VAQ & SAQ – General Concepts

These sections require you to write more words on a page in less time than you ever thought humanly possible, and waste more paper than a BP oilspill lawsuit.  When you start out you will struggle to write one page per answer, by exam day you should be writing 3-4 pages per VAQ answer and 6-8 pages per SAQ answer.  Here are some general tips to help your preparation:

Philosophical Point: Forget about the trees
“The number of trees you kill with the amount of paper you waste for these 2 sections will shock you, but this will be more than compensated for by the number of lives you’ll save with the knowledge you will gain by preparing properly, and the satisfaction you will get from burning them after the exam”.

Photocopy (double sided) the exam answer booklet answer pages (available from the College website) at work (don’t pay for photocopying…) and use these as your practice answer pages from day one.  Why practice spacing your writing to fit on normal paper when you will be given the weird, widely spaced-lines of the exam booklets on the day?
Find a type of pen that allows you to write with as little effort as possible, with a padded grip, and buy boxes of them. Try all of the different ones on the rack at Officeworks to see which works best for your hand.  Ballpoint pens will destroy your hands, cause cramps and messy writing.  Any pen called “Ezy-Glide”, “Lazer-Ball”, or similar will be much better.
Make your writing LEGIBLE.  If they can’t read your answer, you will get no marks.  Print if you have to, but scribble, scrawl, chicken-scratches or Parkinsonian micrographia must be eliminated.  See a handwriting coach if you must… Handwriting some of your study notes will help keep your lumbricals and interossei in shape.

The gloss
ary of terms is provided on the day, but you need to know it off by heart, inside out & back to front, months before the exam. Print it out & stick it to your bathroom mirror.  If you “describe” an answer for a “discuss” question, or similarly mix the terms up and don’t answer the question, you will get no marks.


The following definitions are intended as a guide to the understanding of terms commonly used in papers. It is always important to read a question carefully, and to understand these terms in the context of that question. The Fellowship Examination Committee and the examiners are instructed to be rigorous in the use of these terms. Candidates are advised to do similarly.

Term                  Definition

Assessment       History taking, physical examination and investigations.
Describe            State the characteristics or appearance of the subject, including relevant negatives.
Discuss              Examine the pros and cons of each of the alternatives asked for on a subject.
Disposition         Where the patient is sent following care in the emergency department, including follow-up if discharged.
Interpret             State a conclusion or conclusions which includes a differential diagnosis, but excludes management.
Investigations    Specific tests undertaken to make a diagnosis or monitor the patient’s condition.
List                     A numerical ordering of related items.
Management     Those aspects of care of the patient encompassing treatment, supportive care and disposition.
Outline              A brief description of the subject.
Protocol            A set of instructions on how to deal with a particular situation.
Treatment         Measures undertaken to cure or stabilise the patient’s condition.


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