FR, MMM, review

2018MMM Review #3: What Happened, Miss Simone?

One night, I randomly found myself listening to Lupe Fiasco discussing the relationship between art and politics. At one point, he brought up Nina Simone and how she became more of a political activist which ultimately pigeonholed her artistry and slowly stifled her career. He recommended the Netflix biographical documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) for those of us wanting to know more about her life and career. I thought to myself, why not keep the trend going and review another artist? Although it is a documentary and not a narrative where the story and script are crafted, I figured I would review it anyway especially because it seemed so authentic. Also, I was kind of interested in reviewing a documentary for the first time lol (I must warn you though, this review is loaded with spoilers).

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Film Poster for What Happened, Miss Simone?

Directed by Liz Garbus, What Happened, Miss Simone? relies on rare archival footage, diary excerpts and interviews with her close friends and family, including her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, and her ex-husband and manager, Andrew Stroud. As our guide throughout this documentary, Nina Simone begins her story in North Carolina where she grew up as Eunice Waymon. She had exceptional talent at such a young age and was regularly playing gospel hymns on the piano for her local church. At the age of seven, she had come to study classical music with her teacher, Mrs. Mazzanovich, who felt that she would become the world’s greatest concert pianist. Although I was familiar with Nina Simone’s music, I had no idea that she was a classically trained pianist or that she furthered her education at Julliard. It was only after that realisation that I started to notice the infusion of classical music into her songs. After her application for a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music had been rejected due to racism, Waymon had to find work and began performing at bars and jazz clubs to support her family. Out of fear of her mother finding out about her career choice, she changed her name to Nina Simone which marks her entry into showbusiness.

One cannot talk about Nina Simone’s music career without mentioning her involvement in the American Civil Rights movement. This is especially apparent in powerful songs such as “Mississippi Goddam”, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and “Strange Fruit.” Nina Simone was willing to sacrifice her career for her activism, and unapologetically used her platform to amplify the voices of African American men and women. As a result, the industry had boycotted her records and venues were reluctant to book her out of fear of her speaking her mind on stage. Not only did she take a political stance through her music, but in the documentary, we see that she also surrounded herself with black intellectuals such as Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin (she was even neighbours with Malcolm X and his family!). Lorraine Hansberry, in particular, was her best friend and taught her about Marx, Lenin and philosophy. Later on in her life, we hear Nina Simone reflecting on her music career in an interview where she states that she wouldn’t change being apart of the civil right movement but some of the songs she sang had hurt her career and were no longer relevant to the times. In my opinion, her music captures the essence of the political climate during that era and reflects the injustice and discrimination that many black people faced. Much of this injustice/discrimination, unfortunately, still exists today making her songs still as relevant as the day she released them. She was so different from the other entertainers of her time, and I have to give respect where it’s due.

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Backstage at first live performance at Carnegie Hall, 1963. Credit: Alfred Wertheimer/Courtesy of Sundance

The title of the documentary is a quote from Maya Angelou as she reflected on Nina Simone’s career: “Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?” This is a rather eerie yet stimulating question about such a complex woman. Despite her strong and fiery persona, Nina Simone was not only subjected to social abuse because of her career but she also suffered from domestic abuse at the hands of her husband/manager. It really perplexed me that someone who severely abused and exploited Nina Simone, was chosen to speak about her character and add to her story, especially after we hear Nina Simone say “He put a gun to my head, then he tied me up and raped me.” I guess I found myself trying to justify his presence in this documentary, although I never really felt comfortable with it myself. I was also shocked at some of Simone’s diary entries pertaining to the abuse where it appears that she was inviting physical violence. However, through her diary, we also see that she was battling depression and suicidal thoughts. After her split with Stroud, her relationship with her daughter also became difficult and abusive. Kelly stated that her mother went from being her comfort to the monster in her life, and that Simone was now the person doing the beating, but instead, beating her. At the end of the documentary, it was revealed that Nina Simone was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which she had been suffering from for years – another fact that I had never known about her. The film does not expand very much on her mental illness, but it’s safe to say that it might have amplified her indignation and rage. It’s saddening that she didn’t have a better support system around her throughout her life. From day one, she had sacrificed everything for the sake of music, even as a child where she was often quite lonely. Her tough exterior might make it easier for the public to dismiss the idea of her suffering, but Nina Simone truly experienced more than her share of pain in her lifetime. In spite of it all, she was a survivor.

