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oday, we interview Negeen Katirai, PharmD, PharmAchieve’s lead OSCE instructor. Negeen has taught OSCE preparatory courses to more than 3,000 students. In this article we ask her to share some tips on how best to prepare for the OSCE.

What is the most common mistake you see when students prepare for the OSCE?

Many students, try to memorize their way to success. They try to apply the same approaches that worked for them in written exams such as the Evaluating Exam to the OSCE. But this of course doesn’t work.

Why doesn’t this approach work?

The OSCE is an open book exam so the majority of answers can be retrieved from the provided references so it simply isn’t necessary to memorize all the answers. In fact, if you rely on your own clinical knowledge as opposed to the references provided, you may be penalized because the “correct answer” according to the exam is according to the references provided as opposed to what may be found in the latest medical journals, or what you may have read on the internet.

And yet, many students spend months studying texts, trying to memorize their contents. This is a poor approach for two reasons. First, most people are incapable of memorizing so much information. Second, no matter how hard you study, you are likely to encounter a scenario on your exam dealing with subject matter you are not familiar with. So rather than trying to memorize everything, which is an approach that does not work, take advantage of the fact that this is an open book exam by learning how to find the answers in the references provided and quickly.

This will allow you to answer just about ANY clinical question. In fact, in our courses, we deliberately expose our students to some difficult cases and content we are fairly certain the students have never seen. Succeeding in these cases, helps students to realize that they can answer just about any clinical question once they learn to effectively use their references.

What are examples of some types of questions that might benefit from some memorization as opposed to use of references?

Questions related to ethics, the law and some non-interactive stations.

What’s another error students often make?

They do not take into account that the OSCE is primarily a communication exam. A communication exam is not something you prepare for by reading books or attending lectures. Mastering the OSCE is like learning a new sport. If you were trying to prepare for a tennis competition and didn’t know how to play tennis what would you do? Would you spend several months reading books or attending lectures? Or would you be better served by practicing and receiving feedback from a coach? But practicing alone isn’t enough. You could, for example, buy a tennis racket and practice by yourself but this will be unlikely to lead to you being competitive because you won’t even know what you are doing wrong, so your practice, could, in fact, result in developing bad habits.

So then what do you recommend?

I believe the best way to prepare for the clinical scenarios is through supervised practice and feedback and our courses are based on this philosophy. That is, we expose our students to a very large number of cases, and always have a licensed pharmacist watching the student interact with the patient, so we can at the end of each case provided detailed, personalized feedback to each student on what they should do differently next time. This quashes bad habits before they are formed.

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