Tag Archives | Study Tips

Do you procrastinate? Here’s why, and how you can overcome it

Came across this great video today, of a talk by a young psychology student called Vik Nithy, via the TEDxYouth program. I highly recommend anyone studying for their Fellowship exam, or their Primary exam for that matter, watches this talk. You have to forgive his somewhat nervous demeanour (and he has a couple of technical […]

Read full story Comments { 1 }

Use visualisation to boost exam performance

Read full story Comments { 0 }

Passive learning: Bathroom Osmosis, Moonwalking with Einstein & learn to love your own voice

Bathroom Osmosis & Moonwalking with Einstein
When I was studying for the Fellowship exam I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to cram into my little brain, and frequently would read a list or a summary, and promptly forget it. I found I needed repetition to get these facts cemented in my brain, but going over and over lists while sitting at a desk was excruciatingly boring, and time consuming.  So I began to think about all of the “dead time” I had during the day and how I could put this to better use.  I figured if I could read one list every time I had a shower (average once/day), brushed my teeth (twice/day), and went to the toilet (say, 3 times a day at home), that’s at least six lists per day I could read, with essentially no effort.  If you do this every day for 6 months before the exam, that’s over 1,000 exposures to your lists.  Add to this lists on the fridge (how many times a day do you open your fridge? At least 4 or 5 right?!) and you can double that exposure.

So I set about plastering my bathroom with lists.  Causes of a non-anion gap metabolic acidosis, management of Digoxin toxicity, ECG changes of hyperkalaemia… if it could fit on a post-it note or a 5 x 4″ index card, I stuck them all over the bathroom mirror, the shower and in front of the loo.  There was no system to it, just randomly pick a list, and read it a few times whilst brushing my teeth, having a wee, or standing in the shower. (Tip: put the lists on the outside of the shower glass facing inwards – so they don’t get wet). I made them all a bit different, used bright colours & highlighters for the ones I had trouble remembering which made them much easier to picture later on.

I found that when I was writing answers to practice questions, I didn’t just remember the lists, but I could picture them, in detail, in the exact spot on the wall where they were.  The familiar surroundings and constant repetition had seared them into my memory.  I think this is a similar practice to the “memory palaces” described by Joshua Foer in Moonwalking With Einstein. ( Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything )
I could picture myself walking into the bathroom, looking up to the top right corner of the mirror and see the list for “causes of QTc prolongation”.

My wife, and our friends who came over and used the bathroom, initially thought I was crazy.  But eventually our friends came to love the lists too, as they’d come out saying “I love using the loo at your house, I always learn something when I’m in there!”

Learn to like the sound of your own voice:
I also did a lot of driving to tutes, teaching sessions, practice exams and clinical practice sessions during my exam prep year, not to mention all the usual driving to work, shops etc.  This was more “dead time” that I wasn’t learning anything in, so I started reading my lists out loud and recording it onto my computer, saving it as an .mp3, adding it to a playlist in iTunes, and uploading it to my phone, so I could listen to the lists whilst driving.  Even doing this once or twice a day meant I had hundreds of more exposures to the lists that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. There’s loads of free audio recording software for Mac & PC, just Google “free audio recorder”, or use the built in Voice Recorder on your iphone, it’s so easy, and will really drive those hard to remember lists into your brain.

So if you’re like me, and don’t have a photographic memory, get narcoleptic when trying to read lists whilst sitting at a desk, or just want some variety in your study routine, then start using the passive learning techniques I’ve described above, and I guarantee you’ll improve your recall and your exam marks!

Read full story Comments { 2 }

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

Read full story Comments { 0 }

Learning by Spaced Repetition

This is a great article by Chris Nickson over at LITFL, that goes through some useful techniques that may help your memory and recall of content you are trying to learn for the Fellowship Exam.  In it he talks about the use of two programs Mnemosyne (which we’ve mentioned in a previous blog post) and Anki, which has an iphone app. These are both flashcard programs that automatically alert you when it’s time to review a topic or list, and you can use the Anki app anywhere as it syncs with your home computer.

As Chris mentions though, you do actually need to do the hard slog first, and read the textbooks to create your lists (and gain conceptual understanding – log in to our members area to read our article on this) first, but once you’ve done that these programs are invaluable for revision. Chris’s advice is gold, and he must know what he’s talking about as he just passed his ACEM Fellowship exam first go!

Read full story Comments { 0 }

Emergency Medicine Tutorials

Can’t believe we hadn’t stumbled across this amazing site until now!  EMT is a great online resource, with a collapsable menu down the left hand side that is the equivalent of a textbook index.  Hidden away in these directories you will find oodles of information, most of it’s in nice succinct summary format, there’s journal articles to download, loads of references, as well as free mp3’s of a lot of the content, and a podcast you can access via iTunes, and it’s all written from the Aus/NZ/ACEM-Exam perspective.

As they clearly state on the welcome page, “you won’t find everything you need to know” on the site, but it’s still a bloody good resource for those preparing for the exam.

There’s also some really good practical tips for those starting out in ED, and some great “self care” tips for those Registrars slogging it out day to day in busy ED’s, some of which you can apply to your study routine, 

Here’s an example of a simply written, but really useful tidbit of information from the site: Dental Anaesthesia.


Read full story Comments { 0 }

Summer Study Blues

Summer is almost here, your ED may be experiencing the usual post winter downturn in attendances, it’s time to have a rest, right? If you are sitting the 2012.1 exam, you should be well on your way with your study program, and “rest” should be the thing you do for 5 minutes between your practice MCQ and practice VAQ/SAQ sessions.  For those planning to sit the 2012.2 exam you may be in that difficult early phase: procrastinating, finding it hard to concentrate or spend more than 10-20 minutes at the desk without checking your facebook, being easily distracted and getting frustrated by the fact that you can’t remember anything about the last paragraph of Tintinalli you just read.

Well don’t lose heart.  The first month or two of your study time may feel fruitless, but it’s all part of the process, and you need to push through it, and gradually build up your stamina so that by Christmas you are able to spend several hours of your days off at the desk, and feel OK about not going to the beach on the nice sunny 35 degree afternoons. Or alternatively, going to the beach can be a great reward if you achieve your study goals for the day.

To confirm that your early hopeless attempts at study are universal, check out a site we’ve found: FRACPexam is a blog that has some great anecdotes about procrastination, but also some good tips on motivation and memory improvement.  It pointed us to Mnemosyne, a free computer flashcard program, and Supermemo, an intersting site with some prudent tips about memory improvement and knowledge retention.

If you like reading non-medical books, and need some motivation, perhaps the last book you should read this year (before committing to only reading exam-related material for the next 12 months), you should check out Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I’m halfway through reading it, and it’s a fascinating true story about improving your memory.  The techniques used may not be the best for the exam (or you may indeed find them helpful), but the story is a remarkable demonstration of the plasticity of your brain and will show you that can learn and remember a lot more than you think… Here’s a nice review of the book, and a list of some other books on memory.

Failing that, log in to EDExam’s members area and check out our own, ACEM Fellwoship Exam specific articles on studying for the exam.

Now, STOP PROCRASTINATING and get back to work, there’s less than 100 days til the next writtens, and less than a year to the 2012.2 exam!

Read full story Comments { 0 }