I enjoyed learning more about Nina Simone’s legacy, and Garbus did a great job weaving several of the songs that highlight her as a jazz/blues vocalist and a pianist into the film. Documentaries and biopics always manage to tug on my heartstrings, and What Happened, Miss Simone? was no different. Nina Simone described that if her life had taken a different path, she would have been happier had she become the first Black classical pianist that she had once aspired to be. In the film, we also hear her often say how much she wanted to be free, and in many ways, we found her chasing that freedom – chasing happiness. Freedom to her means to have “no fear,” and her music reflected this fearlessness that she was so desperate to acquire. Her story as presented in this documentary is quite compelling yet tragic, and all in all, the film does not bury her truth. I was able to leave this documentary with a better picture of who Nina Simone was and the struggles she went through, and appreciate her even more for her contribution to music as an artist and as a political activist.

**Film poster is credited to the movie What Happened, Miss Simone? (Distributed by Netflix)**

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FR, MMM, review, Uncategorized

2018MMM Review #2: Frida

After I was done writing my review of Loving Vincent, I came across the film Frida (2002) whilst I was browsing through Netflix (yes, I have Netflix now). Since I had already watched a biopic of one famous artist, I thought, “why not do another?” Frida Kahlo was an interesting choice as I’ve seen very few of her paintings and only read about a small snippet of her life… I mean, I could have sworn she was a Cuban artist, so clearly I knew next to nothing about her. That said, the American biopic drama, Frida, was a perfect introduction to the life and art of MEXICAN artist, Frida Kahlo.

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Theatrical Release Poster for Frida

One thing that this film makes apparent is that Frida Kahlo’s life was full of pain and heartbreak. Even though her time on Earth was brief, she endured more tragedy than I could ever fathom any individual going through. The film opens with a playful and idealistic Frida (Salma Hayek) in her teens, unaware of the horrific bus accident that awaited her. This accident completely changed the trajectory of her life (and ignited her artistic career) as she suffered from severe, near-fatal injuries that would lead to her undergoing countless operations during her lifetime. My favourite quote from the film was one she told her husband rather matter-of-factly: “There have been two big accidents in my life, Diego: The trolley and you. You are by for the worst.”

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The bus accident, of course, left her physically disabled and Diego left her disabled emotionally. Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) undoubtedly fuelled Frida’s passion for painting, being an artist himself, but their relationship was volatile, largely due to their mutual infidelities. And yet the bond they shared was one of limitless passion and love.

Although Kahlo’s success as an artist was highlighted for only a few brief moments, director Julie Taymor does a wonderful job weaving Kahlo’s artwork into the story. Not only do we get to see Kahlo dealing with her pain by pouring it into her artwork, but we truly get the sense that she needed to paint to stay alive; it wasn’t just a form of expression. What captivated me the most was seeing Kahlo’s art mingling with reality. One such moment is a distraught Kahlo putting on a suit and cutting her hair after her breakup with Rivera – the scene then transitions into Kahlo’s 1940 Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair (or I guess a reference of that painting). With this tactic, we are able to see the profundity of her work and the emotion behind it.

I try to judge films for what they are instead of what I wish they were, but in the case with Frida, it left so much to be desired. So, I’ve decided to just cram my overly critical thoughts into this lengthy paragraph :). Firstly, it struck me as odd that the film’s dialogue was completely in English but with “Mexican” accents. Most of the main cast can speak Spanish, the film’s score is in Spanish, and the film is set in Mexico (aside from when Kahlo and Rivera go to USA) so why not have the official language of this film be Spanish with English subtitles? I suppose this is probably due to Julie Taymor not being able to speak the language but imagine how this would have enhanced the audience’s viewing experience! Secondly, I thought Salma Hayek was great as Frida. She was able to capture that adventurous spirit that Frida Kahlo had and bring it to the screen. The fiery chemistry between Rivera and Kahlo is believable, but her disability not so much. We hear Kahlo often referring to herself as crippled but Hayek does not really convey that pain. Maybe this is because Taymor wanted her audience to focus on more than her disability… But focus on what exactly? Her miserable love/hate relationship with Rivera and inability to live without him? Her bisexuality? This leads me to my final thought: the film focuses too heavily on the affairs. At the end of the day, we don’t get a clear picture of who Frida Kahlo was or why she was considered revolutionary; we only get key events in her life and how they might have affected her. It would have been great to hear more about her political ideologies/philosophies (apart from her simply calling herself a communist), her painting process, why painting became a passion, what her influences were, etc. Even a more meaningful look on her extramarital affairs would be welcome – was it just revenge sex or did she actually care for her lovers? Was polyamory something that she wanted for herself or did she adopt this practice just because of Diego’s unfaithfulness? I guess I could read about this stuff in my own time, but it would have been nice to see Kahlo with a little more depth in this film. Semi-rant over.

