This is a lightly edited version of a blog that was first published on the Faculty of Public Health’s website.
The FPH asked me to write a blog about preparing for the Part A exam. The trouble is, I’m very aware of how much luck is involved in doing well at the Part A. I was lucky to have an unreasonably supportive family, a great bunch of people to study with, lots of support from the North West School of Public Health, and a great team in the office. And although my daughter was born in September (prime revision months — how very inconsiderate of her) she slept marvelously, and in any case I was allowed to sleep in a different room. You might call these the social determinants of Part A success.
There is also a lot of luck involved on the day too. When I sat the exam [in January 2018], questions came up on things that happened to be among my favourite topics, things that I could link directly to work I’ve done in my placement in Tameside Council’s public health team, or things that I just happened to have looked at my notes on that morning.
But ‘be lucky’ isn’t really very useful advice. So below are some things that seemed to work for me (a study of n = 1).
- Don’t panic! It’s a tough exam with a fearsome reputation. I found studying for Part A really stressful. For a long time it seemed that I’d never get all this stuff into my head. It helped to keep things in perspective. For example, unlike University final exams, you can have several tries at Part A. And in the long term, no one is going to care what score you got.
- Start early. I found that the main challenge was the volume and breadth of material to get through. I started making notes around the beginning of September. This helps with getting through the material, and I also found it helped me feel more in control, which helped manage the stress.
- Get a study group. Taking turns to prepare and present sessions on topics is an effective way to learn. But the social support is probably more valuable still. Look after each other.
- Chunk it up. I made a big spreadsheet of the the curriculum with all the topics that I’d need to learn, colour coded by how confident I felt. This helped me to break the whole curriculum into manageable chunks, and focus my studies on the areas where I was least confident. Updating it as I went along gave me a sense of progress. Plus making the spreadsheet let me put off doing any actual studying for several hours.
- Test yourself. Testing yourself leads to better recall than staring at a text book or making notes. Better still, get someone else to test you. I am sorry to say that long car journeys became an opportunity for my wife to test me, and my four year old son probably knows more about Lewin’s theory of change management than is proper for someone his age.
- Do lots of past papers. I switched to mainly doing past papers about four weeks before the exam. I did each one in the time given in the exam, or a bit less. This helped me to focus my revision as the exam got closer, and helped get the timings right. The examiners’ comments are really important.
- If you can, link your answer to work you’ve done. This doesn’t need lots of detail, but a couple of sentences at the end of an answer showing that you’ve used that particular bit of knowledge in practice seems to go down well with the examiners.
- Don’t be scared to have an opinion. I was really quite rude about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory (or ‘astrology for business students’ as someone put it on Twitter), and I did fine on that question. If I were an examiner I think I’d quite appreciate someone saying something that isn’t straight from ‘Mastering Public Health’.
- Stockpile sleep before the exam. I found that I didn’t sleep the night before each day of the exam. Partly this was nerves. Partly it was poor choice of hotel. Partly it was someone, evidently having a great night out, singing ‘livin’ on a prayer’ outside my window at midnight.
I hope this advice is helpful. Either way, good luck!