- 30 Jan 2024
This blog is authored by Professor Philip Kalra, MA MB BChir MD FRCP, editor of Essential Revision Notes for MRCP, Medical Advisor for Pastest and Professor of Nephrology at Salford Royal Hospital and the University of Manchester.
The MRCP Part 1 exam is tough. Preparation methods are constantly evolving, as is the exam. I am going to share some best practice: from my own experience of teaching countless exam candidates over the years, from recent candidate experiences, and that obtained through analysis of Pastest utilisation data.
1. Study Plan
Make a plan for how you’re going to tackle your MRCP Part 1 preparation. For an easy-to-understand guide on what to expect in MRCP Part 1, Check out our video detailing the purpose of the exam, when you can take the exam, the aim of the exam and vital information for exam preparation such as the weighting of each topic within the exam, allowing you to make your revision as efficient as possible.
There are a variety of methods that candidates employ to prepare for this exam. Having spoken to many exam candidates, and from my own experiences, the three most common strategies are:
Answering Practice Questions at Random
Candidates answer a large volume of MRCP Part 1 practice questions completely at random. This is how questions will be presented in the exam, so it helps you to get into the mindset of quickly switching from one specialty to the next.
Taking a Specialty-Based Approach
Another, more methodical approach is to plan a study schedule, and to answer questions on each specialty in bespoke sessions, before reviewing all of them a few weeks out from the exam date.
Taking a Comprehensive, Syllabus-Based Approach
If time and inclination allows, some candidates prefer to study the medical syllabus more comprehensively, providing a thorough knowledge base for a future career in Medicine. This entails methodical study of individual specialties using reputable textbook chapters and accompanied by answering many relevant questions as in (2) above.
2. Practice Questions
There’s no magic number of practice questions that will guarantee you a pass in the exam, but Pastest utilisation data suggests that successful candidates answer well over 4,000 questions before sitting the exam. Of course, plenty of Pastest users were also successful having answered fewer questions - perhaps having revised in a more targeted way - and plenty also answered many more!
It’s not as easy as A, B or C…
Answering questions is a great way to ensure that you’re learning to recognise patterns. It’s a key skill that you’ll need in order to pass the exam. However, pattern recognition alone will only get you so far. If you know WHAT the answer is, but don’t fully understand WHY, then you may not be in a position to work out a similar, but differently worded question.
While answering questions, make sure that you’re engaging in active learning; that is to say, make sure you take the time to understand WHY a question is right or wrong. Pastest’s detailed explanation, which re-order based on your response, are a great tool to achieve this, as each possible answer has its own explanation, unique to the context of the vignette.
Supplement your learning by doing further reading. Pastest offer an exciting feature called “Expanded Explanations” which offers a topic overview, as well as information on Clinical Presentation, Differential Diagnosis, Diagnosis/Intervention, Management and Prognosis, and links out to external resources, all available as further reading after each question.
These topic summaries are found in the Microlearning section of the Pastest resource, alongside bite-sized media and quickfire flashcards.
3. Exam Content
Whether you’re answering questions at random, following a study plan, or undertaking comprehensive study tied to answering questions in each sub-specialty of medicine, make sure that you’re studying smart, and spending the right amount of time on each topic.
Common MRCP Part 1 Topics
There are several reoccurring themes in the MRCP Part 1 exam. Pastest have analysed recent exam themes reported by candidates, and have listed topics that have been present in the last three consecutive exam sittings. These topics are highly likely to appear again in future sittings, so ensure that you cover these well in your revision.
Past Papers are Perfect Practice!
Here’s another great way to make sure that you’re preparing with relevant exam material. After each exam sitting, Pastest produces an MRCP Part 1 Past Paper, which includes similar proportions of specialty questions and similar themes to those tested in the exam. Analysis of Pastest users clearly shows an advantage to the candidates who use these papers.
Pastest users who answered none of the Past Papers had a pass rate of 22% less than the average. Users who answered 10+ Past Papers had a whopping 67% pass rate! It’s important to note though, that these users also answered many questions from the main question bank. Users who ONLY used Past Papers tended not to perform so well in the exam.
Seek out a Professional!
Pastest has launched an online course featuring recorded lessons and Q&A sessions with Dr Chirag Madaan. He has been teaching for the past 8 years and has been uploading medical videos on YouTube for the past 5 years, which have gained much love, appreciation, and popularity among doctors around the world (currently 430k subscribers on YouTube). In addition to being an outstanding clinician, he is an excellent mentor, teacher, and motivator. He has a passion for teaching and is known for his exceptional teaching style.
4. Exam Technique
Know your Trigger words
Many MRCP Part 1 questions will contain trigger words or phrases. Understanding how each one of these is employed in a question can help you identify some of the nuances behind each question, and ultimately select the correct answer.
Watch this useful video on MRCP Part 1 Exam Trigger Words for an explanation:
ALWAYS attempt the question
Remember, there’s no negative marking in the MRCP Part 1 exam, so you should answer every question, even if it’s a guess.
Read the question upside-down
Yes, that’s right. Several MRCP Part 1 questions in recent exams have had long, complex vignettes which lead the candidate in one direction, before asking something unrelated. For this reason, it can be helpful to read the last line of the question first to contextualise the vignette, especially if it’s a long one.
Prepare for a Marathon Effort
Candidates reflecting on the exam were universal in their view that mental fatigue affected performance in the afternoon paper, due to the overall length of the exam (two x three-hour papers of 100 questions over the course of the day). Do everything that you can to ensure that you’ve still got plenty left in the tank to tackle Paper two. One really important thing to note is that lunch is not provided! Make sure to bring your own food, and adequate fluids, to keep you going through the afternoon.
5. Tips and Tricks
The MRCP Part 1 exam is arguably one of the most important exams that you’ll take in your medical career.
Here are a few tips that may help you before your exam and on the day include:
Before the Exam
- Ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep in the lead-up to your exam, for more information read our blog, How Sleep Can Impact Your Academic Performance!
- Start your preparation early!
- Practice consistently.
On Exam Day
- Take a bottle of water into the exam with you, it can help you to rehydrate and remain focused!
- Stay calm.
Stay up to date with the latest exam changes by reading our Instant Insights blog, which provides detailed information on recent MRCP 1 sittings.
Subscribe to Pastest now to start studying today! Check out our MRCP Part 1 online subscriptions.
About the Author
Professor Philip Kalra graduated from Cambridge University and is Professor of Nephrology in Salford and the University of Manchester, Consultant Nephrologist since 1995. He has been the Academic Vice President of the UK Renal Association 2016-19, Chair of the UK Kidney Research Consortium and Chair of the NIHR CRN Renal Disorders group from 2010 until 2018. He has published extensively and has co-organised several large UK clinical trials in nephrology and cardiology.
Professor Kalra has been passionate about postgraduate medical education since his early registrar days and has been Medical Advisor to Pastest for over a decade. He has been the editor of Essential Revision Notes for MRCP, (now in its fourth edition) since the initial release in 1999.
Professor Philip Kalra
- 30 Jan 2024