In this day and age, Frida Kahlo represents a lot of things for a lot of different people: She is an icon for people of colour, feminists/women, the LGBTQ community, Latinxs, and persons with disabilities. Despite whatever gripes I had with this film, I still think Frida was a beautiful tribute to the Mexican artist and worth the watch. I don’t exactly relate to Frida Kahlo, but I definitely respect and admire her resiliency and boldness. I feel sorrowful that she had to experience so much pain during her short time on earth. Just thinking about it makes me want to shed tears for her. There is a quote by Frida at the end of the movie where she states, “I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.” This is so powerful and stayed with me long after the film’s credits. I hope that she was able to find peace in death, and of course, her art will live on in the hearts of many.

Image Credits: Images are credited to the film FRIDA

FR, MMM, review

2018MMM Review #1: Loving Vincent

After much thought, I decided to resume May Movie-Review Month this year. Last May, I lacked the time and energy to pull it off but at least now I have some free time although I’m kind of lazy :P. My first review will be about a film called Loving Vincent. I was really interested in this film particularly because I have always been drawn to Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s story ever since I was in fourth grade when I first dipped my feet into Art History. The first two paintings I had ever seen of his were the Sunflowers painting and his Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe. The latter, left the extremely curious 8-year-old me wanting to know more and more about him. Fast forward nearly two decades later, I happened to stumble across the Polish animated biographical drama, Loving Vincent (released in 2017), in a small corner of the internet.

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Theatrical Release Poster for Loving Vincent (2017)

Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, the film portrays the life of Vincent van Gogh and the circumstances of his mysterious death. It first introduces Armand (Douglas Booth), the son of Joseph Roulin (Chris O’dowd): a postman in Arles and a friend of the late Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk). At the request of his father, Armand was tasked with delivering Van Gogh’s final letter written to his brother, Theo. “I don’t see the point in delivering a dead man’s letter,” he says in the opening scenes. Although reluctant to go on such a venture at first, Armand finds himself drawn to the mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s death, and what started out as a simple journey turns into more of an investigation.

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I was captivated by the trailer for several reasons, of course it was about an artist that I like, but the main reason being that it was a fully oil-painted animated feature film – the first of its kind. Each frame of Loving Vincent was entirely painted in oils using Van Gogh’s technique, and the whole project was accomplished with a team of over 100 artists. According to one of the film’s artists, Tiffany Mang, the film is composed of more than 65,000 paintings. Seeing the paintings coming together like this faintly reminded me of rotoscopic film, Waking Life (which I mentioned on this blog a few years back), in the sense where it creates this surrealistic and dreamy effect that one might easily get lost in. The swirls of the rolling clouds, the long grey strokes of the heavy rainfall, the textured trees and flowers swaying in the wind, the vibrant colours dancing with each other; everything blends together exquisitely to create something so visually breath-taking and mesmerising. Loving Vincent definitely leaves its audience feeling as though they’re living inside of Van Gogh’s world.

