Updated: May 7, 2020
By Joshua Macarthur
Exams. Whether you are about to start or thinking of applying to medical school, the prospect of sitting exams is often daunting and overwhelming. As a second year medical student coming to the end of my preclinical studies at Manchester Medical School (MMS), I have written this article in the hope that it will provide insight into how we are examined in our first two years.
At MMS there are five different forms of assessment: semester and progress tests; OSCEs, personal professional development (PPD) reviews and personal excellence pathway (PEP) projects. We are examined twice a year, once in January and once in May. Semester and progress tests are sat in both months, whilst the other three, with the exception of OSCEs in second year, being sat exclusively in May.
Semester tests are 2.5 hour-long multiple-choice exams consisting of 125 questions. In the first 2 years students will sit 4 separate semester papers with grading of unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours and distinction. The exam covers content studied throughout each semester including bioscience, anatomy, histology, embryology, behavioural social science (BSS), ethics and law and evidence-based medicine (EBM). To tackle this huge list of topics I have found success writing my notes in a question and answer fashion and using visual aids to help key processes and anatomy.
Like the semester test, the progress test is 2.5 hours long and contains 125 questions. Unlike the semester test, you will not have covered everything in this paper. The exam covers the core knowledge that will be acquired throughout the five years at medical school. The whole goal of this exam is to measure your progress from the start of your degree until you qualify as doctor. During the first two years, you do not need to pass these exams to progress to the next year and grades are given relative to the performance of your year group.
OSCEs, the most iconic of all medical school exams. At MMS, we have an OSCE each year with 10 stations each. In first year, these are all in May. In second year, 4 of the 10 stations are in January with the other 6 being in May. OSCEs cover everything you will have learnt in your medical school career to date. In each station the examiner may ask you to perform a consultation or examination on a patient, perform and answer question on physiology and pharmacology practical’s or answer question on anatomy. Each is assessed and you are given a percentage for each station with the average being used to determine your overall grade. Like the progress and semester tests these are: unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours and distinction. Practice. Practice. Practice. This is the main piece of advice I would give for OSCEs. More than anything, each station is a performance. You need to be familiar with each examinable topic and feel confident to communicate these verbally to the examiner.
PPD is not an exam per se, rather it is a series of reflective pieces written over the course of the year detailing your thoughts and feelings about patient interaction, learning styles, clinical skills and key healthcare beliefs. In May of every year, this is assessed with a one on one review with a member of the faculty. Here, action plans you have mentioned in your portfolio as well as your progress throughout the year are discussed. Unlike other exams, you either pass or fail the review. In the event that you fail, you will not have to retake the review and you will be able to progress to the next year. However, you will have to complete additional entries for the following years portfolio. The best way to manage PPD is to complete as you go along. This is easier said than done but the university provide sessions to help you with reflective writing and your tutor will have termly meetings with you to see how you are doing.
PEP is the one component of our preclinical studies that we get to choose. It is a research project taken during the second semester of each year. In first year, you are placed in small groups to produce an A1 poster on your shared topic as well as produce an individual report (~1500 words) on an aspect of the poster. In contrast, in second year PEP consists of writing a literature review (~5500 words) from a list of titles. Writing such a lengthy long review on a topic you may not be familiar with is very daunting, but the university offers sessions on academic writing and your PEP supervisor will help you with planning your review. Like the other exams, PEP is graded unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours and distinction and if you score a low pass you will be required to resit before progressing to the next year.
I hope this article has given you a little insight into how we are examined during our preclinical years at MMS. Best of luck with all your exams! If you have any further questions, feel free to email email@example.com or head over to the Scrubbed Up Forum.