Feeling worried about the exams you’ll face at Medical School? This is your guide to getting through your first OCSEs.

Joely is a GEM student at King’s, who first took OSCEs at the end of her second year. She explains what you can expect from these Med School exams, and her top tips for preparing for them.

What Are OSCEs?

Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) are a form of assessment used across all Medical Schools to accurately assess clinical competence, communication and practical skills.

They typically comprise a circuit of stations (similar to an MMI format) which assess a range of skills including; practical skills, history taking, clinical communication, examinations and procedures.

How Are They Different?

OSCEs are very different from classical exams sat during GCSEs and A Levels, as they are very practical and involve interacting with simulated and real-life patients to show your suitability for the career.

The type of stations and content they involve will vary from school to school, however, they all aim to assess in an objective manner. And over the course of your degree, you’ll be assessed on the same competencies as students at other Medical Schools.

There can typically be two types of OSCEs that you will sit at Medical School:

  • Formative. These are essentially mock exams, which you must sit however are used for you to practice and gain feedback for your summative exams which are formally assessed and contribute to your final degree.
  • Summative. These are formally assessed and carry weighting towards your final degree.

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My First OSCEs

I had my first OSCEs at the end of my second year. The main focus for these was to demonstrate our communication skills and effective history-taking.

I was nervous going into these as I had never been assessed in that way before, however, my main focus was ensuring that I built a good rapport with the patients and communicate well.

At Kings, we were assessed using OSCEs each year with the aim to build and progress throughout the degree. The focus shifted from just showing effective communication to being able to effectively diagnose and show clinical reasoning when we get to the final year.

I have just finished my fourth-year OSCEs, where the focus was clinical reasoning and formulating an effective management plan following making a diagnosis. This was daunting at first, but I found they were a great experience to show your knowledge and to also highlight your own strengths and weaknesses!

Example OSCEs Station

Sometimes the best way to build your confidence is by knowing what to expect. This example OSCEs station should illustrate what you’re likely to face in your first set of exams:

You are a Year 2 Medical Student on placement at a GP Surgery. 49-year-old Gareth James presents with a headache, you have six minutes to take a focussed history from him and after this, the examiner will ask you questions.

You are likely to be asked:

  • What diagnosis are you considering?
  • What investigations would you like to do to confirm your diagnosis?
  • What management plan would you recommend?

Don’t worry that you can’t answer this right now – this is expected of a year two Medic, not anyone who’s just about to start their Medicine course.


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Tips For Your First OSCEs

My tips for preparing for your first OSCEs are:

  • Make sure you prepare effectively. Get a group of friends together and practice running through patient histories and clinical skills to boost your confidence.
  • Engage in clinical skills activities throughout the academic year so you are consolidating your knowledge and won’t need to cram before the exam.
  • Make sure you don’t miss easy marks, like introducing yourself, gaining consent and washing your hands.
  • Always act in a safe and honest manner.
  • Be systematic in your approach to the stations, regardless of whether it is an examination, history taking or clinical communication station.
  • Don’t panic! You can get a long way by just building a good rapport with the patients and showing a logical thought process.

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