Hi, I'm a 2nd year medical student in the UK! I was just wondering if you had any tips for OSCE style exams - my med school is obsessed with them (we have way more OSCEs than written exams) but I don't seem to be able to get the knack of them. I know the stuff, but I'm always awkward in them and get brain freezes. Thanks!
Ha I know a thing or two about being awkward and getting brain freezes in OSCEs. In my OSCE on wednesday I was interpreting an ECG and I was trying to work out the rate. I was doing the thing where you count the number of squares between two R waves and then do 300 divide the number of squares. My ability to do mental maths COMPLETLY evaporated and I was just sat there going “so the rate is 300 divided by 7… what’s 300 divided by 7?!?! um um um um um” and the examiner looked at me like I was completly insane and was just like “ok 300/7 is good enough, lets move on”.
So I know the feeling!
Here are my list of tips to passing OSCEs!
1) Practice your examinations as much as physically possible
The scary thing about OSCEs is that there are a lot of variables you can’t control such as scary examiners, uncooperative patients etc… One thing that is in your control though is being able to deliver a slick perfomance of your examinations. It might not feel like it but it is really obvious when you are observing someone if they are someone who is confident and knows what they are doing vs someone who just learnt how to do a cardiovascular examination last wek.
When you are nervous it is really easy to get wound up but if you have the examination bits solid in your mind you can sort of put your brain on autopilot which definately helped me
2) Practice with other people and time yourselves
Three is a good number for OSCE practice so you have one person being the patient, one being assessed and one being the observer. Time yourselves! We had 10 minutes for a history and 8 minutes for examinations so practice sticking to those time limits and give each other lots of feedback.
3) Practice data interpretation with other people
For our osce we had a data interpretation station which could be anything from ECG, radiology, interpreting ABGs, blood results etc. It’s one thing to be able to look at a CXR and go yep thats a pneumothorax. It’s a very different skill to be able to present an X ray in the format that an examiner wants and to be able to approach these things in a systematic way.
4) Fake it! Confidence is everything
OSCEs are one big performance. It’s such an artificial environment and the best way to pass an OSCE is to treat it like you are putting on a show.
On the day choose something to wear that makes you feel confident. When I am about to go into the first station I always feel sick with nerves. Just take a deep breath, put on a smile, open that door and walk in like you are in control and you know exactly what you need to do.
5) If you don’t know the answer to what they are asking you just keep talking
This might not work for everyone but my policy is if I don’t know the answer, I will keep verbalising my thought process and try and logically work the answer out. Often if you are going along the right lines, some examiners will try and push you in the right direction. The examiners want to give you marks so I think my policy is the more I say, the more chance I have of getting to the answer they are looking for
6) Remember that the examiners are on your side!
They want to pass you, regardless of whether they have a poker face or smile at you none of them are out to fail you.
In history taking stations, if you get stuck a helpful thing to do is to summarise the information you have already gained from the patient. It often buys you time to think of the next question.
Also there is no shame in saying ” I just need a minute to gather my thoughts” and pausing for a few seconds.
If you have management stations in your OSCE practice looking things up in a BNF and writing out a management plan within your time constraints. It’s easy to get in a flap if you aren’t familiar with a BNF so again practicing this within a time limit is something I found useful this time.
So this has turned into a bit of an essay but I hope some of this was useful! If you want any help with a particular aspect of the OSCE/ particular type of station that I haven’t talked about here drop a message in my ask box.