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This is the place that you’ll find online resources created and curated by the Academic Skills Centre. Whether you’re an undergraduate or postgraduate student, or a member of staff, you’ll find loads of useful information and links to assist you with all your academic skills and development needs.

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The Academic Skills Centre Team

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Single Best Answer Exams

If you’re in a clinical subject, such as Medicine or Dentistry, you’ve probably heard of Single Best Answer exams. These exams tend to count for quite a high percentage of your grade, and they can seem trickier than typical Multiple Choice questions.

Before we start, what exactly are Single Best Answer questions? Simply put, they’re a type of Multiple Choice question where all the answers are technically correct, but only one of the answers is “best.” These questions typically test your clinical reasoning, and they ask questions such as “What is the best investigation?” or “What is the best treatment?”

These types of questions can be challenging at first, but in this resource we’ll highlight seven strategies to help you prepare for Single Best Answer exams.

1: Read the Question

It might sound obvious, but it’s worth a reminder: read the question! Often, SBA questions hinge on a single detail, such as the patient’s demographic or medical history. Make sure to read the question at least twice and watch out for details that could be important.

That said, sometimes the question will include information that’s not relevant, so don’t feel like you need to account for every single detail when deciding on an answer.

2: Use the ILOs

Every course will have Intended Learning Outcomes that list what you should know by the end of each year. All your assessments will match up to these ILOs, so they’re an excellent way to know what to revise.

When using the ILOs, pay special attention to any that won’t be assessed anywhere else. Practical ILOs will often be covered by things like OSCEs, but many areas of knowledge can only be assessed through an exam, so focus your revision on those.

3: Focus on the General

By nature, SBA questions tend to focus on the general, rather than the specific. After all, if you’re asked about the best treatment, and all the answers are potentially correct, what you’re looking for is the solution that is most likely to work in the majority of cases.

In your revision, then, focus on patterns, not outliers. You’re looking for the answer that is most likely, not any that could be possible.

4: Focus on Understanding

With SBA questions, it’s important to focus on understanding rather than memorisation. The questions will often involve multiple stages, such as combining a patient’s symptoms and medical history to work out a diagnosis, then suggesting the best possible treatment. In these cases, it’s essential you fully understand the condition, rather than just memorising a few facts.

This type of understanding is called “Clinical Reasoning,” and it’s an essential part of being a good clinician. Basically, these exam questions aren’t asking, “Do you know the answer?” they’re asking, “Can you work out the answer?”

5: Make Connections

Clinical reasoning is all about putting information together to identify the best way to proceed. This means your revision needs to focus on combining ideas, rather than just memorising facts.  A good clinician will understand how different information fits together.

One way to do this is to combine different ILOs, or different sections of your course. You might choose two ILOs and ask yourself how they intersect, or pick two lectures and explore how what you learned one week impacts what you learned the next. Revising this way should unearth some interesting connections, and it will also train your brain to bring different aspects together.

6: Use Scenarios

SBA questions often rely on scenarios, so it’s a good idea to use them in your revision. Try writing a scenario for yourself, such as, “A 5-year-old female presents with pain in her jaw…” This strategy can work particularly well in groups, as everyone can take turns presenting scenarios and you can discuss them together.

To make this strategy even more effective, try modifying your scenarios. Add or change details and see how that might change the answer. You can also try writing your own answers; see if you can come up with some good options that are correct but not “best”!

7: Understand Effective Revision

While SBA exams might sound quite different from other kinds, the reality is that most effective revision strategies are fairly universal. To do your best on exams, it’s important to understand principles like active revision, recall vs. recognition, and the importance of continuous revision.

If any of those terms are unfamiliar to you, we recommend you check out our Revision Bites resource. This resource contains many of the most effective learning strategies that will help you on any type of exam.

Conclusion

In this resource, we’ve covered seven different strategies for revision for SBA exams. This format is new to many students, but its focus on understanding rather than memorising will help you develop the skills you need to be a good clinician. If you use these strategies and focus on developing your clinical reasoning, you’ll soon become much more adept at picking out the “best” response.

