SAQ Exam Tip #3

SAQ chart

You are aiming for a 3.

I am not trying to be obtuse. I am referring to scoring 3 out of 5 for each SAQ. As you know we are marking SAQs out of 5 using a ‘holistic’ grid. A mark of 2 equates to 40% and 3 equates to 60%. The grids are non-linear; i.e. get 0 if you write nothing, get 1 if write a little that is mostly nonsense, get 2 if you write a few relevant points and no major errors or write lots of points including several with errors. A ‘3’ is a pass and contains most (not all) of the relevant (main) points for a SAQ without major errors. A ‘4’ represents a very good answer incorporating significant detail and we can all dream about getting 5s.

The diagram above (histogram) comes from the most recent exam report and makes a very important point. I suspect you would get a very similar diagram if you used data from previous exams. Although the majority of candidates achieve the invitation mark for the vivas (40% or average of 2/5 for each question), the majority of candidates don’t actually pass (>50%) this component of the paper. To pass the exam overall you need more than 50%, so if you go into the vivas with just over 40% you need to score almost 60% to pass. Of course the candidate who achieved a just adequate SAQ result is unlikely to over achieve in the vivas.  Consequently, most of those who failed the exam are in the 40-45% band above. If you go into the viva with 60% then you have an impressive buffer and I suspect none of those candidates failed the exam (I don’t know for sure but you get the gist).

You should get a 3 if you do all of the following:

  • Answer the question that was asked (see Tip #4 tomorrow)
  • Address the main points of the answer
  • Don’t commit major errors
  • Attempt every question on the paper- a blank paper is a crime
  • Have attempted the question before– practiced it as per Tip #1.

You should be able to fit all the pertinent points on one page of paper, micrographia notwithstanding. It can be helpful to ask yourself- what is the clinical relevance of this question? Why is the examiner asking this question of anaesthetic trainees?

2 thoughts on “SAQ Exam Tip #3

  1. Hi clinicalanaesthetist – In past discussions with examiners/consultant I had got impression that there was not negative marking, and that an educated guess could be better than a blank, but in this post you seem to hint that this may be the case with the new “holistic approach” to marking with an increased observation of “errors”. Is it only applied to a clinically dangerous mistake or will we be punished to than a miss quoted detail 2 hrs into a 2.5hr marathon? Could you please clarify this?


    1. Apologies Cynicalanaesthetist for misspelling your name and thank-you for the tips – feel free to keep them coming


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