Saturday, November 11, 2017

Study Thoughts: Oral Exams

First off, apologies for another post on studying. Not the most exciting of topics. I just wanted to elaborate a bit on how I've been studying lately, in particular for oral exams.

I've had a couple mock orals in the past two weeks, which had me a little overwhelmed with where to start studying. You see, oral exams are case-based, and it's tough to guess what sort of case you're going to get. So you need to study everything. But do you start with the more common topics? Because it'd be sort of embarrassing to fumble through those. Or do you study the more esoteric stuff? Because those would be the trickier questions that attendings might want to ask. No one really knows. Basically you just memorize as much as you can about as many topics as you're able to get to, then hope for the best.

When there's a lot of volume to cover in a short amount of time, here's what I've found to be helpful:

  1. make notes notes notes -- In theory, having concise study notes made well ahead of time means that I can focus all pre-exam study time on committing those to memory. Does that always happen? Nope. But really anything helps!
    cancer site notes -- mostly still works in progress
  2. actively read my notes -- I like paper, so I print out my study notes and highlight/annotate as I read through them.
    note mix-ups are annoying -- it's helpful to have the topic in the header and the date last updated in the footer
  3. create a one-page summary of the most important points -- This is key. My study notes are looong, because I want them to contain every single detail I could be asked on my Royal College (board) exam. Sure, I might be able to remember all some of those details by the time I get to the end of residency, but when I have just one evening to study for a mock oral, there's no way I'm going to be able to commit every radiotherapy trial to memory -- I need to start with memorizing the basics. For me, I want the essential information on one page, that I can learn thoroughly. For radiation oncology, stuff that should go on that one page -- the absolute basics that you know staff are going to ask you -- are anatomy, risk factors, workup, staging, treatment, landmark trials, and radiation planning details.
    I don't write down stuff that I already know (e.g. what to ask on history, definitions of T1a-T2). Doesn't have to be neat!
  4. memorize the one-page summaries -- I wake up really early on the morning of the exam to once again review my summary notes. It helps to cover up parts of the page and try to recall them in my head or on a whiteboard or paper.
  5. learn more -- Once I have the basics down, if time permits, I can go back to my unabridged study notes to learn more detail. In reality this doesn't really happen...
  6. exam time! -- Speak clearly and concisely. I tend to ramble and find that it helps to think ahead of time about how I'll organize my answers, e.g. 'what would you ask on history?' can be grouped into local symptoms, regional symptoms, constitutional symptoms, risk factors, functional status, and radiotherapy contraindications. Afterwards, receive feedback and write down things you need to look up!
  7. teach a friend -- After my mock orals last week, I asked the same cases to my co-resident. We took an hour or so to work through them on a whiteboard and looked up anything we were unsure of. It was super helpful to solidify our knowledge.
Aaand repeat. Oral exams aren't fun, but every time you go through this process the information becomes more familiar, so you can spend less time memorizing the basics and more time learning the details. Or so I hope. We'll see how things go over the next 1.5 years...

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