OSCEs are probably the worst exams ever invented. Like a sort of deeply unpleasant form of speed dating, the extreme time pressure (who the hell ever sets up a sterile field and catheterises anyone in 6 minutes in real life?!) on top of whatever you are required to do is absolutely nightmarish. In fact I have repeated OSCE-related stress dreams over exam times!
Oddly, despite the almost incapacitating anxiety they provoke in me, I tend to do quite well in them and I got 81% in my Final OSCE. Here is what I can recommend:
- Set up or find a pre-existing practice group: Once you have a group of relatively reliable, committed medical students, you can do your own mock OSCEs. My group would tend to meet on Saturday mornings in the lead up to exams (foregoing a lie-in was agony I admit, but totally worth it in the end), and about a week before exams we would practice every day. The night before practice, someone split the group in half and allocated stations to half the group to examine (with mark sheets- easily found online) and the other half to be students in. Then the two halves would swap over and do the stations again (so the previous examiners would now be the students). There would be a timer (again, OSCE timers can be easily found on the internet) to make sure that we were replicating the exam situation as closely as possible. This is really good for practicing things like history taking, examinations etc.
- Practice in your medical school’s clinical skills room: Once or twice a week make sure that you spend an hour or two practicing clinical skills. To be effective, you need to have mark sheets and time yourself strictly. The more familiar you get with the equipment (e.g.: cannulas, urine dipsticks etc), the more confidently and efficiently you will use them in the exam. It’s always really obvious when someone hasn’t practiced using a fundoscope or pocket mask or something, and they fumble around trying to pretend they know what they are doing!
- Make OSCE flash cards: I made cards with the name of the station on one side and the key things I had to do/say in it. If I came across something new in OSCE group practice or generally on placements, I would add it to either a pre-existing card, or make a new one. When I get round to it, I will scan all my cards in and upload them here, but in the meantime here is a photo of my three wallets (bought from Ryman’s) of OSCE flash cards I used for Finals.
- Make a paper body to practice on: I know it sounds weird, but I stuck a whole load of paper together and drew a life-size person which I then cut out. I would then use it to practice on when I needed to. One of the key elements of doing well in OSCEs is looking like you do examinations/procedures etc all the time. Therefore you need to develop a smooth ‘show’ for the examiner, and practicing your ‘patter’ for cardiovascular examinations or something again and again on a paper person is really helpful. Here is a picture of my (super creepy) paper person!
- Get hold of a list of past OSCE stations: I guarantee you that someone somewhere will have a list of stations previous years have had in your medical school. Get hold of it and make sure that you add these to your OSCE flash cards; I have found that quite often the same sort of themes are repeated, and the same actor-patients are also re-used year on year.
Remember, passing an OSCE is really more about acting than anything else. I actually went to drama school before I studied medicine so maybe that was also a part of my success? But essentially, practice a smooth ‘patter’ and go through the motions over and over again until you can do a cranial nerve exam/ phlebotomy/ BLS in your sleep. This means that even when the nerves take over and you’re trembling with fear and your voice sounds oddly squeaky, your brain can fall back on that well-rehearsed set of lines and actions and you can get through it.