Studying and learning new knowledge is a career-long process for medical students and doctors. We continuously learn new things during our daily clinical practice, but also have to study on the side to progress in our career by passing tough postgraduate exams. Here I share my experience with studying while holding a full-time job.
Goals of study
Building on what we already know from medical school is the core of postgraduate study. We learn the various subjects in further detail than we did in our previous stage of training. On the other hand, it is also essential that we do not lose what we have already accrued. Rotating through medical and surgical specialties only during Foundation training can make us forget about particular specialties such as obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics or psychiatry. Depending on your career trajectory, it may be important to maintain this generalist approach. For example, if you are planning to take the Multi-Specialty Recruitment Assessment (MSRA) or to continue a career in general practice.
Juggling work and study
Working and studying at the same time is arguably the most challenging part of preparing for postgraduate exams. Time is limited. Imagine having to study after working and dealing with all the stresses on the wards. The hectic rota also means that it may be difficult to maintain a rigid schedule, e.g. setting aside an hour in the evenings to study, as you would likely have nights, long days etc. that would completely disrupt that. This is why it is often seen as an achievement to be able to pass postgraduate exam at an early stage in your career, and also serves as good evidence of being a competent learner with good time management skills.
Question banks- why are they so popular?
Now on to what is probably used by all medical students or doctor preparing for exams at some stage of their career- question banks. They are popular simply for the fact that they easily meet the points outlined above pertaining to postgraduate study. I'd like to think of question banks as the best tool to build on existing knowledge. It is not that useful for starting from scratch for a first year medical student, but is indispensable when you already have a decent grasp of the core concepts.
Question banks are mostly done online, with a huge number of questions designed to test specific knowledge. Working through these help you specifically in these areas:
Identifying commonly tested areas in exams
Identifying your weak areas or gaps in knowledge
Allows familiarisation through repetition
Saves time by condensing current guidelines
Practicing answering techniques
Keeps track of your progress over time to gauge improvement
Practicing under time pressure helps you gauge how quickly you need to be
It also helps with learning within strict time constraints as you can work with as few or as many questions as you'd like in a session. The fact that most question banks are available on computers, laptops and mobile devices makes it accessible wherever you are. For example, you could squeeze in 20 minute of studying during a commute back home. The learning style is also highly flexible, since for most platforms you can customise the question selection to be focused on a specific specialty, difficulty level, or questions that you have got wrong before.
In summary, I think question banks are the best tools for studying for postgraduate written exams. We aim to write a future blog post reviewing some of the popular question bank choices for UK medical students and doctors.
What do you think is the best way to approach postgraduate study. Let us know by commenting down below.