Preparing for the Primary

“You must read Nunn.” “You must belong to a study group.” “It takes 1000 hours of study.” “You must go to the Brisbane and Christchurch course.” “Just one course is plenty”………..

……… and so on and so on. A trainee preparing for the primary is inundated with advice – usually dogmatic, ranging from the erudite to the nonsensical and always (hopefully) well meaning. In more than twenty years of observing success and otherwise in the primary exam, I have come to realise there are nearly as many valid ways of tackling this exam as there are candidates. My advice below has no more validity than anyone else’s. But I have yet to regret dispensing it. Here goes.

  1. Listen to all the advice. It’s a gift. Listen, but by no means should you take it. Evaluate where every piece of advice fits into your own world view, and decide based on your knowledge and experience of yourself whether you’ll accept it. You know yourself and what works for you better than anyone else on the planet. There are no rules.
  2. Be honest about yourself. Although this is probably the toughest academic hurdle you’ve faced; you won’t change in anticipation of it. The way you’ve always *actually* worked (not how you’d *like* to have worked) all through Medical School will be how you work for this exam. If you’ve always been a relatively distractible, not terribly focused studier; that ain’t going to change. You’re just going to have to put more hours in. And if two hours at a desk was your limit at age 20, it’s likely it will still be. You’re simply going to have to come up with a preparation framework that accommodates this.
  3. Commit to a date and stick to it. Being non-committal about when you’re going to do the exam is a huge negative predictor.
  4. No big blocks of time off. When in official study mode (for most of us about a year) you will still have plenty of nights off and down time. But what you shouldn’t have, in my opinion, is big blocks (more than about a week) of time where the exam is right out of your consciousness – because if you’re not going forwards; you’re going backwards. Try to avoid major life events during prep time (easier said than done, of course).
  5. Some peer contact is essential. It doesn’t have to be a “formal” study group if that isn’t your style; but some kind of collegial relationship with at least one other person who is sitting the exam with you is hugely beneficial. Establishing this isn’t easy for some people; but this is the one area where I would urge you to push past any barriers and get yourself out there.

It’s worth it. It’s a fantastic career.

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