Tips for medical students who have to resit exams:
Passing medical exams require a strategy. Passing remedial medical exams also require a strategy.
1) Do not be excessively sad or held back by the experience. Come post-grad, most doctors will have experienced some exam failure at some point during their medical career.
Allocate a limited time to grieve. Then make up the mind to move on after that set time/date.
2) If possible, find out the reason behind the failure. Was it lack of effort? Was it lack of discipline? Was it an unfortunate twist of events (falling sick during exam period)?
For the vast majority of medical students, it is not the lack of ability, rather the lack of application of oneself. So accept what went wrong in the past, and address what needs to be addressed.
Example: if it was a lack of effort, then put in more effort.
3) If possible, find out which part of the exam resulted in the failure, was it the clinical exam or the written exam, and which particular subject (if the results are combined from multiple subjects).
The idea again, is to address the shortcomings.
If it was the written exam, most likely cause of failure was:
Lack of knowledge
Lack of strategy
Again, one must be very familiar with the written and clinical exam formats.
Is there negative marking for the MCQs? If yes, how much? Minus one mark? Minus half?
If there is negative marking, then one can NOT guess indiscriminately. (For non-medics reading this, there is never, in reality a 100% score for any MCQ medical exam papers, although it exists as a theoretical, mathematical possibility).
If there is no negative marking, then answer all questions.
Here’s an example of a strategy applied to MCQ exam paper:
If negative marking is minus half, at the first round of answering, answer only those known for certain, (example with more than 50% certainty) the answer is the answer.
After the first round of answering, count the number of answers. If more than 50% is answered, technically, one has already passed (if the pass rate is 50%).
If, after the first round of answering, only 40% questions have been answered, then there is a need to guess, because at least another 10% more is needed to pass.
The probability of getting an answer right by pure guessing (for true false type of questions, not best of five) is 1 in 2, so one has to guess another 20% of questions in order to gain (in theory) another 10% marks.
So during the second round of answering, answer only those questions which answer is more certain than not (perhaps 25-49% certainty, thus having a slightly better chance), and guess ONLY the number of questions needed (in the example above, only 20%). Going overboard (answering more than required) might translate into failure.
I’m not saying one must adopt this strategy, just illustrating how one needs to know what to do (have a strategy), BEFORE going into the exam.
Other tricky aspects of medical exams:
Is it long case or short case? How many long or short cases? Time allocated for long case?
OSCE: how much time and marks allocated for each station?
MEQ: how much time allocated for each breakdown of question?
A lot of students struggle with time, so time oneself during practice sessions, to have an idea how to pace oneself during the actual exam.
4) Get help.
Reach out to friends, lecturers, the uni counselor, mentor, etc. Don’t be shy. Most students will find that other people are more than happy to help but the onus is on the person to ask.
5) Develop a plan.
Sit down and write how much time is available have before the remedial exam, and think how best to divide the time. If there is more than one subject, then it becomes even more important to make sure that all subjects are covered and given adequate attention.
I’ve even sat down with students and help them create a planner, slotting in days and subjects accordingly.
In general, for the clinical exams, best to spend the mornings on the wards seeing patients: never alone, always work in pairs at least.
If there is no one else resitting the same exam, try to partner with other students from the same year (example if resitting fourth year exams, work with other fourth year students etc). Be resourceful, if this is an issue, seek help from mentor/lecturer to be assigned a partner.
The afternoons can be spent revising by reading books etc. It’s good to spend some time reading around the patient/case seen earlier at the wards.
Of course the best way to practice is by simulation, so if your preparing for a MCQ exam, practice MCQs, If its MEQ exam, practice MEQs. Don’t just read textbooks.
Another good way to learn is to teach. Have study groups, once a week is a good routine. Discuss topics. Take turns answering questions. Group motivation is essential for those ‘low’ periods. Looking back, I didn’t feel I learnt much from the study group sessions than I did on my own, but certainly it helped with maintaining motivation and momentum.
6) Practice makes perfect. Aim to see two patients per day (take turns for history taking/physical exam with the partner student) on the wards. Always ask the nurse/doctors for good cases to see, rather than picking any patient by chance.
Make sure all different systems and important topics are covered, again, it is just revision and a refresher, the student is not learning this the first time round.
Always present and discuss the cases seen, even if just with the student partner, but better still with a doctor from the team/hospital doctor, even if they have only 5 minutes to spare, use it to discuss at least the summary of the case/main points, the best is to present to consultant/specialist/lecturer at least once a week, more often (than once a week), the better.
A lot of students only do neurological examination on neurological patients (which can sometimes be limited numbers on the wards), so instead, at every opportunity, even if it was for example a dengue case with no physical findings, and the patient is well and awaiting discharge, ask (at the end of the relevant system examination) if you can ‘just practice doing the reflexes,’ (it only takes a few moments once you’re really good at it), and most patients are more than willing to help out future doctors.
7) Something to look forward to.
We are all human. At the end of all the pain and suffering, promise and arrange something special as a reward and something to look forward to, other than just passing the exam.
Once you’ve put in the required effort, with a bit of luck, chances of passing are high.
Hope this helps.