Recovering After Exams

After weeks of revision, spending countless hours packing a whole semester’s worth of material into our brains, exams are finally over. Instead of spending our days in the library, we can finally relax and do whatever we want. Instead of staring at our screens, we might finally get the chance for a little “me time.”

Except, recovering after a stressful exam season is harder than it sounds. It can be hard to relax properly and stop feeling stressed all the time. It might be difficult to know what to do with our time now that we’ve lost the structure of uni. And, on top of all this, it’s quite likely we’ll come down with a cold or other post-stress illness.

So, how do we recover well after exams? Read on for our three top tips!

Recognise the Let-Down Effect

We’ve all heard that stress can make us ill, but the reality is that stress can actually boost our immune system— for a little while. Moderate amounts of stress make us less likely to get sick during stressful times, but when the stress is removed (e.g., after exams are done) our immunity drops. It’s so common to get a cold after exams that this even has a name: the Let-Down Effect.

All the strategies in this blog post will help combat the Let-Down Effect to some extent, but the best thing you can do is to keep up some level of activity. Instead of staying in bed all day binging Netflix, make sure to get up and go for a walk/run. Alternatively, give your brain something to keep it busy, like a good book or a puzzle game. Short bursts of moderate physical and mental activity can soften the Let-Down Effect and prevent us from getting ill.

Reconnect with Your Subject

Chances are, you probably didn’t find exam time much fun. One of the sad parts of being a student is that sometimes all the hard work can crowd out our love for our subject. Once exams are done, however, you have time to explore things you’re genuinely interested in without any pressure.

Over the holidays, take time to enjoy your subject. If you study English, read a book just for fun. If you’re into languages, watch a foreign film. A geographer could go walking in the hills, or a chemist might follow the news to learn about recent breakthroughs in the field. Whatever it was that got you into the subject in the first place, try doing that thing again. Don’t worry about any of this being useful or related to your modules; the only criteria is it should be interesting to you.

Rebalance Your Life

We talk a lot about the importance of Work-Life Balance during busy times of year, but what about during quiet times? It can be hard to know what to do with ourselves once the busyness of semester is over. In this case, it’s important to remember two things. Firstly: it’s okay to rest sometimes! You don’t always have to be doing things, because our value as human beings is not defined by our productivity. And secondly: good rest often looks like intentionally doing something restful. Instead of scrolling social media, try taking a walk or having tea with a friend or watching a favourite TV show. You’ll feel much better rested if you intentionally do something you enjoy, rather than sitting around doing nothing.

Of course, for many of us, the uni holidays may not be quiet at all. We may have caring responsibilities, or a job, or other obligations at home. If the holidays are a stressful time for you, it’s important to incorporate small elements of rest and celebration after exams. Have a special dinner one night to recognise your achievement, or plan a quick get-together with your peers. You can also try micro-breaks, like a five-minute meditation while you make tea or a short walk just before bed. It doesn’t have to take long, but even small pieces of rest and celebration can signal to your body that the stressful exam season is at an end.

Conclusion

Although settling into life post-exams has its challenges, it can also be a wonderful time to rest and recharge. It’s important to recognise some potential difficulties, such as the Let-Down Effect, and to plan to use our time well. If we’re intentional about staying healthy, rekindling our love for our subject, and celebrating out wins, then the weeks after exams can be a really enjoyable time to relax and reset our work-life balance.

Managing Exam Stress

During exam time, it’s natural to feel stressed. The pressure to perform well, the overwhelming amount of information to absorb, and the fear of failure can all contribute to increased stress levels. However, managing stress during this crucial period is essential for maintaining a healthy state of mind and optimizing academic performance. In this blog post, we’ll explore four strategies that can help you navigate exam-related stress and cultivate a more balanced approach to your studies.

Make a Plan

Creating a study plan is an excellent way to regain a sense of control over your workload. Break down your study materials into manageable chunks and be realistic about how much you can accomplish. A well-structured plan will not only help you stay organized but also provide a clear roadmap, reducing anxiety and increasing productivity.

Make Space for Rest

Incorporating restful activities into your daily routine can have a profound impact on stress reduction. Take short breaks to practice deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Getting outdoors can also reduce stress by lowing your cortisol levels. All these activities help calm the mind, increase focus, and restore a sense of balance amidst the busyness of exams.

