Exams 101

June 4, 2007

It’s the examination season yet again! All of the sudden, people around me are appearing more quiet, more reserved, more docile, and when you grab them by their shoulders and give them a good shake – out it comes; it’s the coming exams everyone’s been stressing about.

I’ve been a student for the most of my life so far (and still am one) and I can vouch that exams can be a huge mental boulder that we all carry in our minds around everywhere with us; it won’t disappear until we’ve finished that final paper or practical. Then, the boulder diminishes and it is then replaced by the ‘Did I screw up?’ boulder. Heavy stuff.

My exams are essentially divided into 2 parts (excluding the continuous assessment which includes assignments, mini-tests, etc). One is the theory paper which is predominantly a multiple-choice questions (MCQ) paper and no, we don’t get even 20-25% chance of getting it right when we stab in the dark if you consider the standard choices of A-D. The standard number choices in my paper is anything ranging from 10-20 choices. I remember there was one question which had answers from A-Y. By the time I read it down to M or N I must admit, I have then completely forgotten what were the choices before. So what do I do? Read again. And again.

That’s the paper. Now comes the practical which is a clinical examination. The clinical examination is conducted in series of ‘stations’ in which within each would have their own set of tasks. At each station, there’s only you, the patient, and the examiner. It’s averaging roughly about 6-8 minutes per station, and I think we could all agree that blanking out during then is not a very fantastic manner of performing. But then again this is student life we’re talking about and unfortunately, blanking out is not even a choice. It just happens.

The thing about me and the clinical examinations is that it has a huge effect on my digestion system. Every morning of a clinical exam, I would wake up feeling nauseous and would not have any appetite to have any breakfast. For this, I learnt to stuff my pockets with sweets or any portable source of glucose so I could pop them into my mouth in between tasks to keep me going. Not only that, my bowels go into overdrive and I often feel as if I could just crap in my pants.

Sounds funny when I tell you about it, definitely not funny when I felt it. Imagine walking up to your exams where the anxiety and concern over “Will I feel like crapping halfway?” is almost equal to the “Will I pass this?” dilemma. How damn inconvenient.

That is my exams. Now on to the various types of examiners. Since clinical examinations are the nature of my course, I therefore would have relatively more exposure and experience with regards to dealing with examiners on a one-on-one basis. It’s almost like a showdown. As usual, some are nice, some are not so nice, and some are not what they appear to be.

Examiner 1: Mr. Need for Speed

Oh my gawd. I had this guy once when I was a junior medical student and he rushes me through everything. My nerves are already on overdrive, and the last thing I needed was for someone to put me on fast forward. I remembered clearly that we were supposed to do three tasks in succession and this examiner wanted me to do almost all simultaneously at once. That particular station required me to interpret a chest X-ray, perform a urine dipstick test, and to measure a patient’s blood pressure.

The examiner told me to smack on my gloves and do the urine dipstick test while explaining to him the abnormalities of the X-ray. It wasn’t too bad except that the gloves didn’t fit very well and I was pulling at the fingers while my brain was racing through the chest anatomy on the X-ray. I remembered alternatingly bobbing my head up and down most of the time. Down, so that I could dip the test-stick properly into the sample of urine; Up, so I could see the X-ray on the viewer. Once I’ve finished my bit with the X-ray, I was prompted to measure blood pressure while waiting for the dipstick results to appear.

I could see Mr. Need for Speed must be brilliant at his time management skills if he is training us to do so much in so little time. But then again, like what I have mentioned – I just felt like crapping then.

Note: Word got around that one student got so nervous that the entire urine container was spilled. Oops.

Mr. Deathstare

Ever been questioned by an examiner whose eyes wouldn’t leave you, even for one second? I am guessing that this examiner must have been a practising psychiatrist out there or something. You could feel him watching your every move, and it’s almost guaranteed that he could tell when you’re guessing (bull-shitting) your way through. The manner of this examiner speaking to you is very cool and calculated, almost robotic in a sense that each of his words is carefully chosen and passed through to you. If he also had a drawling voice then I would have thought he’s Darth Vader himself.

