Improving the Exam odds

This is a long post, but it’s for a good cause…

Would you spend 12 months of your life working 20-30 hours a week, unpaid, outside of your usual (arduous) job, preparing for an endeavour that had the same probability as a coin toss at success? Would you really leave something you’d spent that much time on to chance? Well sadly that’s the latest result from the last round of ACEM Fellowship Exams. Nationwide pass rate: 53%. Essentially a 50/50 chance. Pretty grim stats…

Now there are a lot of variables that lead to that result, but realistically if you’re smart enough to get a medical degree, you’re smart enough to pass this exam. While the stats are disheartening, we here at ED Exam have accumulated a lot of tips on exam success from various FACEMs over the years, and have tried to synthesise it into some key points. Here are some of the recurring messages that we hear over and over when we ask people for advice on preparing for the exam.

1) BE STRATEGIC: 18 months to 2 years out you need to be researching where you’re going to be working, living, studying, and how you’re going to be learning for the exam. If it means moving interstate or across town, you may actually save yourself a year or two of misery compared to staying where you are and failing. You need to analyse the syllabus, break it up into manageable chunks, make a list of topics that require Expert and High Level knowledge, and analyse it to find your weak points, as these will all require extra attention. Analyse your learning style, and think about how you best acquire information. Do some research into learning methods, and think about honing your memory skills. Remember: Be strategic. Analyse. Plan. We can’t state this enough.

2) SHOP AROUND: Call all of the prospective hospitals you’re interested in working at when you sit and speak to the DEMT about their Fellowship teaching program. Ask what their pass rate is. Get the stats. If they won’t say, hang up. Ask not just about protected teaching time (as that shouldn’t be an issue), but ask whether they have a structured program that addresses all facets of the exam. If it’s just weekly death by powerpoint sessions with talks created by other registrars – don’t waste your time there. If it’s weekly, structured exam-oriented sessions with FACEMs who are also examiners or who have a proven track record with successful candidates, take note. And most importantly, call the ED back and speak to a few Senior Registrars. They will give you the most objective opinion about what it’s like working & studying there.

3) CLEAR A PATH TO THE EXAM: Don’t buy a house/renovate, have a baby, get married or do anything else major in the 12 months before the exam. You need a clear run-up with as few distractions as possible. Easy, right? Wrong. I was told all of the above points, dutifully wrote them down, then proceeded to ignore all of them: Got my fiancé pregnant exactly 9 months before exam (baby born on the day I passed – just a minor distraction). Bought a house that needed renovating & moved in 6 months before exam. Got married 2 months before exam. Why? Well because life has a way of getting in the way of the best laid plans. Did it cause major, major unnecessary stress? Yes. Did these events seriously jeopardise my chance of passing? You bet. Would I do it the same if I sat again? No friggin way.

3) GET LOTS OF ADVICE: Ask lots of FACEMs and lots of senior registrars who are preparing for the exam for their tips on preparing for the exam. Write everything you hear down. Some of it will gel with you, some won’t, but as your preparation progresses you will hit stumbling blocks, so when you do, pull out your notes and refer back to them. There will undoubtedly be a golden tip that you’d forgotten about that will help you through. Be flexible enough to change track, ditch a pre-made study plan or significantly alter your study methods if they’re not working. Persisting with a bad plan or sticking to advice that isn’t working for you can be a disaster.

4) READ THE TEXTBOOKS: A highly respected College Examiner gave a talk at the ACEM conference last year, and in it she analysed some of the reasons why people fail the fellowship exam. One of the key, recurring issues she’d gleaned from interviewing many people who have failed was FAILURE TO READ THE RECOMMENDED TEXTS. You MUST at least attempt to read one of the major Emergency Medicine reference texts cover to cover. If you can’t manage Tintinalli, don’t worry (most normal people can’t), but you must pick one and try to devour the whole thing. We are huge fans of online learning, and Emergency Medicine is at the absolute forefront of medical webucation, but for this exam YOU MUST READ THE BOOKS. Boring, but ESSENTIAL.

5) USE ONLINE RESOURCES WISELY: It’s easy to feel swamped with the multitude of online resources and the ever expanding Emergency textbooks. Information overload is real, and can hamper your chances at passing, as you while away hours getting distracted by tweets, RSS feeds, facebook, and the multitude of blogs out there under the guise of looking up a factoid online. We’d suggest picking a select handful of sites to visit regularly from our links section, and try not to worry about missing the latest bit of “hot off the press” emergency info. Trust us, the blogosphere is so active at the moment, if you are even sniffing around the periphery, you won’t miss any big news.

Also, use Dropbox and Evernote to share notes with your study group.

Can’t find a study group in your area? Get on Skype and join another group across town or interstate.

For EDExam members, log in & check out our detailed information on the following topics:

Self Directed Learning

Life Tips

Exam Technique

Alright, that’s enough tips for now, switch off your computer, crack open that lovely new textbook, and get to work!

Got another “hot tip” for future exam candidates? Click on the “Comments” link (below) and leave a comment

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