How to prepare for an OSCE
OSCEs aren't easy exams. It's a high pressured, anxiety inducing couple of hours. I know I tend to get really nervous and I've written about that here.The best way to approach the OSCE is to have prepared for it. My OSCEs are generally made up of 16 stations/scenarios. They're 6 minutes long with 2 minutes for questions. When I practised for my finals, I used this format as well.
I like to work in groups. Group work is more realistic. One person can be the simulated patient, one can be an examiner and another has to be the student. The 'station', which means scenario, is then timed.
By doing this, you give yourself the chance to hear yourself in a safe setting. 6 minutes is a small amount of time and if you're not careful, the pressure of the situation might make you spurt out drivel. You need to get used to being in that mindset. Also, by practising certain words and phrases, you'll have them ready for the day of the exam. You'll also know what words actually don't sound right and you can avoid those. Say you've practised how to explain Crohn's disease. You've practised and you know what phrases sound better and what types of jargon to avoid. On the day, if you're so lucky to have a scenario like that, you'll be able to go into semi-automatic mode and perform as you've practised. You want to get into a rhythm so that it feels natural and easy.
After the 6 minutes is over, the examiner and pretend patient will try to give honest feedback. The feedback needs to be honest or else there is no point. You don't need people to applaud and tell you how great you are. You need the truth. You need to know where you might lose marks and what you can do to gain them. Criticism should be given in a way that is helpful. You don't want to put people down unnecessarily. I adopt my medical school's approach: describe what the person did well and what they could improve on and how. Give them a few options: try say it like this or avoid this word. You don't always have to change everything, take what's been said on board, think over it and decide whether to keep it or not. If you're comfortable with the way you do something then don't change it. At the end of the day, it's someone else's opinion.
Get the basics first and then build on it. I think it's best to know a little about a lot than a lot about a little. If you don't know how to do a certain skill, look it up. Try to find a video that closely resembles your school's method. If this is an examination, try it on a friend then on an actual patient (with consent) and have someone watch you and analyse your method. Having a doctor watch you would be the next step up. This isn't always feasible. However, if you're in a teaching session around the bedside and the consultant asks for someone to step forward and do a respiratory exam. Put yourself forward. I didn't enjoy doing it, but that sweaty and awkward feeling you get when you're being watched by people is basically what it feels like in an exam. This helped me to get used that feeling and have someone superior tell me what I need to change. Again, each consultant has their way of doing things and their way is not necessarily the right way. Just nod and smile.
Practice when you can. Some OSCEs require you to perform skills like taking blood. Try practice these throughout the year and not just in the run up to exams. Like I mentioned before. You want to get into a rhythm of performing the skill so that it becomes automatic and you're not thinking through each step.
Find out what's been tested in the past and make sure you've practised. Also, find out from people in the year above what examiners look for. I know that we automatically lose a mark if we forget to use alcogel on our hands in the beginning of the station. That's useful to know because I don’t want to keep losing marks at every station.
These are some of the things that helped me get through and pass my OSCEs. They're not nice exams but I guess they're a necessary evil.