How to succeed at OSCEs

Succeed at OSCEs

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


OSCEs are the most feared of all medical examinations. The process of examining patients under the pressure of close scrutiny can prove to be the breaking point for many candidates. You'll be expected to examine four or five cases in 30 minutes, giving you no more than five minutes for each station. You're not allowed to ask the patients questions, and your assessment of the case will be based entirely on your clinical findings and how you interpret them.

There's intense pressure, mostly from the unusual format of the short cases, but the examiners will also be pushing you hard to get through the cases within the time limit. Many candidates don't finish their complete examination routine, and there may be frequent interruptions from the examiners. They may even attempt to throw you off guard, and this will probably be successful if you're not prepared for it.

If this sounds scary, it's because it is, but remember, the key to OSCE success is practice - there's no replacement for it. Reading is not enough, you need to take every opportunity to practice your clinical skills.

Top tip

When you practice for the OSCEs, practice being harassed. Take turns in playing the role of examiner and examinee and pile on the pressure. Ask difficult questions, be hyper-critical of each other's performance - and try not to be friendly!

How are OSCEs marked?

You'll be scored at each station by the an examiner who'll have a check list and/or a rating scale. This makes OSCEs a reasonably fair and consistent way to examine students. Obviously you'll be expected to demonstrate different skills at each station, but there are some 'generic' skills that you'll need to display at all the stations:

At each station you'll be expected to show that you can...

What skills do I need to do well in OSCEs?

To do well in the OSCEs, you need to have good communication skills,good physical examination skills and good case presentation skills. There are some tips on all these things below, but don't forget that you'll also need to look the part too. First impressions count, so follow our tips to make sure you make an impact on both patient and examiner for the right reasons:

Before the OSCE, check with a friend, whose opinion you trust, that you look professional - and smell nice.

Recommended Further Reading

Communication Skills

Physical examination skills

Recommended Further Reading

Case presentation skills

All these skills can be practiced and will improve with practice, so you need to make sure you practice until you are perfect.

Activity: practice your OSCE skills

For this activity, you'll need at least two friends or colleagues.

1. Visit the OSCE Skills site: www.osceskills.com

2. With your friends or colleagues, take it in turn to play the role of student, patient and examiner.

3. Print out the instructions for each OSCE station from the OSCE Skills site. The 'examiner' can use these to make sure the 'student' is carrying out the examination properly.

4. For the stations that can't be acted (urethral catheterisation!), the student should talk through the procedure.

5. Keep practising each station until each of you has had a chance to be the 'student'. You'll probably need to take a few weeks to do this - it's too much to fit into one day!

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