In my opinion, Loving Vincent does a decent job tying historical facts with a fictional plot and uses authentic settings and colourful characters inspired by Van Gogh’s paintings to propel it along. Generally speaking, I’m not too picky when it comes to plotlines as long as it’s not drawn out or mind-numbingly complicated/boring. With Loving Vincent, the plot was relatively simple, but I truly loved the way it was executed. Instead of creating a single narrative about Vincent van Gogh, we were able to hear many different perspectives on who he was to different people. To me, this is a powerful method of storytelling and we were, in a way, able to get a three-dimensional look at his character, and a better understanding and appreciation for him and his work. With the varying perspectives presented to us, one thing remains constant: no one could deny how passionate and dedicated he was about art and how it influenced the way he saw the world. One of my favourite recounts about him was given by the boatman (Aidan Turner) who recalled a moment when Van Gogh had stopped painting to admire a crow that came close by. He said that Van Gogh was so happy that he didn’t seem to care that it was eating his lunch. This added a really nice touch in portraying him as humble and pure-hearted. On the other hand, the boatman thought that he must have been so lonely that even a thieving crow could brighten up his day.

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More than a century after his death, Van Gogh still inspires the world through his art. I recently came across a quote by Nienke Bakker (a curator responsible for the collection of paintings at the Van Gogh Museum) which stated that Van Gogh painted in spite of his illness, not because of it. I think it is so profound, especially now when it feels like we live in a world that glamourises mental illness specifically in connection to art. I appreciate that Loving Vincent approached this topic responsibly and with sensitivity. I am certain that after viewing this film, people will have a different perspective of Vincent van Gogh, not only as an artist but as a person.

Image Credits: Images are credited to the film/website LOVING VINCENT

hair diaries, hair growth

Hair Diaries | Tailbone length

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Thought I would do another quick hair diary entry since it’s been a while 😊. My last entry was in 2015 when I cut off most of my light brown ends (~7 inches). Since then I’ve learned how to give my hair satisfying trims, and I had cut the last of my light brown ends in 2016. Instead of cutting my hair when it’s curly, I now straighten beforehand. My trims maintain generally blunt, long layers and I personally like the way it looks on my hair both straight and curly. Maybe one day I will see a professional haha.

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Last year, my hair kind of had a weird growth spurt where it grew from waist length to tail bone length in approx. 6 months (not fully stretched in the pic above, but it’s there). Around that time, my routine slightly changed as well. Not only did I begin deep conditioning weekly, but I changed my products as well. I also stopped finger-detangling my hair because I wasn’t finding it very effective the longer it got, so I use a detangling brush now which I love <3. All around, I’m pretty happy with the overall health of my hair and I love the length! I recently saw a curly hair routine vid by LOVVESAMMAY on youtube, and just seeing her length made me want to continue growing my hair. My curly hair is grazing waist length, so I would love to see it at full WL. We’ll see!

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Left pic taken in July. Right, in December.
Uncategorized, update, Veganism

Vegan Update | 93 Days

As per my new year’s goals, I have been vegan for about 93 days or 3ish months. I thought it would be fitting to write a quick update (so many updates!!!) on everything I have been experiencing so far. Before I get into it, I want to preface this post by saying that I am enjoying my vegan lifestyle so far. A few months ago, I talked about some of the reasons why I wanted to go vegan (see: chatting about veganism), and I have no regrets about this decision. I feel that I am committed to making this work for me, and I can’t really imagine myself going back to eggs or dairy. I just don’t look at these products the same way anymore. And despite some mistakes I have made to get to this point, I am dedicated to keeping this new journey as positive as it could possibly be.

How did Veganuary go?

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I enjoyed the nifty emails that I got during the Veganuary challenge. The first month honestly breezed by, and it was so easy that I didn’t even think much about it. Maybe the transition wasn’t as difficult because I didn’t eat animal products most of the time as a vegetarian. The challenging part was turning down offer after offer (of cake, pizza, milk chocolate, etc.) without people looking at me sideways. Some days, I didn’t want to get into why I was turning them down, but there were times that I had to explain my reasons for going vegan. I spent the first 2 months in Toronto which was great because of all the options to choose from. It’s a little bit harder back home, but definitely manageable. I’m having fun trying out new recipes and making the most of what I’ve got here.

