Exam Tips for Trainees

There’s been a bit of discussion in the twittersphere recently about an online sharing of study resources and tips for exam candidates under the hashtag #GPexams13. What a brilliant idea! As someone who has recently sat and passed my RACGP exams, I thought I’d share my experiences and give you my top tips to make your study period as productive and stress free as possible. Obviously everyone has their own study methods so this may not work for everyone, but I hope it will help give you some ideas to get you started.

1. Learn as you go along

The general practice setting is the perfect place to inspire learning. As you come across clinical questions you don’t know the answer to, write them down and use them as a basis for further reading. Information sinks in so much better when it relates to a real life situation so don’t waste those opportunities.

2. Give yourself enough time.

Cramming for a week before exams might have worked back in the old uni days but I wouldn’t recommend it for the fellowship exams. With the sheer breadth of knowledge required, a last minute cram is a sure fire recipe for panic. The amount of time needed depends on the individual and how intensively you want to work during the study period, but most people I have spoken to agree that leaving yourself 3 to 6 months is probably about right. Some people find it useful to take a week of study leave before the written exam. You could also take leave before the OSCE but you might find that it’s best to carry on working all the way up to the OSCE and use your patient consultations to hone your exam technique.

3. Misery loves company

Keeping in touch with other registrars who are also sitting exams has numerous advantages including; having others to bounce ideas off, having input from people with different experience or expertise, pooling of resources and ideas and being able to have a rant about work/study with those who know what you are going through. Being accountable to others is also a good study motivator. I was in a study group of four people and the most efficient number is probably between 3 and 6. If you are geographically isolated or prefer to study on your own you can still access peer support through skype, twitter, the GPRA “find a study partner” page , or have a chat to your RLO.

4. Have a plan

It is my understanding that the content of the RACGP exam is theoretically proportioned according to the presentations seen in practice, based on the BEACH data . It is worth having an idea of what areas are likely to come up a lot in the exam (eg respiratory) and which things might only have one or two questions. You can then formulate a list of topics to cover. This will help you identify the biggest gaps in your knowledge, allocate your study time effectively and make sure you don’t miss anything.

You can download from here the topic list that my group studied from. We divided the topics up between us and each week prepare a couple of pages of notes on our allocated topic. We would then meet up to discuss the topics, gossip about work and take turns demonstrating our culinary skills over dinner. It’s a pretty comprehensive list so we felt pretty well prepared for the exam and are now benefiting from having a great set of reference notes for use in day-to-day practice.

5. Familiarise yourself with the exam format

It would seem that exam success is partly due to knowledge and partly due to knowing how to answer the questions. I’d recommend that you attend any exam preparation workshops run by your RTP as this will help you get used to the type of questions you’ll encounter in the exam. There are also workshops in different states run by the RACGP so check the website for details. GPRA also runs exam preparation webinars by people who have recently sat and passed the exams – see the link here.

Also, do have a go at some practice exams. There are a few accessible through the RACGP website, and the RACGP online learning portal gplearning including an online demo exam and you might be able to get hold of some old papers floating around from some of the registrars who have recently done the exam. Beware that some of the hand-me-down practice exams are quite old so the questions aren’t particularly up to date.

When it comes to the OSCE – practice practice practice, preferably with one or two other people and a stopwatch. The time management for short and long cases takes a bit of getting used to. Make sure you read the question carefully, as short cases might ask for history & exam, history & management, management only, interpretation of results or any combination of the above. You won’t get points for a perfect management plan if the question doesn’t ask for it so don’t waste valuable minutes. For long cases, we found it helpful to have a standard template on an A4 piece of paper which you could quickly scribble out during reading time so you don’t miss anything. For example, you might write down the following headings: HPC, PMH, allergies, smoking, drugs, medications, social history, FH, examination (vital signs, systems, MSE if relevent), investigations (bedside, lab, imaging, special investigations), management (short, medium, long term, medication, lifestyle, referral) & safety netting.

“Clinical Cases for General Practice Exams” by Susan Wearne is a good textbook for OSCE practice. Sample cases can also be found on the GPRA website.

6. Don’t forget to enrol!

See the exam enrolment dates here.

Links:
http://www.racgp.org.au/education/fellowship/exams/preparation/
http://www.gpra.org.au/exam-resources

Just remember, it’ll soon be all over and you too will be donning the red and blue gown in celebration.

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Also, a huge thanks to my fantastic study group – Lin, Richa and Roz. Here we are enjoying post-exam celebrations in Singapore:

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I’d love to hear anyone else’s exam tips so leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter at #GPexams13. If anyone would like to contribute their tips for ACRRM registrars I’d be happy to post them.

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11 thoughts on “Exam Tips for Trainees

  1. My tips?

    – turn up on time, preferably sober and wearing typical work clothes. For rural dcos this is usually boots, RM Williams strides and some sort of shirt, no tie. Dont wear a short cut dress,or revealing decolletage…especially if male

    – MCQs and SAQs dive in and answer. Prior practice on MCQ banks helps. Do NOT follow the APLS or EMST mantras here -‘this is one time when the answer A > B > C will lead to disaster. Mostly.

    – OSCEs. Do not, as I did, do the station, safety net…then bill the simulated patient. Although the examiners laughed, I reckon the 597 plus R/O foreign body (superficial) plus suture laceration < 7cm body PLUS a $100 gap caused some consternation. Especially as I insisted on cash upfront as no Medicare card presented…

    Relax. It's the FRACGP. You will be fine.

    Fancy a challenge? Go for your FACRRM…

    • Ok it appears we have a little FACRRM vs FRACGP rivalry! 😛

      Thanks heaps, Tim, for your wise and amusing comments. I do agree that the exam didn’t seem too bad in retrospect, but I think having the stressful anticipation of them helped me to learn a lot in a short amount of time which has made be a more confident GP.

      I’d love to hear from anyone with ACRRM specific tips, too because I’ve got no experience with it at all.

  2. Hi Penny,
    came across your blog by accident (which is great by the way), so thanks for the tips! I am about to start studying for the fellowship exams for Feb next year. Look forward to following #GPexams13

  3. Hi

    I am studying for the OSCE exam at the end of October. Any one wants to practice?

    My email: dkarimian at yahoo.com
    My skype: dkarimian

    Regards

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