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By The Next Step

10 tops tips to prepare for medical exams

6 min
Female student in home sitting on sofa with open books on table

Very few people actually like exams. But if you’re studying to become a doctor, they’re likely to be a big part of your course.

Studying for your Situational Judgement Test (SJT) can be particularly stressful – especially when you’re dealing with other pressures, such as placements, clinical assessments and organising your Foundation Programme.

Everyone needs a little extra help sometimes, so here are 10 top tips for taking the stress out of preparing for your SJT and other final exams.

It's never too early to start revising

With all of the demands on your time as a final year medical student, it may be tempting to put off studying until later. However, later never comes!

Leaving things until the last minute will only add to your stress levels and may hamper your performance. Make life easier for yourself by starting your revision as early as possible. Reviewing notes regularly will help keep topics fresh in your mind.

When it’s all over and done with, you’ll be glad you did.

Make a revision timetable

Create a timetable that allows you enough time to cover everything prior to your exams. Your schedule should allow you to work smarter, not harder, so make sure you break up your revision into manageable chunks.

Remember to be realistic. Relentless revision can be soul-destroying, so factor in some time to do other things like socialising and exercising.

It’s also a good idea to identify the topics you feel least confident about and work on them first. Mastering these areas will help boost your overall confidence.

With this in mind, make sure your timetable allows you to revisit topics regularly. Adopting a ‘one and done’ approach won’t keep things fresh in your brain. Space out larger subjects over several weeks. This will help you to retain information, especially if you start each session by recalling what you learned in the previous one.

Get organised

Find out which topics your revision needs to cover. Your course syllabus is a good place to start. As well as helping you to prioritise topics, it will also tell you how much detail you’ll need to know.

Take a look at the GMC’s Good Medical Practice document. In the SJT exam, you’ll be assessed on whether you can demonstrate appropriate professional behaviour as set out in the guidance, so it’s essential to familiarise yourself with it.

Once you have, you can choose a revision tool, such as the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine or the ‘baby’ version of Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine. There are also a number of helpful websites, such as BMJ Best Practice.

Going through past papers is a great idea. Site such as Passmedicine and Pastest can give you access to these, as well as other useful resources. You may want to consider trying one of the online courses aimed at helping you with your final exams too. If cost is an issue, try searching for ones that are free of charge.

Learn GMC guidelines and standards

Your SJT makes up 50% of your Educational Performance Measure (EPM). As you probably know, it’s all about understanding good ethical practice. The exam is designed to assess non-academic skills, such professional quality, coping with pressure, communication, teamwork and putting patients' needs first.

The GMC guidelines can be used as a revision handbook, as the exam questions are based on their content. Bear in mind that it’s your ethical judgment that will be tested rather than your clinical skills, so prepare accordingly.

Revise your way

You probably already have a good idea of which revision method suits you best, so play to your strengths. If you’re a visual learner, treat yourself to some new highlighter pens and page dividers so you can colour code everything. Mind maps work well for visual learners too.

Alternatively, you may prefer to record the information you need to learn and listen to it. If you’re using your phone to record things, then you might want to consider using an app to help with your revision. There are many apps that can be helpful – from ones that help you stick to your timetable to games that can make the task a bit more engaging.

To test your recall, study groups where you test each other on a given topic can be useful. However, you’re under no obligation to join this type of group. Whatever your learning style and preferences, choose the method that best suits you and that you find most beneficial.

Shadow others

Spending time shadowing others can give you real world experience of the sorts of scenarios you may be presented with in your exams.

Following FY1s will give you insight into some of the ward and clinical situations that could possibly be used in SJT scenarios.

You can't remember everything - so don't try to!

It’s tempting to believe you need to remember everything to pass your final assessments, but that’s not realistic. Putting pressure on yourself to remember every last detail of what you’ve been taught over the past few years will leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Having a good understanding of common cases should be your main focus. The point of the exams is to make sure you’re ready for your foundation year – not to become a consultant!

Get your timings right

When it comes to exams, timing is important, and you should avoid rushing. In the SJT, you have two hours and 20 minutes to answer 75 questions made up of three different question types: multiple choice, rating and ranking.

In each section, you’ll be given a series of work-related scenarios and asked questions about how you would respond in each situation.

The first 70 minutes typically consists of 37 scenarios – 19 multiple choice and 18 rating scenarios – each with several related questions. The second half of the test has 38 ranking scenarios, each also with several related questions.

Timing yourself answering SJT practice questions can help make sure you’re able to complete the required number of questions within the specified time.

Give yourself a break

Making sure you take regular breaks will help you to revise more efficiently. You’ll be able to recall more of the information you’re trying to learn if you split up your revision time into smaller chunks of around 30 minutes.

Some people like to use the Pomodoro technique, which consists of studying for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. Completing four stints of these in a row means you can then have a longer break. However, it’s up to you how you manage your revision time. Try not to punish yourself with hours of study without any breaks at all.

It’s also important to make sure you’re eating properly and getting enough sleep. Taking a walk outside is great for your wellbeing, so try to make sure you include this in your schedule. If you want to be able to perform well in your exams, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your physical and mental health when you’re revising.

Find support

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your lecturers and supervisors if you feel you need their help with certain topics. That’s what they’re there for.

If you’re worried about exams in general, you could also approach your personal tutor for support. If you feel you’re struggling, don’t suffer in silence. Your university will have services that can help if you would rather not speak to a member of teaching staff.

Remember, as long as you prepare, you’ll be fine. And, if things don’t go to plan, it’s not the end of the world. Stay positive and remember your ranking only lasts for 12 months.

Good luck!

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