It’s been a few years since I sat my OSCES, although the trauma is still fresh (only kidding).  I’m now in a position where I’m assessing students, not as a College examiner but as part of my teaching commitment at uni.  

The first thing I wanted to say was: I get as nervous about assessments as the students I’m assessing.  I was telling a colleague who is an actual College examiner (and all-round nice person) about this and they said that they feel the same way.  So just remember, when you walk into that OSCE station, the examiner is hoping to give you good marks.  They want you to succeed.  It’s painful to watch someone struggle, especially if you know that it’s down to nerves rather than a lack of knowledge or ability.

So, here’s my top five OSCE preparation tips:

1. try to get as much OSCE practise as possible.  Go to OSCE preparation courses and take turns testing and timing your friends doing ret or history and symptoms.  I was lucky enough to attend a full blown (16 stations) OSCE preparation course run by NHS Education Scotland in addition to the OSCE course (which I think was around 10 stations) that the company I was working for had arranged for us.

2. identify any areas where you need to improve.  This is quite difficult and requires you to honestly think about your skills and knowledge.  Of course, we all like practising the stuff we are good at and try to put off doing things we are unsure about.  Sit down with the College competency lists for Stage 1 and 2 and look through them point by point, highlighting any areas you think you need to work on.  Also, avoid the temptation to just “work on everything”, because you’ll end up spending a long time going over things you are actually good at.  Get your supervisor involved as well – ask them what they feel you might need to improve upon and press them if they say “nothing”.  There’s always something you could be doing better.

3. don’t personalise failure.  If you are struggling with something, it doesn’t mean you are/will be a bad optom.  It might be that you haven’t had much experience in that area.  If you are really unsure of something then don’t be afraid to talk to your colleagues, friends or supervisor about it.  You are learning just now so it’s the perfect time to ask questions.

4. try to visualise the OSCEs.  This is something that you might laugh at but I honestly think that sitting down, closing your eyes and visualising what it is going to be like is a great way of controlling your nerves.

Imagine standing outside the first cubicle, reading the scenario on the door, it’s something you are familiar with and you feel confident, after the minute is up, you open the door and stride in, confidently.  The station goes well and you move onto the next…

It’s like tricking your brain into having a positive memory of something that hasn’t yet happened.  I think a lot of nervousness comes from the fact that you are in an unknown situation and that’s why my first tip was to try and experience OSCE-type exams as many times as you can before the “real” one.

5. engage brain before opening mouth.  This is something I do all the time – I start talking before actually considering what I’m going to say.  It’s especially bad when you have a time crunch.

When you are in the OSCE station and you know that time is ticking away, you feel you need to start NOW. Right now. Just start talking. Five minutes isn’t a long time.  And the silence is awkward.  Say something, that’ll relax you.  Just start talking. You can always work out what you are going to say on the fly. 

I’m here to say: resist that urge and take a few moments to breath and consider what you are going to say.  Think of this as investing 10-30 seconds on getting it right the first time.  Also, make this a habit that you carry into practice with you.  Real world patients are far less forgiving when you say something and have to completely backtrack than your OSCE actors.  Ten seconds and a deep breath are probably one of the best pieces of advice I can give you, regardless of your situation.

So those are my general OSCE tips.  If you are new to this blog, you can go all the way back to May 2014 and read my own OSCE journey (Mock OSCEs, More mocks, NES Mock OSCEs and The OSCEs)

I’m hoping to get a podcast up and running in the next month or two which will focus on student, pre-reg and NQ experiences so watch out for that. 

Finally, check out my communication based card game “Deal With It” which can be used for OSCE preparation and revision for individuals or groups (as featured in Dispensing Optics and Optician magazine!): Deal With It