Helen Barratt: Testing times

I’m looking forward to yet another May bank holiday weekend revising for exams. In an idle moment the other day, I realised that I’ve been buried behind a pile of books at this time of year for the last sixteen years (give or take a couple), with school exams, then medical school assessments, and now the first part of my membership exams.

Sitting exams is pretty much a way of life for junior doctors, but many of my non-medical friends can’t understand why we put ourselves through it. I received an email this morning from a school friend who’s currently sitting on a beach in Mexico, having taken a year off her technology job to travel. That’s just a pipe dream for most of us; I’ve barely seen daylight recently, let alone any sunshine.

I have total admiration for friends and colleagues who manage to revise whilst working full-time and juggling on calls. I’m doing an MSc at the moment so have had the luxury of a lot of study time, and most of my lectures this term have been geared towards the exam. Still, there’s no guarantee I’ll pass, of course: a past paper question I did the other day, asking about the role of the fire brigade after a gas explosion, demonstrated the breadth of knowledge I’m expected to have a handle on. And I wake up at night in a panic that I’ll have to write an essay on the epidemiology and control of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. In contrast to the very specific MCQs that made up medical school exams, the skill this time seems to be knowing a little about everything, and being able to scribble both legibly and quickly. I will at least be an asset on quiz teams in future.

Years of experience have made me a consumate procrastinator: each syllabus topic has a different coloured index card, all my notes are neatly ordered, and – yes – my revision timetable’s colour coded too. Our flat has never been as tidy, my husband’s enjoying home baked bread, and I expect quarterly profits of tea bag sales to rocket. However, I think it’s time to limit potential distractions and put the blog on hold. Think of me – and everyone else revising for exams – as you enjoy the sunshine this weekend. I’ll be back online at the end of June, but in the meantime, I think it’s time for another cup of tea.