The importance of AKT/MCQ and KFP practice exams with feedback for effective exam preparation
Exams can be stressful at the best of times, the RACGP written exams are no different. You may know people that have failed, you will be aware of the published pass rates, you may have heard from colleagues about their own challenges, you may have already attempted them once or twice yourself. So the thought of sitting a practice exam may be leaving you wondering ‘Why? Why put yourself through that added pressure and potential stress?’
Well, there are some VERY good reasons why.
The keyword is ‘preparation’.
Being prepared is crucial in passing the AKT/MCQ and KFP exams as well as managing any exam day stress so you can perform at your best.
Fellowship exam preparation is not only about building your knowledge and clinical reasoning skills, though these are very important. Truly effective exam preparation encompasses the whole exam experience, from being familiar with how the exam will be conducted (e.g. online or paper/pen based) to understanding how the exam questions will be framed. AKT/MCQ and KFP mock exams have been shown to be incredibly valuable preparatory tools for the candidates who sit them, particularly when they receive feedback about their efforts. Mock exams motivate candidates to practice effective revision strategies early and improve their knowledge base with the identification of knowledge gaps. They also enhance memory and familiarisation with exam pressure.
For example, if you study something because you know you’re going to be tested on it, you are aiming to achieve ‘active recall’. Learning in this manner, by encoding, consolidating, and then recalling information, lays valuable groundwork for the actual exams.
Mock exams allow candidates to gauge their progress and identify where improvements need to be made. They enable candidates to experience the exam situation and serve as a reminder that exams are on the horizon, boosting motivation, and focus on organisation and preparation. Fellowship exam practice is invaluable for all candidates, whether you’re confident about the exam or you’re uncertain about the whole process.
Why is feedback in mock exams important?
It’s important because it identifies for you where improvements or adjustments need to be made. A mock exam without feedback only enables you to experience the exam situation. Good but not quite good enough. However, a mock exam with feedback enables you to experience the exam situation AND identify where your knowledge gaps are and/or if there are other potential changes needed. For example, with the KFP exam, it can identify if you fully understand the answering requirements; or with the AKT or MCQ exams, if you are using unhelpful heuristics to select answer options.
What does the Research say
Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, et al. (2013) in their literature review of effective learning techniques found that practice testing was the most effective learning technique of the ten they reviewed, especially when feedback (in the form of correct or incorrect answers) was given. They found positive testing and high utility effects for practice tests, including short-answer application (like KFP exam) and multiple-choice inference-based questions (like AKT or MCQ exams), with dosage effects found. Generally, more is better (when spaced). Further, there were direct effects: changes in learning that arose from the act of taking a test itself (due to enhanced retention triggered by memory retrieval processes); and mediated effects: changes in learning that arose from an influence of testing on the amount or kind of memory encoding that takes place after the test (e.g., during a subsequent restudy opportunity). Importantly they found that practice testing with feedback consistently outperformed practice testing alone. Hence robust research showed that practice testing improves learning and retention.
Three Tips for exam success
1. Be prepared and start early
Take the time to understand the exam structure, its conditions and what topics will be covered. Important details include the duration of the exam, the type of questions, the topics covered (e.g., the BEACH data), common candidates mistakes and assumptions etc. For example, look at the RACGP public exam reports from previous years, get all the resources mapped out very early on your journey. This will allow you to plan ahead and create a winning study strategy that will help you stay focused and identify gaps early in the game.
2. Get feedback at the right time
How meaningful feedback is depends on what stage of your exam preparation process you are at. If you seek feedback in the early stages of your exam prep, this can guide you to set strong foundations for effective exam preparation. If too late in your exam preparation process, it could be that the feedback you receive may lack meaningful insights due to the limited time you have left to make significant changes in the way you are studying. This basic or generic feedback will tend to be less valuable and could take a toll on your exam confidence.
The feedback is most valuable once you have spent some time practicing and understanding your skill or knowledge gaps, having had time to identify your strengths and study patterns. So, if something specific caused you to fail or do poorly in an early mock exam, changes can easily be made with a new perspective. It’s important to receive this feedback to enable you to change or work on the identified area.
3. Get Actionable feedback to set goals
It is important that the feedback you receive is clear and actionable; that you are able to set goals based on this feedback. For example, goals ideally SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Feedback from experienced colleagues, Supervisors, Medical Educators or Performance coaches can assist us to identify behaviours or strategies that we may not have been able to perceive on our own.
This can include coaching to assist you implement evidence-based strategies for optimising study effectiveness and improve exam preparation. For example, a performance coach can assist you to:
- Get a better understanding of study techniques; which ones increase memory retention and recall and which ones don’t
- Explore past exam experiences and how they may be holding you back
- Discuss motivation and how to deal with procrastination
- Provide strategies and support to deal with exam anxiety
- Discuss exam and time-management strategies to assist you to improve skills needed for exam success
Taking a problem-solving and solution-based approach, a coaching session is a conversation between the coach and you, the coachee. Together, it focuses on exploring your skills and experiences of exams so far in the context of your work and family/life responsibilities, and how these may be impacting your ability to prepare effectively for the exams. After all, you know yourself best. The Performance Coach is an expert in the field. Together, you can develop a custom, bespoke plan of attack for exam success.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.