Preparing for the exams
20 January, 2020
The following blog was written a trainee who has taken the MRCPsych exams, to help core trainees prepare for this important step. It doesn't represent the official view of the College or the exams department.
Being able to write MRCPsych next to your names only comes after you have cleared two written papers, the CASC and paid your annual membership fees. Hopefully, you will find the first three steps very doable after reading the following guide.
Everyone has a unique way of preparing for exams. While some people work better on their own, some prefer working in groups. While some plan and start months ahead of time, some like the rush of adrenaline and caffeine days before the big day.
The following outlines how I approached the exams and what worked for me. The most important thing that helped me stay motivated was to have something to look forward to after the exam, be it a holiday or just a simple coffee date with a friend.
Before the written papers
Familiarising yourself with the College curriculum is key to ensuring you have all your bases covered when writing the exams.
I attempted my Paper A at the end of my CT1 year in June 2018. I started preparing in January, starting to do questions from MCQ banks.
Starting was the hardest part, but by setting out smaller goals and gradually increasing them, I was able to cover a major chunk of the syllabus on a weekly basis.
I started out with referring to the RCPsych exam syllabus, which outlined the topics I had to cover. Using this list, I made a rough draft of the topics I was to cover using various resources such as MCQ banks, notes, books, presentation from teachings or Tron modules.
This helped me organise myself to make my study schedule more flexible. For example, if I was on-call and unable to perch myself on a desk to study for hours, I could watch a tutorial or do MCQs on my phone in bed. The key is to make sure you do something each day, no matter how little that is.
I found concepts of psychology difficult, so I tried to watch YouTube tutorials and made my own notes and tables to get a better understanding of these concepts. A particularly helpful website was Simply Psychology, which really helped get my head around certain subject matter.
When preparation got boring, I tried to come up with new ways to study such as combining the psychopathology and psychopharmacology bits together. Or making index cards and asking a friend to quiz me on a certain topic.
I gave my Paper B immediately after my Paper A, which was something I had not planned on doing. I found a major overlap between the curriculum being tested in both the papers, which worked in my advantage.
For statistics, I read The Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal by Narinder Gosall and Gopal Gosall, which is an excellent resource for those who don’t get along well with numbers like myself! Again, I used the techniques mentioned above to make sure I covered as much as I could.
I found preparing for Paper B more interesting, as it was more clinical as compared to Paper A.
On the day of the written exam
Make sure you have your date, venue and time confirmed and how you will be getting there. I have always tread on the side of caution and travelled the night before to allow my nerves some time to relax. I also refrain from vigorously trying to cram the night before and firmly believe in “chilling” in the last 24 hours.
On the day of the exam, I ensure I have had at least 8 hours of sleep in addition to my admission card, photo ID, stationary and a fully functional mind and body to help me perform.
Pacing yourself through the exam is important to avoid exhausting yourself in the first 30 minutes to an hour. If you feel stuck, mark that question and move on. And please in doing so, ensure you are marking your answers correctly on your answer sheet.
Once you are done, celebrate and stop ruminating over that one MCQ or EMI you did not know the answer to.
When I started core training, the CASC seemed like a far-fetched exam, which I would only be eligible to do after 24 months of core training. I was amazed at how fast time was flying when I found myself towards the end of my CT2 year already planning to sit the CASC.
The CASC is the monster under the bed that everyone talks about. There are so many resources out there to prepare. Again, everyone has their own way of preparing. In my personal experience, I felt I needed to prepare for it on an individual and a group basis.
It’s helpful to practice with registrars and consultants, as they can give you appropriate feedback particularly in their specialty. Attending the mock CASC and other workshops within my core trainee teaching at Sheffield really helped me practice common stations.
Practising with colleagues, who were also appearing in the exam with me helped. On days I found it difficult to practice in person, Skype proved to be very handy in practising stations online with my colleagues.
When unable to practice with others, I used the time to prepare index cards and practice management stations of explaining medication, psychotherapy and other modalities of treatment in front of the mirror.
There are also a plethora of resources out there ranging from books, online and face-to-face courses including opportunities to do mock exams in other trusts and courses. Choose what suites you. Remember to pace yourself and take breaks as preparing for exams on top of your day job and on-calls can lead to extreme burn out.
On the day of the CASC
Make sure you have had a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast prior to the exam. Dress smartly and comfortably. Nobody likes a shabbily dressed doctor!
Be confident and keep yourself calm. Go with the mindset that you already see patients on a daily basis and today is no different, you just have 16 patients to see in clinic. Treat actors like real patients with genuine concerns and you won’t have to feign anything. If a station goes badly, leave it behind you and focus on the next one.
To all those planning their exams, good luck! You got this!
See the College website for more information about preparing for the exams.