Thursday, March 10, 2016

Study tips on preparing for PG CET

Hey everyone!

So many of you have been asking me how to prepare for the Indian PG exams. As you all know, I am preparing for studies abroad and I don't find myself competent to answer the question. But, we convinced Dr. Prateek Charuchandra Joshi to share his study tips with us.. And he agreed! How cool is this guy! Thanks, Prateek! ^__^

I asked him a few questions focusing on the strategy of studying and irrelevant questions like - how many months/attempts did you take, what were your MBBS scores, how was internship, etc. were not asked simply because these are variable for all of you and you can't do anything about it. What you can do is get a general idea from this post, and make your personalized study schedule :)

Which books did you read from? How many times do you think one should revise the books to retain information prior to the exam?

I read from a standard set of MCQ books which I will list below. But in reality it is not which books you read, but how you utilize those resources, which is the deciding factor.

That being said, the books which I found useful are as follows -

Pharmacology: Sparsh Gupta
Pathology: Devesh Mishra
Forensic Medicine: Arvind Arora OR Sumit Seth
ENT: Arvind Arora OR Manisha Budhiraja
Ophthalmology: Arvind Arora OR Ruchi Rai
PSM: Vivek Jain
Medicine: Amit Ashish OR Mudit Khanna
Surgery: Preitesh Singh
Orthopedics: Apurv Mehra
Radiology and radiotherapy: Sumer Sethi

In all the other subjects I referred to Arvind Arora volumes. But these are an addition to the handwritten coaching notes which are the basis of preparation and to which additions should be made.

I had referred to Harrison, Bailey & Love and KDT for the respective subjects during my undergraduate course. In the internship and post-intern phase, however, these “Bible” books are time consuming and therefore should be used only for reference purposes or for small topic-based study where standard MCQ books do not suffice.

For the MHPGM I used to refer to the past papers from Dr. Daga’s book to analyze which topics are trending. Unfortunately, in the MHPG entrance, the number of direct repeat questions is decreasing with each passing year, but the topics from which the questions are asked remain fairly constant.

As for the number of revisions I feel about 4 to 5 full revisions are a necessity before the exam.

What was your study strategy? Did you just go about solving MCQs or did you read a lot?

Since about three to four years ago, the era of “MCQ based study” is gradually drawing to a close. With the advent of the National Board pattern exams, MCQs are designed “de novo” from standard textbooks instead of being picked up from past papers. Therefore, each of us would do well to remember that “topic based preparation” is the future of Indian PG entrance prep.

MCQ revision should be more focused on getting a broad idea of the topics that are trending than the individual questions themselves. I’d advise each PG aspirant to always have a notepad with them while reading MCQs so that they can note down which topics are being asked frequently.

Thanks to this new pattern, the PG aspirant of this day and age faces the dilemma of “HOW MANY” questions to solve daily or “WHICH” questions to focus on. Honestly speaking there is no rule which delineates necessary MCQs from unnecessary ones.

However, the rule of thumb which I liked to follow was this:
“If the MCQ is older than you (asked before your birth year) you can safely disregard it.”
And its corollary being the following:
“Any and all MCQs asked after your admission year to your MBBS course are relevant.”

How did you memorize the factual points tested on the exam?

It is a matter of pure mugging. Wherever possible I made tables or charts (such as for named diseases, types of fractures, microscopic bodies etc.) which were then stuck on the wall and read daily. Numerical values can also be arranged in ascending order in a notebook or by clubbing all values with the same “number” on one page. Either way they have to be learnt by rote. No short cut here.

Before starting each day, did you have a target “number of questions to do” or a target “number of hours to study”? How many hours did you study each day in your intensive phase?

Neither actually. Instead of targeting question numbers or study hours it is wiser to target a set number of topics that must be covered during the day which should be distributed over approximately 8 to 10 hours of quality work each day.

Most normal people (myself included) cannot put in 100% efficiency for more than an hour or two at a stretch and so counting unavoidable distractions and regular breaks the total study time is approximately 12 hours per day.

Also the “per day” part is of utmost importance because consistency and continuity is the crux to prepare for any PGME exam.

Do you think classes and test series are important for PGME entrance exam preparation? What would you recommend?

I made the coaching notes of DAMS as the basic unit of my revision and as and when I found extra points I would add them to the notebook.
Coaching classes are useful to provide direction to the efforts we put in. Also, the notes made in a coaching class are easier to memorize because they are concepts given by the faculty which we write in our own words.