The thing about this kind of examiners is that no matter what you do, you would feel uncomfortable anyway. From what I have learnt, one of the worst things that you could do when you’re stabbing your way through is to follow it up with a smile.

Mr. Deathstare: So what are the serious implications of disease X?

Candidate: Uh…it’s A…and B…and also C. Yah that’s it.

Mr. Deathstare: *says nothing*

Candidate: Uh..*smiles sheepishly*

Mr. Deathstare: *says nothing*

Candidate: …*s-h-i-t*

Mr. Saviour

Help from above. The kind of examiner who in the beginning appears nonchalant, but takes it upon himself to guide you when he sees you fumbling your way through. Exceptionally talented or gifted in all manner of subtle hinting to the candidate. This includes anything from a “Are you sure it’s the liver?” to clearing his throat to remind the candidate to query the production of phlegm in the patient. The examiner with the auto-saviour mode would often consistently and determinedly hint the candidate until he or she blurts out the correct answer or performs the correct procedure/examination.

Some may call it unfair. We, the saved ones, call it good fortune.

Mr. Say what

The easily distracted examiner. It could work out to your advantage or disadvantage depending on how one looks at it. For some, all good answers and examination techniques go unnoticed. For other some, all bad answers and bad examination techniques go unnoticed too. Each of us had our fair share of the distracted/disinterested examiner. I recall one guy who spent more than half the time gazing out of the window while I was examining the patient. I remembered speaking much louder than I normally would so even if the examiner don’t really see what I’m doing, at least I can be sure that he could hear what I’m supposed to be doing. I hope.

I also had another examiner who was fussing with his checkered socks the entire time. I had no idea why on earth did he chose to check out his socks during such a crucial time (for me!). It’s quite discouraging when the person who’s assessing you is more concerned about his footwear than your answers. Sheesh.

Another friend was telling me that his examiner was intently reading the morning newspaper the entire time when he was presenting his case. Hmm.

Anxiety Bloopers

Ah…apart from getting nature to ring me every few minutes, anxiety also causes mind bombs in most of us. I remember there was a time when I was required to advise a patient who has Irritable Bowel Syndrome. At the end of the simulated consultation, I wanted to finish it up by telling the patient to have a good diet but alas, it came out as “have a good diarrhea” instead. It was a genuine mistake, the patient has been telling me about his diarrhea problems for a good part of the time so there you go. Thankfully, the examiner and the patient both laughed their butts off – they knew it was unintentional. Phew.

Another time I remembered was when we were required to examine the patient’s range of movement with regards to the shoulder joint. The examination is ideally going through the different planes of movement and testing them separately, at the same time briefing the examiner on the kinds of movement that you are testing for (e.g. abduction, adduction, etc). I was doing fine that time but I realised that I missed out a plane of movement. Time was running and I still couldn’t recall what it was, so I told the patient to swing his shoulders in all directions in a bid that somehow somewhere – I would be testing it hence possibly could be marked for it.

It worked to a certain degree. I could see the examiner and even the patient himself was trying not to laugh as I just succeeded in making the patient look like a flapping chicken. Oh well, it turned out fine in the end so yay! That’s all that matters hah! *grins*

Some years back we had this question in our paper that required us to describe the course of a particular main superficial vein in the legs. I had a coursemate who folded up his pants and started tracing for the vein on his leg in the middle of the exam. I thought that was both resourceful and amusing 😀

I’m in the middle of compiling funny exam answers for my next entry. I leave you with one of the many :


More to come next time!


2 Responses to “Exams 101”

  1. Q said

    The person that answered that question draws better than me…by the way the nervous people you mentioned in your first paragraph are your students?

  2. No, I was referring mainly to my circle of friends who are all in the midst of the mid-year exams

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