The Big Day

by Dr. Ed Hughes & Dr. Claudia Porteous


Your practical preparation for exam day should begin about six weeks before your exam day.

This is the time to book study leave for the day before and day of your exam.

I would strongly suggest planning ahead and booking annual leave for a day or two afterwards. There is nothing worse than having to schlep back from London for a shift after you’ve been through the wringer.

Alongside your revision, start thinking about the creature comforts that are going to minimise the amount of stress and discomfort that you are going to experience. Make sure that you’ve worn your exam outfit at least once, you don’t want to find that you’ve chosen something really uncomfortable on the morning of the exam. I cannot speak for people in commutable distance of the college. The practice of my peers and I has been to book a first class train ticket down to London the day before the exam, arriving in the early afternoon. Book a comfortable hotel in walking distance of The College that serves a decent breakfast (you'll need it, it's a long day).

I really recommend not revising once you start the journey, this exam is as much about your technique, as your knowledge base. The day before you can’t make a significant different to your knowledge base, but you can for your composure. Relax, sleep, try to get outside, do some gentle exercise. I know not revising until the last minute is totally foreign, but I can’t stress how important it is. My first exam I revised on the train – I learnt a random fact and when the topic came up all I could remember was this totally random fact which I blurted out. I had to apologise and restart the question – not my finest moment.

When you arrive in London I’d suggest getting settled in to your hotel then going to have a look at The College. Familiarise yourself with the entrance, the reception, and have a peak at the exam halls on the upper floors. Take a deep breath, at this moment in 24 hours it will be over. Go and have a decent meal. Do this by yourself or with company, you'll know what is right for you. Meeting with a colleague who is also sitting the exam can be comforting, there is camaraderie in those who are facing a common enemy.

Make sure you get an early night and sleep as well as you can. I've found earplugs invaluable for these situations. Set a couple of alarms if you're a heavy sleeper, though I’m almost certain you’re in for a restless night.

Morning of The Exam

On the morning of the exam get up at a reasonable time and grab breakfast in some casual clothes. Head up to your room and put yourself together for the big day. This is the start and it’ll be over before you know it. As you get ready project confidence with your body language. Assume some 'power' poses and think positive thoughts. Check your bag into left luggage. Head out of the door to arrive at the college with plenty of time. Consider a motivational music track to accompany your walk.

When you arrive at the college present yourself to reception where your ID will be verified and you'll receive your candidate number as a sticker to wear on your top. You'll be told a call time for your session and you will be expected to be sat waiting in reception at this time.

Prior to your call time, head downstairs past the murals of military medicine and college QIP’s. Place your belongings in the cloakroom. You could leave a suitcase here but it gets very busy when it’s time to leave. Put your valuables in one of the lockers that cost £1. Bring the pound with you, it will help you feel more in control and relaxed.

At this point I must warn you that everyone copes with the exam stress in different ways. You will see people revising with books and reams of paper, some people will be quizzing each other, some will be crying, some projecting confidence, others will be quietly nervous. I cannot stress how important your mental resilience is at this point. Do not let the other candidate neuroses crack you. You're better than that. Maintain your composure and press on.

Make your way to the reception as the call time approaches. You'll sit nervously will your colleagues until a college representative will take a register. If you’ve watched the videos The Faculty has produced, you’ll probably recognise a couple of the people conducting your exam, including the person who takes the register. Once candidates are confirmed you'll be lead upstairs to the waiting area where you'll be read the regulations and instructions for your session. After a few minutes waiting you'll be taken onto the exam floor for the beginning of the end.

When you step out onto the exam floor you will pass the invigilators desk and all their paperwork. You’ll notice that the room is a long and curved hallway with windows down one side. The room will have been split into cubicles by fabric office dividers along each side of the hall. Outside each cubicle will be a piece of paper with a short description of the contents of the station. The invigilators will inform your of when to go in.

During the exam, regardless of whether you are sitting the viva or osce you will meet a multitude of examiners. Each will have a different affect and enthusiasm for their given station. All will be polite and professional, no one is deliberately trying to make your life hard. Even if you feel your examiner is being discourteous, maintain your composure and professionalism.

When the final bell rings breathe a sigh of relief and go collect your valuables.

Time Between Exam Sections

Get out of the college as fast as you can. You do not need to hear people dissecting the last couple of hours. What's done is done. You do not need to hear the humble bragging of how brilliantly your colleagues have done. Hearing about minor points that you may have missed will only serve to make you feel bad about yourself. You don't need that; you’ve still got the second half of the exam to do. Just focus or keeping your head strong for the final session of the day.

The college is in a really vibrant area of the city so use this time to district yourself. You could revise, but again, if there are things you don't know after months of work, 2 hours revision when you are already mentally strained is not going to help. Sincerely, try not to do this. Have a look at the list below for a few ideas on how to spend your time.

  • British Museum -free to access, check out the amazing architecture, and exhibitions
  • London review of books – great café and selection of books
  • Café Le Cordon Bleu – a unbelievable café where people who are training for the cordon bleu qualifications.
  • Sir John Sloane Museum – note not open Monday/Tuesday
  • Hunterian Museum – medical museum – free but you need to pre-book

The Afternoon Session.

The afternoon session is a repeat of the morning one. You will be called in exactly the same way as before. The exam halls from the morning session will have been re-arranged to facilitate whatever you are sitting.

This is now a game of stamina. The end is in sight.

When that final bell sounds that's it, you're done it. Breathe a massive sigh of relief and go and collect your stuff.

If you are so inclined, the Square Pig is a ritual destination for exam candidates. This is directly across for The College. If that is not to your liking there are many café and restaurants around that you can visit to begin your decompression. Just make sure you don't miss your train home.

It’s Done.

You won't feel normal for a while after the exam. It takes a couple of days to weeks to shed the burden you've been carrying. Slowly but surely the guilt of having free time will dissipate and you can begin to live a normal life again. Sure, results day will bring the spectre of the exam back, but for now rest and recover confident in your knowledge that you did your best on the day.