passed down from generation to generation.

In our case, wear red undies, grab some empanadas, have your pencils (metaphorically) sharpened by your favorite professors, and bring your best A-game every morning. I even bought PHP8 red socks from Shopee just for the exams.

And at the end of all twelve exams, kick your chair, don’t look back as you leave, and let go of your used pencils.*

*Most people broke their pencils into two. The general logic is that you won’t use them again because you’ll pass the first time. Since I didn’t want to embarrass myself by attempting then failing to break three pencils, I gave away mine to a grade schooler hanging outside the testing site. May they serve him well.

Tradition is a form of cultural continuity; it’s a comfort to know you’re not alone.

Survival Tip #4: Trust in your prayers and in your work

Tiwala at tiyaga, Ora et Labora. Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Dei.

I’m not the most devout of people, but even I felt some serendipity knowing that my testing site would be San Beda (and right beside the gym was this Benedictine Hall). During the originally-scheduled September 2021 boards, I was assigned to a different testing site.

Writing my exam beside the Saint Benedict’s Hall was a reminder of where I came from, and what motivated me to become a doctor and public servant —the long Benedictine and Scholastican tradition of servant leadership, strengthened by Ora et Labora (prayer and work). Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Dei.

Day 4 of the PLE, before the last three exams. Seeing “Saint Benedictine’s Hall” made me feel some type of way.

When we were children, we used to be active members of the Kerygma FEAST family. Every Sunday mass, we’d receive these little donation envelopes where we’d write our prayers and dedications. Written on that piece of brown paper was one of the Bible verses that has stuck with me through the decades:

Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

John 16:24

When there’s something we want to achieve in this universe, the first step is to verbalize it. Claim it. Ask it of yourself.

And if it goes nowhere or on a little detour, then maybe there’s just a better path to the finish line.

This kind of “leave it to the universe” attitude right before the exam reminds me of how I felt before the NMAT more than five years ago. It’s all about trust trust trust.

Dare to try. And trust in the process that brought you to to this moment.

My PLE experience, in four doodles

See the whole thread (with impressions per subject exam) by clicking the embedded tweet:

Finish line

And that’s it! It’s funny how until the very end, PRC gave us multiple scares and mental challenges. It was a long and anxiety-ridden waiting game to see when the results come out.

The literal finish line. I love ASMPH and Pugad Agila for this tradition. Thank you especially to Doc Kirk and Doc Jian for holding up the ribbon near the finish line. And thank you to Chanel for taking this video!

Hopefully, this specific post will be more moot than useful; fingers crossed no one will ever have to go through four straight days of exams ever again. (A couple of review days in the middle REALLY makes a difference, I think).

In any case, good luck to future boardtakers! Everyone from #PLE2021 is with you in spirit.

Until next time! ❤️

You can find my other #PLE2021 Series posts here.

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