HSFY- How I Scored A+ and Got Into Medicine (Part 4)

Brynn OngHealth Science First Year10 Comments

Health Science First Year Otago University- Semester 2

In this post, I will talk about HEAL192/ PUBH192 and the optional 8th paper that I took (BSNS104).

I will briefly touch on UMAT as well.

Optional 8th Paper

My chances of getting into medical school heavily relied on this paper (you will see why soon). There is a long list of optional papers to choose from (refer here) and I chose BSNS104. Students often choose their 8th paper based on their interest in a particular field, but YOU NEED TO BE CLEAR. Decide for yourself- are you taking the 8th paper for interest OR to score high marks?

Some of the papers require lots of hard work and time compared to others. For example, my friends who took psychology as their 8th paper had to write long reports and attend long lab sessions. My advise is to heavily research the paper first

  • What does the paper involve?
  • How is the timetable like?
  • How did previous students perform?
  • Are you familiar with the subject? Have you studied similar subject before?

Some of my personal recommendations are

  • MAOR102- relatively easy to score A+
  • STAT115- this is a very good subject especially if you studied statistics in high school/ good at maths. Some of the STAT115 contents are relevant to PUBH192 as well. This paper is heavily exam-based so no long reports or frequent term tests.
  • BSNS105- this is another good subject if you studied economics or business in high school

HEAL 192 AKA PUBH 192 (currently)

The study of epidemiology and public health.

In semester 2, this paper was my worst nightmare. This subject was still relatively new compared to other HSFY subjects. Personally, I found that

  • the lecture contents were difficult to understand and messy
  • the lecture objectives  were not clearly outlined
  • there was lack of useful resources- no past year papers, limited practice questions on blackboard

With all the factors above, I never really grasped HEAL 192. Together with my lack of interest and suboptimal study effort- this paper was my worst paper in HSFY.

The epidemiology department has been constantly revising and modifying the course. They are trying hard to make things better for students. According to my students, they have substantially improved the quality of the lectures and hopefully future PUBH192 students will find the subject interesting and study-able.

Anyway, let’s have a look on;

How I studied for HEAL192

  • The usual: attended lectures, annotated lecture slides, memorised the slides
  • However, I did not fully understand most of the contents and blindly memorised them
  • Tried to do some textbook reading but not helpful and used up too much time
  • Attended compulsory tutorials- these tutorials were very useful! probably learned the most here. They have tests at the end of the tutorials (quite easy tests)

Personal Recommendations

Although I never fully understood HEAL192/ PUBH192, I have become better at epidemiology from 6 years in medical school. Medicine puts a great emphasis on evidence based practice and requires future doctor to constantly evaluate studies/ reports. Part of the medicine course train us to critically appraise studies, public health projects and community health.

In medical school, I finally appreciate the role of epidemiology and understand its relevance to medicine. If I have to do HEAL192 all over again, I will

  • First, understand the different types of studies (case reports, ecological, cross-sectional, cohort, case control, randomised controlled trial and meta-analyses)
    • know in detail the study strengths, weaknesses, what it involves, how it is relevant etc.
    • this is crucial as the rest of the paper rely on your understanding of these different types of studies
  • Understand the use of statistics and its different terms in epidemiology
  • Relate and apply these concepts to the common examples that they use in lectures
  • Do practice questions, lots of them (hopefully by 2017, there are many practice questions out there)
    • Again, relate and apply the concepts above to the questions
  • There will be some facts that they want you to remember- find out what these facts are and memorise them
  • For difficult lecture contents, I would directly email the department asking- “What do you expect us to learn from this lecture? The lecture objectives was not clear”
  • Go to all the tutorials- ask the tutors ANY questions!

Exam tips

  • The format of the exam has changed significantlyl over the years, so know the format of your exam
  • Read the questions carefully and apply the principles and concepts you learned
  • Do not spend too much time on a question! Time is simply one thing you do not have in the finals. Flag it and return when you have the time

BSNS 104

The last time I checked (Decemeber 2016), BSNS104 is no longer an 8th paper option. However, there is BSNS105- I am not sure how closely related those two papers are. Best to ask students that have done those papers before.

Why BSNS104? I was struggling to choose between BSNS104 and MAOR102. Should I take MAOR102 for an almost-gurantee A+? or BSNS104 that require more mathematical knowledge? So I picked BSNS104 because I know I am good at maths and I know previous students who scored A+ in BSNS104. That reassured me that it is possible to get A+ in BSNS104.

It was the best decision I made in semester 2

  • It increased my total average to A+
  • It was not a time consuming subject

If I have to take an 8th paper in 2017, I would probably choose STAT115- lots of mathematical skills and some memorising work. So if you have done statistics in high school and liked it, STAT115 would be a good choice. The workload is manageable (labs, small tests, term tests and final exam) and exam questions are usually quite straight forward.

If you want an almost-gurantee A+, MAOR102 will be your best bet. The annoying part is that you have to write 2-3 essays/ reports and I hate writing essays!

