Comprehensive Guide: How to Prepare for Clinical Exams

Clinical exams are an inevitable step in the process of joining the NHS. They are designed to be challenging, and can be stressful – which is why we have put together our top exam tips to help you prepare for, and excel in, your exams. 

Strategies for Exam Preparation

Answering Practice Questions

One of the best methods for exam preparation is to complete as many past papers as you can. This will help familiarise you with the exam format – and looking at past paper mark schemes can help you understand how examiners mark papers, and the best structure for your answers. Clinical exams are likely to cover several topics, and include several different question types. Answering past paper or practice questions can help you feel more comfortable with what is expected of you, and ease anxiety when you take your real exam.

Strategic Planning

Planning a structured study schedule, allocating time to each specialty or topic covered by your exam, is essential in ensuring you are able to revise all elements of the exam equally. Some clinicians find it helpful to begin studying by answering past paper questions, which can help show areas you might need to focus on – and reserve the last 3-5 weeks of your study period for a comprehensive review of all material. This strategy ensures balanced and thorough preparation across all topics likely to come up in the exam.

Top Tips for Exam Days

Familiarise yourself with the curriculum and syllabus used in the training programme for each specialty. Knowing the exam format, including whether it will be remote, and understanding the topics covered are crucial in creating a structured and comprehensive study plan. For example, the OSCE exam has an extremely unique set up – minimise your stress levels on exam day by making sure you are fully aware of what is expected of you and how the room will be set up. 

It is important to know which topics will be covered on an exam, and focus on revising those. Setting realistic and feasible study goals is important for clinicians who are currently working, balancing study commitments and personal responsibilities. Though it may be easier said than done, avoiding significant disruption or life changes can be helpful during your exam preparation. It may be a good idea to plan when you will take your exams according to your personal circumstances.

Practice with Peers

Practice with peers and observe others for clinical exams like OSCE, PACES or CASC. Participate in study groups to share experiences, provide mutual support, and reflect on progress. 

General Tips for Exam Preparation

Revision Schedule

Make a realistic revision schedule, breaking down your study into manageable chunks. Aim for a few hours of revision daily, covering various subjects to keep it engaging.

Customise Your Notes

Experiment with different revision styles. Customise your notes using colour coding, diagrams, or whatever aids your learning. Ensure you understand the content rather than memorising it. In the healthcare profession, being knowledgeable in your field is often more about the successful application of your knowledge rather than having facts memorised. 

Utilise Past Exam Papers

Familiarise yourself with the layout and types of questions by reviewing past exam papers. Practice completing them within the set time limit to help you split your time in the real exam. Many Royal College bodies publish sample exam papers or release older ones; you can view a sample FRCEM exam paper here

Seek Support

If you are feeling stressed, don’t hesitate to seek support from trusted individuals, family members, colleagues, mentors, or friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or advice from clinicians who may have previously taken the exam you are planning to sit – not only may they have some helpful insight, but they may have resources or study materials they are willing to share with you. 

Handling Exam Days

Preparation Is Key

Start the exam day with a nutritious breakfast. Ensure you have all necessary materials, including pencils, pens, a calculator, water, and tissues. Make sure you have the appropriate identification with you in order to check-in without any issues; it’s a good idea to have printed copies of any identification materials with you, as well as digital versions. 

Mindful Breathing

If you feel overwhelmed, practice mindful breathing exercises to stay calm. Breathe in for four counts, hold for two, and exhale for seven counts.

Read Instructions Carefully

Take a few minutes to read exam instructions and questions carefully. Seek clarification from exam supervisors if anything is unclear.

Time Management

Plan how much time you’ll allocate to each question. If stuck, don’t panic; move on and return to challenging questions later.

Post-Exam Mindset

Once the exam is complete, shift your focus to the next one. Avoid discussing the exam or comparing answers with peers. 

Preparing for clinical exams requires a multifaceted approach – strategic planning, extensive practice, and a focus on active learning are key in ensuring you are as prepared as possible. Tailor your preparation to your individual needs, stay organised, and stay resilient throughout the process. You can navigate the exam successfully with thoughtful planning and diligent effort. Good luck!

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