Mastering exams in a COVID-19 world

E verybody’s well-laid plans have been thrown into disarray by the recent lockdown. Or maybe not.

What has changed?

The impacts of the pandemic have been felt across all aspects of our lives. Our clinical work has changed quickly, and some of these changes are likely to last a long time. Our personal lives have changed: who we see, how we shop, how we move about. Some of the changes we may perceive as positive, while others are more testing.

But let’s look at general practice exam preparation. How has it changed? Depending on how far off your exams are, the impact will be different, but below are some critical elements of exam preparation, and our take on the potential impacts.

Challenges and solutions

Daily immersion in GP practice.

One of the best ways to prepare for the exams is to be working in full scope general practice every day. You get exposed to the curriculum of conditions as patients walk through the door, and you get to practice clinical reasoning and examination in the GP context. You can look up guidelines and review evidence for conditions as you encounter them. One issue caused by the pandemic is the move to telehealth and relative reduction for most doctors in terms of the number of patients they are seeing, and the scope of the presentations. We are not able to practice our examination as often, as the nature of general practice has been altered.

Solutions – Keep working diligently and reflect on the patients you see. In addition, now might be a good time to ramp up your study of clinical cases, eg through Dr Susan Wearne’s “Clinical Cases for General Practice Exams” or the GPRA Clinical Cases book. Enrol for our “Crucial Cases” webinars and online program to work through 20 curriculum based topics to minimise the chance there are any gaps in your knowledge.

Study Groups.

Study groups in exam preparation provide tangible benefits, including sharing the workload, benchmarking your progress with peers, and giving you structure for your study. “Virtual” study groups over platforms like Zoom and Skype have been an option for a long time now, and are well established for use in the current lockdown. The only issue might be a lack of opportunity to practice physical examination techniques (on your study group and on real patients!).

Solutions – focus on the physical examinations you do get to do with patients, and practice doing them well. Practice timing yourself and get used to examining a body system in 8 minutes. Make sure that if you look at examination videos on the internet, that they are relevant for GP exams. View our Guide to Private Study Groups for extra tips.

Exam workshops.

It is, of course, best to undertake exam preparation in the lead up to your exams. But for many candidates, the delay in the RACGP exams has necessitated a revision of timelines. Thankfully, there are a variety of online and face to face workshops available, which are run by various organisations. We suggest that candidates focus on knowledge, skills and clinical practice first, and then focus on exam technique towards the end. We also caution against using question banks and mock exams as the primary technique to study and improve – these can only ever be a proxy, and are not a substitute for real learning and improvement.

Solutions – use the extra time you have before the exams to ensure you have covered the curriculum properly in your study. Prior to the KFP, enrol in our KFP Accelerated Program to work through the process for successfully answering questions in the exam setting. We prefer face-to-face workshops for OSCE preparation so real exam conditions can be replicated, but in the event that face-to-face is not possible, we are developing an online version of our workshop that will include the standard processes our participants find valuable – discussion, timed exam cases, and a full debrief.

Where to next

For a better understanding of what we can offer, see our exam prep events page. In the meantime, stay safe and best of luck finding your way through this shifting landscape!

Tim Kelly