Annoying things…

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I bought Rice Krispies cereal the other day. I checked the ingredients and thought it was fine, but it wasn’t until much later when I stared at the box for a bit (because I do that) and realised that it was fortified with vitamin D. It made no mention of whether it was Vit. D2 (plant based) or D3 (most commonly derived from lanolin in sheep’s wool). But given that Rice Krispies is produced by Kellogg’s, it was safe to assume that it was the latter. And mistakes like these happen sometimes, so what do vegans do when they accidentally purchase something that is lowkey not vegan? They go to Reddit which has a post about this very issue. There was something a commentor, dsarma, wrote that resonated with me:

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Screenshot from this particular Reddit post

“Veganism isn’t about personal purity, it’s about avoiding harm as much as possible…Once I got it through my skull that veganism is doing your best to avoid harm, I was able to actually /become/ vegan rather than keep transitioning forever.” I was so thankful for his or her perspective on this problem, because it is actually very frustrating when slip-ups like this occur. But lessons have been learned.

Weight gain?!?!?!

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Lol this one is super sensitive for me as I repeatedly asked myself “How am I gaining weight?” and “Where is the weight even going?” Is it fat or is it muscle, the world may never know. The number on the scale increased a little bit (5 pounds actually). But my clothes fit fine, and I look pretty much the same as I did three months ago based on my pictures. I didn’t even gain weight on a vegetarian diet for the last 2 years so what gives? Matt Cama put my mind at ease for this one. But for a second, I thought I was doing this vegan thing all wrong. I would describe my diet as high carb/low fat. I minimise the amount of processed foods that I eat, and my meals are filled with lots of whole foods. I personally think my diet is relatively healthy but there’s always room for improvement. For example, I could try adding more greens instead of grains/root veggies but I think my real issue is that I just need to be more physically active.

Health Changes?

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Other than the insidious weight gain, I can’t really say that I’ve witnessed any changes. I mean this is a rather stressful time for me to be reporting accurate changes anyway. I still experience chronic upper back pain and headaches quite often, and I am having seborrheic dermatitis outbreaks for the first time in a year. After a doctor’s visit, mild hypertension showed up out of the blue *shrug*. To be honest, it really could have been due to stress, and I should have something like that monitored instead of basing my woes on that one doctor’s visit. For now, I’ve been told to eat less sodium. I try not to take pain killers for my back because I read that it can worsen the condition, but my doctor just ended up prescribing more to me *double shrug*. Sometimes the pain is so bad that I cave in and take them. But what good is it doing me besides temporary relief. Neither I nor my doctor understand the true cause of my pain. I’m due for a physical in about a week or 2, so I will probably post an update later. Trying to keep positive and think happier thoughts.

Support

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Jarvis is very accepting and tries to be super supportive. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but he became fully vegetarian last August. I’m really proud of him! I would say that my parents are also trying as well, which is very surprising. At first they were like “ughh!” but they have come to respect my decisions and I think they are taking me a bit more seriously this time (as opposed to when I first went vegetarian). My mum knows her way around the kitchen and gives me pointers on how to jazz up some of my vegan meals, and my dad tries to find vegan snack-y things for me at the store. They don’t always get it right and sometimes they get sad too when they realise they’ve bought something for me that I can’t or won’t eat. I appreciate the thought behind their actions though, and I’m grateful that everyone in my life is being so supportive of my vegan journey.

‘Tis all for now. See you in 3 months.

advice, Exam tips, study tips

Exam Preparation Tips & Advice

As promised, here are my tips on studying for the general MLT certification exam! Some of these tips may also help with other exams as well. Hopefully someone finds them helpful 😛

When to start studying

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My clinical placement was from September 5th to February 2nd. My school’s composite exam was on February 5th and the certification exam was on February 15th. I officially started studying in January, but from September to December, I reviewed (haphazardly) for whatever discipline I was currently in at the time (focusing mainly on the heavy stuff or things I was having trouble with). I recommend studying for each discipline as you’re doing them. It will just make it easier on yourself in the end, and can help solidify the theory in your mind as you’re putting it into practice. Unlike me though, try to have a study schedule, where you can complete your notes for that discipline each month.

Study plan/guidelines

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The CSMLS exam is heavily application based as opposed to our composite exam which was more focused on theory. I figured a lot of what I was doing at the hospital was application based anyway so it made sense to focus most of my studying on the theory. My plan was basically to go through all of my notes that I had acquired throughout my programme (except for a few courses taken in semester one e.g. human anatomy). After Feb 5th, my studying became more application based. The CSMLS Certification Examination Handbook can also help with preparation for the certification exam. The Exam handbook actually had a lot of tips on how to study and it broke down the percentages of the type of questions to expect (5-10% recall, 80-85% application, and 10-15% critical thinking) – it’s very thorough.

