Identify and start with your weakest areas

Invariably your sub speciality and emergency surgery topics will form your strongest knowledge base. It makes sense to face your weakest components first. For the majority of candidates this would mean tackling questions on transplant, endocrine, breast surgery and other areas they will have had less exposure to. These may be areas which require more reading and progress slower than others. Be honest with yourself and identify these areas.

Depending on your sub-speciality you may need to adapt the suggested order to match your needs i.e. a transplant candidate may tackle the transplant section last, but breast surgery first.

When to start revising

Without doubt, having a good knowledge base will provide you with the best opportunity for passing the exam. Whilst much of what you will need for the clinical exam is what you will need in your day to day working life, the SBAs will test your knowledge, and challenge you across areas that you may not regard as your specialist area.

We would recommend having read through the Companion Series of books prior to the exam, and this can take several months to achieve properly.

As well as having a good knowledge base, it is important to have good technique at answering SBA questions. We would recommend attempting as many as possible. This will help with technique and repetition will help consolidate knowledge.

Marginal gains

A question on statistics counts just as much as one on trauma or colorectal cancer. Leaving your weaker areas until the last few weeks may prove disastrous to the outcome and make the difference between a pass and a fail. Often the difference between a pass mark and fail can be of the order of a single % or even less. Every topic is as important as each other.

Cover the syllabus

Print out a copy of the syllabus blueprint 2016 which can be found on the JCIE website. This shows that each speciality syllabus has been mapped to a range of assessments. Knowledge is tested by Section 1 and Section 2 of the FRCS as well as through Case Based Discussions (CBDs). An excerpt of this on ‘Lesions of the Skin and Subcutaneous Tissues’ is shown below. One can see that Basal Cell carcinoma, Malignant Melanoma and Squamous cell carcinoma are all tested in FRCS Section 1.

Lesions of the Skin and Subcutaneous Tissues
Table - Lesions of the Skin and Subcutaneous Tissues

It is worth ensuring that as you progress your revision you tick off the topics stated in the syllabus blueprint. Ensure that any areas that have been uncovered through the course of your revision are eventually covered. You may be surprised what you find e.g. constipation in children, paediatric kidney transplantation. Leaving an area uncovered may make the difference between pass and fail.