The aim of this module is to provide you with a range of strategies that should enable you to succeed when taking your professional examinations. It will provide ideas/tips/strategies for good practice to help you improve your performance in examinations. It may even help you enjoy the revision process more. We hope it will be particularly useful for those who have struggled with passing exams so far.

Success in exams usually means hard work and increased pressure: juggling the demands of a very busy job with a personal life, although the latter often goes on hold for a while. It also involves an element of luck as it is close to impossible to learn and revise everything on the curriculum for many specialities

Positive aspects to exams:                                         

  1. Passing an examination means you are on to the next stage of your career
  2. The revision process itself means that you will have learned more or reviewed your medical and dental knowledge and therefore passing or not, you should be more confident in your clinical practice.

Examinations are daunting for many people, and some believe they not a good use of time. Nevertheless, they do provide a way of measuring professional knowledge and competence, thereby providing the public with confidence that doctors and dentists have sufficient knowledge and clinical competence to practise safely.

However, there may be a time in your life when you find you have difficulty passing an examination which understandably, might impact on your self-belief, confidence, and well-being. If you have been achieving a high standard in clinical practice, failing an exam can feel particularly demoralising and may inadvertently effect relationships with peers, supervisors and those close to you in your personal life. The reasons why trainees are not successful after an initial attempt can be complex and may be influenced by:

a) Poor study planning
b) Insufficient revision
c) Learning methods and preferences/modalities
d) Superficial revision techniques
e) Poor developmental conversations
f) Dyslexia
g) Performance anxiety

If you are experiencing difficulty passing an examination, seek feedback, support, and advice.



This module has 4 sections:

Click the following links to be taken to the corresponding section of the module:

  1. Revision - This section covers what is revision - learning, revising and remembering; planning and preparation, what, how and when to revise; effective, interactive revision strategies; using clinical experience
  2. Exploring the different types of exam - This section covers written examinations e.g. MCQ,SBA’s, short answer; making the best use of question banks: and practical examinations such as: the CSA, Vivas
  3. Strategies for the exam - This section covers the run-up to the exam;  planning for the day;  exam strategy
  4. Personal aspects - This section covers the challenges faced by individuals who are struggling to succeed. Those whose self-confidence is dwindling; who struggle with coping with exam anxiety; and how support systems such as family, colleagues and PSU can help.
  5. Additional Resources and References

Each section offers practical activities, mini self-assessments, top tips box, (potentially mini videos).


The following pages are our suggestions, so do not try to do it all. Just try to work out what is best for you. You are the agent of your success.

Decide which section is best for you and go straight there


Authors: Carol Leather & Clare Bentall

Date published: February 2021