The exam was unpleasantly like being kicked in the head for six hours by the entire All-Blacks team.

“It’s beginning to have an endurance race type feel about it,” said Beanie (friend, fellow SHO, provider of caffeinated goodness, giver of hugs, partner in exam related despair, etcetera) over our lunch break. A little bit because of the grim get-through-it-ness with which everyone’s sights had become set on 5.30pm. A little bit because it is actually six hours long (and I felt every last one of those hours). A little bit because we seemed to be carb loading for the second round. But, honestly, mostly because the lack of climate control in the exam hall in January in Scotland had made it not unlike sitting an exam in the North Pole. I have never been so cold, and I’ve slept in the Serengeti.

But even leaving aside the stupidity of sitting half an exam in a coat and of taking an escorted loo break just so that I could run my hands under the hot tap for a couple of minutes, I think it’s fair to say that it did not go well.

I’m told that everybody says that and that nobody ever thinks they passed and that everyone feels like they were kicked in the head for six hours, too, but no, really, it did not go well. I work with a GP trainee who asked on Monday evening if I had any of what I felt were particular weak spots; yes, I said, neurology. Surely the only people whose weak spot is not neurology are neurologists? The neurology questions were on neurology, which was predictable. Except, and I feel that this was less predictable, the ophthalmology questions were on neurology patients who had eye signs and the anatomy questions were on neuroanatomy. I was very proud of myself at one point for reading a vignette and being quite sure that the patient had had a brainstem stroke, which they had, and I know that they had because the options I had to choose from were five different parts of the brainstem.

And then there were the questions that were admittedly not neurology but that had two or three options that I could have made a decent stab at arguing in favour of if I’d had anywhere to argue other than a ticky box. Which of these investigations would I do first in this young man who clearly has endocarditis? Well, that depends. Am I working in my actual hospital or am I working in a magical hospital where they have 24/7 hot and cold running echocardiograms? Which of these IV substances would I give first in this woman who has as yet no diagnosis? Er, not the one that doesn’t come in an IV form, but, as for the rest, I’d quite like to check a BM before I dismiss the dextrose infusion entirely out of hand… I know. I know. It’s the point of this exam. And then there was the question that I’m pretty sure got lost on its way to the OT exam and wandered, dazed and confused, into ours.

In short, I cannot tell you for sure that I failed because I cannot tell you for sure that I didn’t accidentally close my eyes and point at some correct answers. I also cannot possibly tell you how much I don’t want to do that again, but I suspect I’m going to have to.

However, I have three weeks of blissful ignorance in front of me and I intend to make the most of them.



  1. Well done, it’s over! So glad you are going to move on & make the best of these weeks of ‘ignorance’. If that ‘wild hawk of the mind’ sets you thinking about parts of the exam try using the ‘practice of being present’. Jackie

  2. Well look – maybe you WILL have to do it again. BUT if that terrible eventuality comes to pass – next time it may be less bad. They cannot ask ALL the same questions again, and if they do, at least you have had a dummy run.

  3. Oh, love. I remember taking a teacher’s exam about, oh, four times… At least even if it’s not this time, you WILL pass. Do enjoy the interim of ignorance, meanwhile. My fingers are still crossed for you!

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