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My FRCS Story so far….

This post is to give hope to people because I believe we are all capable of passing this exam.

I am going to talk about part 1. Nobody really talks about part 1…most advice is geared to part 2. In theory it is less scary, you do it in a driving test centre quietly on your own and you are meant to pass. Some people have study groups, others advocate doing thousands of questions. The advice is not clear. Some people even say if you do 6000 questions plus…you will pass for sure. This is not true.

In my case I am a trainee with Outcome 1s in my ARCP until the point of the exam. Unfortunately I then hit a roadblock and what may have been a ‘mental block’ in my mind. I took several attempts to pass this exam. I never thought I would be that person, but as a positive I have come to learn a lot more about myself, how I study and my limits. I am now working towards part 2 and am confident in my abilities.

I did what everybody does. I asked around for advice on part 1 and the universal theme was to do lots of questions. The obvious resource was orthobullets. Like everyone else I ploughed through several thousand orthobullets questions. I did them in ‘learning mode’, which means doing the question and getting immediate feedback of the answer. I went through the different topics of the syllabus. Some days I scored well, some I did bad. I loosely planned to do 50-100 questions a day. I tried doing questions on the train in my commute. It was hard to work at home with an 18 month old child so I had to study in the evening when he was asleep and sacrifice evenings.

In the preceeding week to the exam I looked at a few UKITE questions, did some questions from the kes sri-ram book and realised these questions were a lot harder. Come the day of the exam I was shocked at how different the questions were to orthobullets and did not know what had hit me. My friends felt the same way about the exam. Whilst it was tough I thought I had done enough.

Come results day I failed by 2%. A friend passed by 2%. But the difference between us was that I had to do it again and he could progress. I was devastated. I talked to my TPD who said its down to luck and I would surely clear the exam next time around.

I started to prepare for the next sitting in a couple of months, determined to pass. It was at this point I picked up Miller and Manoj Ramachandran’s basic science book. I read them and realised how little I knew. I started making notes. Unfortunately within a couple of weeks of working COVID happened. I lost all momentum as I was recruited to help on ITU and abandon orthopaedics altogether.

I eventually had a date confirmed for the exam. This happened to be 2 weeks after my 2nd baby was due. These were tough times and having a newborn child whilst taking the exam is extremely tough. Inevitably I failed again, but by a larger margin.

At this stage I almost had a defeatist attitude. We were in the middle of the 2nd wave, life was glum anyway and I also had the difficulty of looking after 2 young children at home. I was also conscious that I was a ‘recurrent failure’ and now in some people’s eyes a ‘problem trainee’. Whilst nobody says anything directly to you there are subtle signals people loose faith in you. Being excluded from certain work conversations, people being a bit more formal and ‘cold’ with you. The room going silent when you enter and worst of all stumbling across whatsapp messages which may have been contextual but in isolation are damaging. My self confidence was at an all time low and I had never experienced this in my career. I was also diagnosed with adult dyslexia. Something that I was very sceptical about to start with however as time went on made a lot of sense. These were dark times.

Fortunately I do have a lot of grit. I also realised that no matter what you do people will talk about you. Not everyone will like you. Therefore cliché as it sounds I felt it was necessary to be ‘true to myself’. I looked at self-improvement. I questioned my study methods, discipline, time management and confidence to the core. I also looked at whether I made any provision for ‘self-care’. I also began to realise who were genuine friends and trainers. They were those who sought to build me up rather than ‘put me down’.

Subsequently I became more effective. I would thoroughly recommend a self-help book by the name of ‘Atomic Habbits’ which describe small changes in life and marginal gains that can make a big difference.

I created a proper, achievable study plan. I looked at my weeks and realised there were busy days at work where it would not be possible to study and factored that in. It was important to learn not to feel guilty for avoiding studying. In fact it was all about working smarter. I also planned rewards such as going to the gym, socialising and seeing my family. When I did plan to study I would plan my day to the point of determining exactly what time and where I would study and what I would cover. I broke down study sessions into 2 hour blocks, further broken down into 30 minute sessions with 5 minute breaks. During these periods I would set aside my phone and avoid procrastination. These actions improved my focus dramatically. I made exercise/going for walks a part of my study plan and often during these times I would reflect on what I had just read or done questions in.

I also realised that reading/doing questions alone was stale. I formed a study group and every fortnight we would do a zoom meeting covering a particular topic and also discussing areas of uncertainty. This helped clarify concepts in a safe forum. In the preceeding month before the exam I did timed mocks to mimic exam pressure and gained insight into how I made ‘silly mistakes’.

The day before the exam I went to the gym, saw my family, did a timed mock and then went to bed early. The day of the exam I was fresh and rested. I found the exam hard but picked up on details in the question I had previously overlooked. I passed comfortably.

I feel I have been able to apply some of these tricks to studying/focus in all aspects of life and it has helped me.

Summary points

  1. Make an achievable plan- one you will stick to, with resilience factored in if you have a ‘bad day’

  2. Never miss twice- If you have a ‘bad day’ of studying. Make sure the next study session is effective

  3. Create a routine- For me opening my laptop on my lounge table meant I wasgoing into study mode

  4. Avoid distraction- put your phone in airoplane mode and put it outside of the room. Facebook/Youtube/whatsapp/Instagram are big distractors

  5. Study in manageable chunks- I would focus for 30-45 mins then take a 5 min break

  6. Self care-exercise/gym, taking to friends/family, children- vitally important. I built this into my study plan

  7. Self belief- be true to yourself, be you and don’t try to overly impress people. I said ‘no’ to opportunities at work so I could go home and do an effective study session.

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