For those that took any of the 8th optional paper- please share your experiences by leaving a comment below, I am sure the readers would like to know about the different types of papers. =)

Note: for those who have to take an english paper in semester 2- YES, you can still take an 8th paper but remember, your workload will skyrocket. So plan ahead!


I bombed my UMAT, like literally destroyed my UMAT exam. I got very very low scores. A part of my brain is scarred from this horrendous experience.

For UMAT, I scored

  • Section 1- 30th percentile
  • Section 2- 30th percentile
  • Section 3- 50th percentile

By now, you probably have heard of stories about students scoring 90th percentile++ in UMAT and got into medical school. Sadly, I was not one of them. My abysmal result reduced my chances of getting into medicine very significantly.

HOWEVER, my average of A+ in HSFY significantly increased my chances of getting into medical school. It was the sole factor that decided my entry to medicine.

If I have to take UMAT again, how would I do it differently?

Oh gosh, I hope to never, ever do it again. Even if I have to do it again, I am not really sure how I can do better. I have used resources like Medentry and UMAT practice questions- they are great resources but the UMAT questions seem so random and strange. I am not sure how much things has changed but I know a friend who is a dentist now and he took UMAT paper THREE TIMES! He did quite well – average of 80th percentile ++. I am looking to do an interview with him soon, so look out for the post!

My Results?

HSFY ALL results


Overall, my scores average up to 93% A+ for HSFY 2010.

Did I achieve this because I am super smart? NO.

From this series, I hope that you can see that I am just a human- I have disastrous result for UMAT, average marks for HEAL192, felt lost at the beginning of the semester, wasted time making notes, skipped lectures, studied subjects blindly and etc. etc.

BUT I learned from my mistakes, worked hard and stayed as consistent as possible. Remind yourself: What inspires you to do HSFY? What sparks your passion to be a health professional? To be a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, physiotherapist or lab scientist? Find your drive and feed on it. Students give up half way mainly because they don’t have an inspiration or goal to reflect on.

There are no shortcuts- no tutors or workshops or expensive study materials that can make you instantly do well in HSFY. They can guide you and show you the right  directions, but you are the one that have walk on the correct path.

I sincerely hope this series has given you insight on what it is like to be a HSFY student. If you have any questions, concerns or comments, please leave a comment below or contact me. Till next time, best of luck!


10 Comments on “HSFY- How I Scored A+ and Got Into Medicine (Part 4)”

  1. Thank you so much, this is so helpful and reassuring! I have a question though, I was wondering what hall of residence were you in and do you think this affected how well you did at all? Also, how are these papers marked compared to NCEA? For example for NCEA physics you know whether a question is worth A, M or E by how many steps are required to get the answer/ the complexity of the question. Just because I know how to get E because I know what the markers want me to say and how to word it so they will like it, does Uni have a style they will want me to answer questions in? Thank you so much!

    1. I was never in a hall of residence. I stayed in flats during my whole 6 years in Dunedin. Personally, I would like to stay in a hall for experience but with strong determination, anyone can succeed in HSFY. Each exam have their own marking style. Most of them are point-based. The more marks allocated to a question, the more detail they expect you to answer with.

  2. Hi, thanks for the insight Brynn. Just wondering, are these 8 papers tested as 1 exam for each or as reports and assignments? Also, where would I be able to find resources i.e past papers to study for them?


    1. Hi Dave, each paper have their own set of exam papers. The final grade and marks for each paper usually consist of term tests, final exam tests, labs and online tests. If you need more study resources, email me. For exam papers, you can find them at the Otago uni library website once you are enrolled.

  3. Hey Brynn, thanks for the reassurance that HSFY is indeed a possibility. I was just wondering since it’s 2018 and I’m assuming some of the curriculum has changed from the time you did HSFY, would the advice of not focusing so much time on pre-readings still apply or not really? As of now I’ve only been doing the pre-readings to supplement anything I don’t really understand. What would your advice be?



    1. Hi Tim, personally I still think the pre-reading is poor use of time. That has been mostly true from 2010-2016 and I doubt it would have changed much this year. My advice is to do the pre-readings only if you have the time. Make sure you know the lecture slides well and use textbook when you have extra time.

  4. Hi Brynn,
    Really interesting reading through your writing. I’m currently a HSFY student at Otago and it is definitely intriguing to hear about your study tips and your results (Congrats by the way!). I find I spend the most of my time writing up lecture notes, using Anki (a flashcard program), and doing practice questions. About how much time did you generally spend studying outside of your lectures/labs? And also, would you recommend any particular ways of tackling the lectures and memorizing them? Thank you

    1. Also, would you recommend I drop writing notes for PHSI and/or CHEM? I have been writing notes for these lectures up until now, but am considering stopping as I will have more time to do practice questions
      Thank you


      1. Hey Caitlin, I honestly don’t think writing notes for PHSI and CHEM is as important as doing practice questions. So I would agree with you 100%. Go through slides to understand concepts but spend 99% of your time going through past year questions!

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