Revision Strategies for
the Written Exam
The paediatric written examinations are a key hurdle for most trainees. Some people seem to sail through them… Others work tirelessly and fail time and time again, losing money and moral in the process! Passing the exam doesn’t necessarily make you a good paediatrician but getting them out of the way certainly helps relieve the pressure, allowing you to focus on other more clinical aspects of the job. A solid understanding of the basics of paediatrics also helps immensely when you’re trying to figure out a problem in the middle of the night.
I’ve always been good at written exams and was one of the annoying people who passed them without too much trouble. That’s not to say I didn’t work hard for them. When it comes to written exams, there are several key rules that I keep which have helped me throughout my exam lifetime. In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d write them down in the hope that they may help.
Plan ahead and start early
You need to get through 3 exams in 3 years which isn’t an easy feat. Start early if you can but be realistic. If you’re just about to start 6 months on a horrific neonatal rota, it may not be the right time…Also the part 2 written exam leads on nicely from part 1 so although you’ll feel like taking a long break, you’ll have to relearn a load of information that you’ve forgotten after your year off.
Allocate time but not too much
It’s important to incorporate revision time into your weekly schedule but in pleasant bite-sized chunks that are actually tolerable and prevent information overload. Realistically, you need at least 3-4 months to prepare for a medical exam, especially if you don’t want to go insane revising for hours and hours into the early morning in the weeks before. I tend to do 1-2 hours revision at a maximum in the evenings and then follow it up by some ‘downtime’.
Get your revision head on
Any text book on revising for exams would probably tell you to lock yourself in a room, sit at a desk, eliminate all distractions and get on with it. In reality everyone is different…Some people need to do the above but others might work better with a little bit of background music or even sat in their favourite coffee shop in a comfy armchair. Personally I found train journey’s brilliant! Revising whilst in the bath was also one of my favourites. Find out what works for you and do that….I’d probably avoid revising whilst watching the television though…
Make a list and stick to it!
I get a lot of satisfaction from ticking off sections from my revision list. Breaking things down into sections can make a huge curriculum seem surmountable. It also helps to ensure that you don’t miss anything and give equal value to all the topics…even the incredibly boring ones (like statistics!) You can highlight, colour code, what ever floats your boat…Just remember to keep it organised.
Do not just use Pastest
Pastest and other similar websites are valuable resources and help people to learn partly by pattern recognition rather than anything else. Make sure you read the blurb at the end of each question but also read around the topic using a textbook. It’s important that you understand the topic fully and then regardless of what question arises on the day; you can always work it out from first principles (even if you’ve never seen that question before…)
Don’t stay up late the night before
Sleep is essential for consolidation of learning and especially important the night before an exam. A tired, over caffeinated brain is not going to help you pass. If feel you haven’t learnt what you need to by now, let it go and take the time to relax. I promise you’ll find it much easier working out that difficult extended matching question the following day if you do. Also, you’ll be in a much better place to celebrate in the evening following the exam (unless you’re on call that is…)