Why you should always take a day OFF before your MRCP exam

Here’s my take on why you should always take a day off before your MRCP exams.

My MRCP Part 1 Experience

I remember during the day of my Part 1 exam, it was a very nice sunny day with a magnificent venue hosting more than a hundred candidates. What surprised me more than anything was the significant number of people sitting in the corridor pouring over their textbooks and doing practice questions immediately before the exam. It wasn’t a very pleasant environment.

The exam consists of two 3-hour papers separated by a lunch break.

After the first paper, instead of using that lunch break to um…have some lunch several candidates were so “dedicated” (or mental as Glaswegians would call it) that they were sitting in Starbucks grinding out a few more questions on their MacBooks.

Either these guys possessed superhuman ability or I’m just a weakling when it comes to motivation and studying for life-changing exams. The more likely reason for this ability was probably caffeine toxicity. In retrospect, there was a lot of disruption with candidates needing to go to the bathroom during the papers…

If you follow my YouTube Channel you’ll get an idea of why 8 weeks is probably enough for you to pass Part 1 if you use the hours wisely. If you have more time, of course that’s always better but there’s never a perfect time to sit MRCP so you’ll just have to bite the bullet.

With 8 weeks and studying an average of 2 hours per day you’ll be able to manage 100 hours which should be plenty of time to give the exams a good bash. Remember that with a maximum mark of 999, you’re only expected to achieve in the mid 500s. They’re not looking for perfection.

Cramming an extra 5 questions before an exam just doesn’t make any strategical sense when you could and should be catching up on some much needed (and more useful) sleep, resting your eyes or just relaxing to your music.

Cramming another 10 questions during your lunch break is even more ridiculous as this time should be used to recover from the first paper and catch up on some hopefully available vitamin D. Plus, your brain requires fuel so don’t neglect your body and mind. You’ve just answered 100 questions and it’s called a lunch break for a reason!

Why you should take a day off before MRCP

Before every exam I have taken throughout my life (Scottish Highers, Advanced Highers, Medical School and MRCP) I have always taken off at least 24 hours before the exam.

In fact I’ll definitely continue to swear by this rule for my upcoming respiratory SCE next year and future exams beyond that.

I’m much more interested studying the hotel that I’m staying in and whether or not there’ll be a gym and a swimming pool than whether aortic regurgitation will come up in Station 1. I’m much more excited about the restaurant meal the night before and browsing through travel arrangements. Reading reviews and paying particular attention to how noisy the accommodation will be is one of my top priorities.

Although I’m a pretty average looking guy who spends about 5 seconds in front of the mirror per day, I’ll always use one of my girlfriend’s face masks so I don’t traumatise my examiners. Even when it’s a written exam I do this because it’s just comfortable and I enjoy it.

I ensure I’m cleanly shaven, hair gelled and my clothes ironed. I also make sure the breakfast isn’t oily and I don’t drink too much water. Having had reasonable sleep the night before, I always stay away from caffeine.

Notice that nowhere am I concerned about what the exam will be like nor will I fit in last minute revision because I know these things are unlikely to change the result by now and are outside my circle of influence.

I know I’ve already spent 8 quality weeks preparing for my exam and that the stress associated with revising another hour and realising how much I don’t know just isn’t worth it.

The extra hour on top of your 100 hours is only an additional 1% so why bother? If you want to study for 101 hours then please be my guest. But do so within the 8 weeks so you can still enjoy that last day off.

Having said all of that I’m not sure how helpful my self-love routine was towards my own MRCP success. The night before my PACES exam, my girlfriend and I went out for a really nice meal, followed by a relaxing swim. Stupidly, on my part, I agreed to go into the sauna with her. Having extremely sensitive skin, no face mask was going to save me afterwards and I woke up in the morning pre-PACES with a very red, flaky and swollen face…maybe I passed because they felt sorry for me?

Anyway, the most important take home message is to do what is comfortable and natural for you. And remember not to burn yourself out! Literally, don’t burn your face like I did.

If you enjoyed this article make sure you get your own copy of my MRCP Part 1 & 2 Written Guide. In this guide, I explore the above and other concepts such as time allocation and the most preferable resources for the written exams in much more detail.

Alternatively, if you’ve passed the written exams then How to Pass MRCP PACES in 8 Weeks will take you through your next and final hurdle. The reason an entire new guide has been written about this mammoth clinical exam reflects the different skills and attitude you need when tackling MRCP PACES. Instead of simply relying on reading textbooks, you’ll need to utilise a concept called the PACES Triangle to successfully navigate the examiners’ obstacles.