Study Tip: Answering an SAQ

As you know, the marks from the SAQs are now more highly weighted. Historically, people have focused a lot on polishing their vivas, and paid comparatively little attention to the SAQs.

The good news is therefore: You may find it relatively easy to pick up a few more marks in the SAQs if you spend some time preparing for them specifically.

Some tips

The SAQ is marked using a marking scheme. Once you make a point, you will get the mark. Don’t repeat yourself. No matter how many times you say the same thing, you still only get that mark.

Answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question. If in doubt, however, err on the side of answering a bit more broadly.

The questions often address complex issues. Don’t be tempted to give a medical student answer. DO NOT try to guess the examiner’s personal preference. Explain what the issues are, and if appropriate, the benefits and drawbacks of a technique.

Don’t ignore obvious answers. There is probably a mark for stating them.

Don’t be vague. Almost every drug is metabolised in the liver. If there is something important about its liver metabolism, then say so: Is the enzyme inducible, does it show genetic variability, are the metabolites active?

Don’t define standard abbreviations. Do define non standard ones.

Useenoughwhitespacethattheexaminercanfindyouranswer. Remember that the examiner is looking for the points in the marking scheme. Don’t camouflage them.

These are not essay questions. Write enough that it is obvious that you have made the point, and try to set the points out in such a fashion that the points are easy to find. Don’t waste too much time on formatting though.

You often find people writing bizarre sweeping statements such as, “Sevoflurane is too dangerous to use, better to use propofol”. Be guided by what you see in clinical practice. If a drug is in use, there is obviously a reason for it. If it is no longer used, again there will also be a reason.

What to do if you are really stuck

If a question has caught you out, try this approach.

  1. Write down a fact that relates to the question.
  2. Look at the question, and check that the fact is actually relevant.
  3. Repeat
  4. When you get to 15 facts, move onto the next question.


Tips for practising

Realising that the questions are marked using a marking scheme:

  1. Go through the past questions, and make up a marking scheme for each question.
  2. Write this scheme down on a card, so you can easily revise it.
  3. You should have at least 15 points in your scheme. Most marking schemes will have several times this. If the topic is in the detailed knowledge group, look for at least 30-40 points.
  4. Not all points will be equally important, and probably won’t have time to write all the points in 10 minutes. Make sure you know which are the vital ones that you must include. You can always leave space to fill in the minutiae if you have time at the end.
  5. The question you get in the exam may be slightly different to the one you have practised. In this case, make sure you get down the points most relevant to answering the question.
  6. Once you have finished this process, look for variations on past questions. If you have seen a question on functions of the liver, consider related ones, such as functions of the lung or the kidney.
  7. Look through all the past viva opening questions, think about how they could be made into an SAQ, and write a relevant marking scheme.

Make sure you also practise answering the questions under exam conditions!

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