Especially, for the MHPG CET I joined Dr. Bipin Daga’s test series which was very useful. The number of direct repeat questions varies each year but questions are always framed from the same or similar topics; and those tests give a very clear idea of which topics to concentrate on which proved very useful to me in the MHPG.

What other study tips would you like to share with medical students appearing for the PGCET?

Study strategies and overall planning is most effective when personalized as per the individual. That being said, there are some general principles I learned while preparing which I would like to share below.

1. Studying all night without sleeping (pulling an all-nighter) is overrated and counterproductive. Disrupting the circadian rhythm is likely to do more harm than good even if you are used to staying up late (and more so if you aren’t).

2. As far as possible please try to maintain a simple diet at regular intervals and adequate hydration.

3. While making a timetable it is always wiser to plan for short intervals (say a week) after which one should take a review of what was planned versus what was achieved before planning for the next time span. Longer timetables (of multiple weeks or months at a time) are likely to fail or fall slack.

4. Though it is advisable to give plenty of tests to assess your performance in terms of scores and ranks, it is wise to remember that “fluctuations are the rule” and that not even the topper of any exam has a great score to begin with, nor a continuous high rank. The marks or ranks, good or bad, need not affect your morale. (That’s why they are called MOCK tests and not the real thing.)

5. Cost/benefit analysis (in terms of time spent versus the gain expected) should be the deciding criterion for any decision made during the prep period.

6. Meditating or exercising for 15-30 minutes daily is a very effective stress buster.

Did you feel discouraged during your preparation? What advice would you give to students feeling demotivated?

Yes! There were certainly times when I was demotivated and on the verge of re-evaluating my life decisions. Each of us goes through such a phase where we curse our stars and ourselves and everyone around us, and wish we had never taken up this profession. For anyone who is feeling something similar, please remember that this is just a PHASE which will eventually pass; and that it is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL to feel this way once in a while. It is a sign of a stressed or a fatigued mind and that it is time for a break.

There is no secret ingredient for success; nor is it that only geniuses crack the exam. The vast majority of rankers (me included) are normal, regular students who have been able to put in time and dedicated effort towards their goal.

It is a perfectly achievable target. Success is all about starting out towards your goal believing that you are capable and picturing yourself on the top of the world having achieved your goal. And once you have that picture fixed in your mind you need no more motivation. It’s pure hard work from there onward.

In order to crack the highly competitive Indian PG entrances, students tend to appear for many exams. How justified is this? Also some exams have multiple sessions with many different question papers, how fair do you think this system is and why?

The decision to appear for multiple PG entrances should be made based on the time spent in appearing for them versus the likely gains in terms of experience or the possibility of getting a seat. It differs for each candidate. For example, I did not give any central institute exams like AIIMS or JIPMER because it involved travel to another city and I was not aiming for those institutes anyway.

As far as the entrance exams with multiple slots and multiple paper sets are concerned, I have always opined that the system is absolutely unreliable and unpredictable. Although the “Itemized Response Theory” marking system is used in other exams such as the GATE or the likes, it succeeds in those settings simply because it is possible to objectively analyze the difficulty level of a sum or numerical problem but it is impossible to gauge the difficulty level of a medical fact; and getting a vague idea of the difficulty level as an inverse relation of the number of people answering the question is simply too inaccurate to judge the relative merit of over a lakh aspirants.

Tell us more about your preparation and any other thoughts you have.

This is a schematic showing the overall methodology of going about PG entrance preparation.

STEP 1: Combining data from notes written during coaching, along with new data from MCQ volumes and Facebook or WhatsApp discussion groups to compile in one place. This avoids duplication of efforts PLUS creates a single compact volume with a concentrate of high-yielding topics.

STEP 2: Targeting specific portions for time bound revision and the factuals for periodic revisions.

About me: I secured AIR 290 in the DNB entrance and State Rank 51 in the Maharashtra State PG entrance of January 2016.

My father Dr. Charuchandra Joshi (M.S. Gynae.) and mother Dr. Madhavi have always supported and helped me throughout the course of my education. Whatever I am today is due to them.

This was a basic and generalized overview of how to handle the PG entrance preparation. I hope it is of some help to the PG aspirants targeting the Indian PG pattern. I thank IkaN and the other admins at Medicowesome for conducting this interview.

Thank you SOvery much, Prateek! Love how you acknowledge your parents and how you are so humble and grateful :D All the best to everyone preparing for their post graduate exams. Hope this helped!


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