Stay Healthy

During exam time, it’s crucial to prioritize self-care. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced meals, and staying hydrated. Adequate rest and nourishment provide the foundation for improved cognitive function, memory retention, and overall well-being. Regular physical exercise, even in the form of a brisk walk, can also boost your energy levels and reduce stress.

Connect with Others

Remember that you don’t have to face exam stress alone. While it’s usually good to revise by yourself, it can also be helpful to occasionally study in groups. Similarly, save time to spend with family and friends, even when you’re busy. Spending time with others gives you a place to share worries and receive support. You can also get help from teachers, tutors, or academic advisors who can offer valuable insights and resources to aid your studies.

Conclusion

Managing stress during exam time is essential for maintaining both mental and physical well-being. By implementing these strategies you can navigate the exam period with greater ease and achieve optimal results. Remember, it’s not just about acing the exams; it’s about fostering a balanced approach to studying that promotes long-term success and personal growth.

Staying Focussed During Exams

Whether you’re writing a 2-hour exam in a hall on-campus or a 23-hour exam at home, staying focussed can be challenging. We’re so used to being distracted by phones, TV, or other people, that getting our brains “in the zone” takes a bit of work.

In this blog we’ll discuss four strategies to improve your focus in your next exam.

Have an Exam Plan

Before your exam, make a plan for managing your time. Figure out how many questions there are in the exam and how much time you’ll have for each of them. Make sure to factor in time for reading all the questions at the beginning, choosing which questions you’ll answer (if you get a choice), and checking everything over at the end. For example, if you have a 2-hour exam with two questions of your choice, you might allocate 10 minutes at the start to choose your questions, 50 minutes per question, and 10 minutes at the end to check everything over.

If your exam is essay-style, it’s also helpful to spend time planning each answer. Out of those 50 minutes, maybe take 10 minutes to brainstorm your main points, then the remaining 40 minutes to write your answer. Taking a few minutes to create an outline will give you a structure to follow for the rest of the exam, which will help your mind stay focussed.

Prepare Your Environment

If you’re writing your exam at home, prep your environment beforehand. Find a quiet place, if you can, and clear it of all distractions. Gather any materials you’ll need, like books, notes, paper, or pens, and arrange them  so you’ll be able to find everything when you need it.

It’s also good to have a plan for your phone. It may be enough to put it on silent, but if you know you’ll keep pulling it out for a quick check, it’s probably best to remove the temptation. Try leaving it in another room, or uninstall your favourite apps during exam season. If you think an important call might come through, give your phone to a friend or family member so they can keep an eye on it for you.

Stay Healthy

If you want your brain to do its best work, you need to keep your body healthy. Before an exam, it’s important to get good sleep and eat healthy food. Taking poor care of your body, like cramming all night or relying on caffeine to keep you going, will make you lose focus and crash during the exam.

It’s also helpful to get healthy food and drink to enjoy during the exam itself. If you’re writing in an exam hall, you’ll be restricted in what you can bring, but a bottle of water is always a good idea. If you’re writing at home, make sure to have some of your favourite healthy snacks on hand, like fruit or nuts.

Practice Focus

Finally, if we want to improve our ability to focus, it’s a good idea to practice. The best thing is to consistently work on building up your focus, little by little. At first, just try short bursts, perhaps as little as five or ten minutes of focussed work, uninterrupted by distractions. As time goes on, try building up the time to 30 or 45 minutes, or maybe over an hour.

If you don’t have time to work properly on your focus, you can still try a practice run before the exam. Set a timer for the length of your exam and find a concrete task to work on for that time. This is especially effective if you have a past paper to try, but you can also use the time for other revision strategies, such as writing summaries of your notes or doing a “brain dump” on several topics. Whatever task you choose, it will help get your brain used to focussing for the length of time you need for the exam.

Conclusion

Focus can be challenging, but just because we live in the age of the smartphone doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We do have to be intentional in our preparation and how we fuel our mind and bodies, but a little effort will go a long way to making your exam experience as seamless as possible.