With the CASC exam costing over £1000 to sit, it’s not something to take lightly. You’ll want to do all you can to ensure you pass the first time.
Today we are going to talk about some of the CASC preparation steps you can take to maximise your chances of passing the exam in a stress free way. Like all things, the CASC can seem incredibly daunting at first, but by breaking it down and having a plan, you can accomplish anything.
To be of most help I will split my advice into a few sections or time frames;
The CASC Preparation Guide
1. Long Range (study)
In the weeks and months leading up to the CASC Exam, you will want to make sure you have your knowledge up to the required level. You’ll have already passed the written paper, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are aware of any knowledge gaps you have, then get reading and fill them in. Look online for information about the kinds of stations the Royal College will likely have in the exam, but don’t take for granted that they will be 100% similar. Even a small change such as the patient’s age can make a vast difference in the scenario. (Such as a 16-year-old or an 18-year-old in a personality disorder station).
You will want to research the format of the exam also. The Royal College has announced that they will be changing the way the exam is structured in the future. While it’s still uncertain what this restructuring will look like, it’s something you will want to be aware of before you walk into the exam hall.
Practice role-playing different exam scenarios. You can do this with your colleagues or with your non-medical friends. This will help you to get used to giving complex information, taking a history and gathering symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis. However, practising with people you know, while helpful, may not always be the best way to go. Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to take things seriously when it’s a friend you’re talking to about a sexual history. It’s also all too easy to say “wait a minute, I can do it better than that” to a co-worker and just start over, where as you wouldn’t have that luxury with a real patient and you won’t have it in the exam.
The number one best way to practice for the exam is with exam actors. You can find private tuition from exam actors with years of tutoring experience, such as myself, online. One to one or group tutorials can be booked to take place in your home, place of work or study or even online via web cam. There are also specialised exam preperation courses such as The Oxford Psych Course you can go on that will cover a wide range of skills and strategies to help you not only pass the exam but become a better clinician.
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2. Short Range (logistics)
Ok, so that the study part covered, but what about the logistics of taking the exam. Well, first things first; how will you be getting there?
Are you going to get the train the day before? Drive to Sheffield in the morning? Are you confident you will be able to find the venue? Make a plan that will be as stress-free as possible, so when you get to the exam, you are relaxed and ready to excel.
I recommend travelling the day before the exam, that way you can make sure you’ve had a good nights sleep and are well rested. This brings up another point though; where are you going to stay? Do you have friends in the area you can stay with? Are they the kind of friends who will actually let you rest, or keep you up all night reminiscing about the good old days? You are more likely to get a better quality sleep in a hotel I dare say, so make sure you book one that not too far from the exam venue. It’s ok to book something nice as well. This is an investment in your future, so staying somewhere nice, where you can wake up refreshed, maybe get a good breakfast and not have to drive through city traffic in rush hour is worth a little extra money.
I also recommend not doing any last minute cramming the night before, if you can. I know, I know, I may be fighting a losing battle on that one, but if you don’t know it by now, trying to stuff that last bit of knowledge into your head at this stage will more than likely do more harm than good. Watch some TV, a film on your iPad or read a book. That way you can wake up on the day relaxed rather than tossing and turning all night worrying that you don;t know something.
3. On the Day (staying focused)
Well, you’ve spent months studying and practising for the exam, you’ve travelled to Sheffield the day before and had a good sleep in a comfy bed – now what?
You’ll likely be a bit nervous but don’t skip breakfast. Your brain is going to be drawing a lot of power today, so feed it. Nothing too heavy, but enough to keep you going.
Most importantly though, arrive on time. Actually arrive early! Personally, I go by the motto, if you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re early, you’re on time. And you definitely do NOT want to be late. Anything could happen, there could be traffic, you could get lost, you could witness an accident and need to wait for help to arrive. Anything could happen that delays you. Don’t let that mean you miss the exam. Give yourself time to be delayed. You will most likely arrive early, but that’s better than the alternative and gives you some calm headspace to get into the “zone” rather than arriving in a panic and not being mentally prepared for an important exam.
Once you have registered as being there and received your candidate number, you’ll be taken to a holding area to await your first exam circuit.
The exam is (currently) split into to two parts. The paired stations and the single stations. I’m not going to go into too much unnecessary detail about the exam itself. I’ve posted previously about my Top 7 Tips for Passing the Exam, so I suggest you read that for more on the subject. I will say though, that you should prepare for each circuit. Try not to let anyone get in the way of your mental preparations. Just focus on yourself and try and think of the exam as nothing but a normal days work. The more you can think of the actors as real patients and the examiner as not being there, the better you will perform.
After the first circuit, you’ll have some free time on your hands. Quite a bit of free time most likely. This is when a lot of candidates start to second guess themselves. They get talking to other people who make them doubt their performance. Don’t let that be you! Just because someone else handled a station differently to you, doesn’t mean they did it better or that you didn’t pass it.
I know of more than one student who, after taking the morning part of the exam, felt they had performed really badly and decided to go home without putting themselves through the afternoon stations. When they got their written results, rather than failing everything, they had passed every single station and only needed to pass a few more in the afternoon to make it through the exam with great marks.
You will also want to eat something between circuits. Food isn’t provided, so make sure you either have something with you or know where you can get some more brain fuel. You don’t want to get half way through the last part of the exam and get distracted by your stomach rumbling for food. A hungry person is an unfocused person so get through the afternoon stations with your brain still in gear.
And that’s you on the other side of the exam. Easy right? Time to celebrate! Tomorrow the really hard work starts, waiting for the results!
Best of luck doctors!
If you want to do the one thing that will give you the best chance at passing your exam,