Name: Chris Hicks, MD, MEd, FRCPC, Survivor of the 2009 Royal College EM exam
Where are you now? Emergency physician, trauma team leader at St. Mike’s in Toronto. Associate program director, FRCP-EM training program, University of Toronto.
- Learn to think like an examiner. It may surprise you to learn this, but the people who concoct the FR exam are actual humans, just like you and me. You should read chapters with an examiner’s eye — pay particular attention to points that might make for a good question. That is, lists, boxes, key DDx or management summaries. Examiners, like the rest of us, are inherently lazy. They seek ease of both creation and assessment.
- No summary notes. I started typing out summary notes of Rosen chapters back in the day. Like Woodsy, I quickly realized two things: a) You learn more from writing your thoughts down on paper, and b) it is a HUGE waste of time to summarize stuff you already know. There’s no point in writing out the Wells criteria or the pathophysiology of cardiogenic shock if you have it in your head already. Remember, when you re-visit your study notes later in the year, you would like to have a concise database of stuff you didn’t already know when you first wrote it down. Saves time, saves cognitive real estate.
- Keep working. Consolidation is key. No, not that kind of consolidation you epic nerd. Although it is tempting to forsake all your worldly responsibilities from January onward in favour of putting nose to book, it actually really helps a lot to come to work, to rounds, to study group, etc. Working shifts is particularly important — study trauma arrest one week, run one the next: dual coding theory tells us that’s a recipe for the formation of staunch long term memory and recall.
- Practice your oral exam “scripts”. The oral exam is as much about how you say something as what you say. True, there are no points for style, and we likely fetishize “examsmanship” in practice orals well beyond what is truly necessary. Having said that, nothing wrong with providing a slick answer. Having a rehearsed and generic “script” for your trauma, medical, peds cases (and so on) will help the words flow smoothly. Rehearsal is the key: afterJanuary 1, you should be doing about one full practice oral exam per week, up until a few weeks before the actual event.
- Run. Or bike, or walk, or exercise, or spend time with friends and family, or play music, or do whatever it is that makes you feel good. At a certain point, the only thing that will make you feel good is studying. This, my friends, is the point at which you need to be able to pull back and GO OUTSIDE, or something equivalent. The occasional distraction and indulgence is important, if not necessary to survival, especially late in the game. When all else fails, there’s always this.