Study Resources

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My notes as well as Elsevier’s Medical Laboratory Science Examination Review were my sole resources for the composite exam (aside from some quizzes provided by my profs). For the certification exam (between Feb 5th and Feb 15th), I used the Quick Review Cards for Medical Laboratory Science, my histo notes and the Laboratory Safety CSMLS Guidelines. The review cards were a huge help and included nearly everything you should need to study (including calculations *cough* corrected WBC count for nRBCs *cough*) except for histo (they are geared towards the ASCP exam).

Extra resource for transfusion science: http://www.bbguy.org/

Study Structure/Routine

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To keep me on track for January and February, I printed off a calendar and assigned each day with a subject. I spent most of the day outside of work studying for that subject, even during break/lunch time. I would do quizzes a few minutes before and after work pertaining to the subject I was studying that day. I took breaks whenever I found I was too stressed to focus, and I slept when I thought I had hit “the wall” late at night.

Study Techniques

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Everyone has their own study techniques, so I want to stress that you should definitely study the best way you know how. I personally remember things better after writing it out and organising my notes into diagrams and charts. If I’m just reading through notes, I would try to connect it to something I’ve either seen or done before, or relate it to something else in order to understand it better. I also need some sort of visual aid to accompany my readings, so sometimes I would draw pictures or watch videos for certain topics (especially the ones I often forgot easily). I used quizlet for things like remembering CBC parameters and reference intervals, and I took quizzes every day. Study groups definitely don’t work for me because I end up more focused on the stress of being in a social setting than the actual work, so I did all of my studying alone. But definitely do what’s best for you.

Self care

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Try not to unnecessarily stress yourself out. Sometimes I felt so hopeless and would beat myself up when I would forget things I learned weeks ago. I was constantly breaking myself down and building myself up, and it was a really unhealthy experience. I know of persons who crammed all of their studying two days before the composite exam…. Try not to do that! Space out your studying and put in a little work every day. Give yourself some time to unwind and relax so that you can approach studying with a fresh mind. Watch a show, do yoga, listen to music, etc. Exercise helps to relieve stress a bit and there are studies that show that it also improves brain function and memory! Don’t forget to eat well by including a lot of veggies, nuts (walnuts, almonds), seeds (chia seeds, flaxseed) and fruits into your diet 😊. Also, keep yourself hydrated! The night before exams, try to get a good night’s sleep. Look over your notes before a certain time, maybe 10 or 11 p.m.  and then take some time to yourself by relaxing or mentally preparing yourself for exam day.

I think that’s all of the tips that I have! Best of luck to you if you’re writing your certification exam soon. I know this is hard to believe but by making it to this point, you are more prepared than you think you are! So don’t stress, okay? Just study well, and you will be fine.

Until next time…

update

good news (update).

I’ve got some great news to share! Last Friday, I received an email from CSMLS stating that my exam results were out. I’m happy to say that I passed the general MLT exam which makes me a medical laboratory technologist 😊. Bliss. My heart has never beaten that hard nor that fast. I was so nervous that I couldn’t even interpret my results properly. After letting it sink in for a few seconds, I immediately burst into tears and called my mum. She was a bit worried that I had failed from the way that I sounded. I couldn’t believe it. All of the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into getting to this point just hit me all at once and it was just so surreal to see the words “Pass – Certification Complete.” I didn’t even want to blog until I got the results because I was really on edge about it.

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When I was studying for the exam, I needed some study tips or a little bit of guidance. But I was given the cold shoulder when I asked an MLT I had met as a summer student back home. I realise not everyone is willing to be open and share their “secrets to success.” But I want to put some good back into the universe, especially since it has been so good to me. So, in my next post I will share my study tips for anyone that will be writing a general MLT exam, CSMLS or otherwise. If there’s anything that you would want me to cover specifically, let me know! As for what happens now… I’m working on getting my licensure. Things are a little confusing, but I believe it will all work out.