#TipsforEMexams: Exam Study Tips Series

In Mentorship, TipsForEMExams by Teresa Chan4 Comments

As September arrives, my thoughts always turn towards memories of being in school.  The fun, the initial excitement… but then… with memories of school comes memories of exams.

Inspired by the “How I work smarter series” this series will outline study tips for EM exams. They may seem a bit targeted towards the Canadian RC emergency medicine exam (because that’s the exam I wrote), but  I’m hoping that most of the tips from this series will generalize towards the CCFP-EM or even ABEM exams though.  Also, much like ALiEM’s “Work Smarter” series, the writer will tag his/her friends to see if they can create a similar post, so I hope that eventually we will tag people with different backgrounds and perspectives, all whom have conquered various examinations. On Twitter we’ll use the hashtag #TipsforEMexams to track the conversation.  Hopefully with everyone’s help we can get a great assortment of exam study tips.

So without further ado, here are my tips:


Name:     Teresa Chan, Survivor of the 2013 RC emergency medicine exam

Where are you now?
Assistant Professor, McMaster University. BoringEM Managing Editor


Five tips for prospective examinees:

1. Organize yourself – Random studying will make you case-by-case smarter, but programmatic studying will be more important as you start to study for examinations. Remember, the point of the exams is to ensure you have a broad understanding of key emergencies – and as such, it is advantageous to work through a good list of topics. Taking Rosen’s, Tintinalli, and other key textbooks, I compared their content to my program’s academic half day schedule to augment what I had learned over the past 3 years. Then I stuck to this study schedule, 2-3 topics at time – summarizing, reviewing, extracting what I could into my notes. I’m super duper glad I did this audit since there were several areas that were missing from my end-of-PGY-3 notes that ended up being on my exam.

2. Start early (if you can) – I started studying for the RC exam in PGY4. That’s not to say I didn’t study before then, but I was more opportunistic about studying around cases and things that were clinically relevant from my shifts or rotations. In PGY4 though, I sat down at least 2-3 times per week and powered through various topics, brushing up my study notes, reading and gathering materials (key papers, etc.). In PGY5, we turned up the heat, going through all these materials again once more.

3. Study social – Group studying has been proven in a number of studies to be highly beneficial for learning outcomes. Likely this stems from collaborative learning – forcing participants to practice and revisit external representations of the knowledge they hold to be true. Regardless of HOW it works (that’s why I started Masters in Health Professions Education), you merely need to know THAT it works and harness this for its advantage. This means orienting your life to ensure that you can meet up and discuss your material with others – aligning study topics or practice questions is key. Moreover, don’t fool yourself about tandem studying (i.e. studying alongside someone else quietly). That is NOT group studying, and doesn’t help your learning in the same manner.

4. Use the Cloud – It pays to have a back up of your notes. My study group had a group study Google Drive where we shared and collaborated on exam study notes. (Nerdily, we wrote it up as a brief educational report in CJEM.) We also made a set of one-page mock oral case scenario guides and exchanged them via this Google Drive. Beyond that, I sometimes studied with colleagues via Skype or Google Hangouts (e.g. my friend Janice all the way in Vancouver or my friend Serena in the neighbouring city). This made it much easier to study with others, while never having to change out of my pyjama pants.

5. Drilling yourself is important too, but make it fun! – I’ll be honest, by March of my exam year, I was pretty exhausted and extremely bored – and yet I still felt compelled to study every waking moment. As such, I decided to channel my energies into gamifying my studying. I had created about 1000 flash cards with various important lists from Rosen’s… But they were just sitting there. Enter the Flash Card Advent Calendar (Figure 1). I set up my flashcards in roughly equal decks of materials, and then I put a surprise task at the bottom of each deck (i.e. Buy and eat your favourite cupcake! Go watch a movie!).  This made my last few weeks of studying far more interesting.


Figure 1:  The Exam Flash Card Advent Calendar



Tag! You’re it!

I would now like to ask the following tow people to submit their five exam tips.

1. Rob Woods

2. Heather Murray


Teresa Chan

Senior Editor at CanadiEM
Emergency Physician. Medical Educator. #FOAMed Supporter, Producer and Researcher. Chief Strategy Officer of CanadiEM. Associate Professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Medicine, McMaster University.
BoringEM has been 'bringing the boring' to emergency medicine since 2012. In 2016 this Canadian blog brought its content to CanadiEM.