Proactive use of resources
Here are some practical tips on pro-active use of study resources that you may find useful when preparing for the exam.
1) Reading a book proactively
This means reading the texts with a specific goal or learning outcome in mind. This approach is good for memorising facts, but is less useful for conceptual understanding.
How do I read “proactively”?
Read the topic/chapter that you are studying, then shut the book and either:
1) Write a summary from what you can remember, or write a list of the main points for that topic, then go back & fill in the blanks after you’re finished, checking the text as you go to make sure you have the facts/figures correct.
2) Write 2 or 3 questions based on the information you’ve just read and then answer them, either with or without the book open.
If you can’t recall enough information to write a summary or answer the questions, go back and read the chapter again and re-try it until you are able to. Sometimes this means you have read too much in one go, so go back and try doing it in smaller sections. Or it may mean you have not gained the conceptual understanding of the topic yet. See our section on Conceptual Understanding for more information.
Sometimes this approach will necessitate referring to other sections of the book, or even to other books or resources, to enable you to answer the questions or write a complete summary. This is OK, and you can use the same strategy in reading those other sections, or just skim through them to get the facts you need.
This approach has the benefit of “forced recall”. This techniques forces you to pay attention while reading as you know you’ll be testing yourself afterwards, (meaning that you hopefully concentrate more and think about what you’re reading as you read it) and forcing the information out without a prop immediately after you’ve read it re-inforces the newly-created neuronal connections that were established in the initial reading phase. This process enhances the laying down of new memories, and with time will also develop your analytical skills as to what the examiners may pick as a question out of large bodies of text. The more you practice these techniques the better you will get at it. Don’t be disheartened if at first you struggle to remember anything from the paragraph you’ve just read. With a little persistence and patience, and starting with small volumes of text, you will gradually find yourself improving.
PROBLEMS WITH PRO-ACTIVE READING:
Unfortunately for this particular exam, the information you need is often not completely covered or covered adequately in one book, or the information is out of date. Cross-referencing is not only necessary but often essential to ensure you have all of the information for a specific topic. You can address this by reading the information in your chosen books/sources first and then try writing your summary, or you can do it book-by-book. For some it will be easiest if you pick one of the more manageable books (eg Cameron) as your main source, read this proactively and create your lists/summary/questions as above, and then read the other sources (eg Tintinalli, Dunn) to fill in any gaps/blanks/facts/figures. With some trial and error you will find which approach & which combination of books works best for you. You need to remember that given the breadth of knowledge required sometimes you may need use different books as your main source for pro-active reading, and others as your reference/fill-in-the-blank book. Remember to be flexible and open to changing your primary source. This will help you avoid the common frustration of not getting the information you want from your main text.
2) Pro-active use of Human Resources
This is where having a study partner or study group comes in handy (see our section on “Study Groups” for more information). You can also use colleagues at work, (including other Registrars and your Consultants) for this process.
Use your study group proactively
It is helpful if at the very beginning of your study year if everyone in the group takes 5 minutes to describe what they think their study strengths and weaknesses are to the rest of the group, and what they possess in terms of work/life experience, previous training, prior reading and current exam-preparation that may be of use to the rest of the group. This somewhat personal process will allow everyone in the group to see what pooled resources are available, and will facilitate the “3-Musketeer” approach (“all-for-one and one-for-all”) to the group dynamic. Allowing everyone to express what they expect from the rest of the group also ensures that realistic goals and expectations are can be set. If your group is not working out as the year progresses, sometimes it is useful to re-assess using the above framework.
Use your colleagues pro-actively
Make the most of your time at work, by having other Registrars or the Consultants quiz you on a topic you’ve just read, or as you get closer to the exam get them to pick any topic that they’re interested in and quiz you about it. This will pick the gaps in your knowledge and get you used to giving verbal answers in a logical format in a non-threatening environment, which is great practice for the clinical exam. Engaging in this process is also a great way to acquire new knowledge in a time-effective format. You will be surprised how willing other people are to help (and often be humbled by their generosity), and if people offer their time or services without prompting you would be mad to turn them down. If you find a certain person’s assistance beneficial it is wise to politely inform them of this, as this may encourage them to continue assisting you, but if you find someone’s approach unhelpful, it is also best to politely decline further offers to avoid wasting your (and their) time.