Why you should NOT write notes for MRCP

I remember when I was studying for MRCP Part 1 during core medical training I asked numerous registrars and consultants for advice. MRCP Part 1 is all about pattern recognition and attempting as many questions as possible Rory, they would say.

Whilst over the years I’ve found that the above isn’t strictly true, you wouldn’t go too wrong following that advice! Here’s why.

Why you shouldn’t mindlessly write notes

When preparing for the written exam, obviously nobody sets out in the beginning with the aim to mindlessly write notes. It just ends up happening sometimes because let’s face it, studying is very boring.

For example, in haematology, lymphoma and myeloma will naturally interest us much more and actually be relevant to our daily practice than learning about sickle cell anaemia. I recall when I was writing notes about similar abstract subjects I always ended up copying screeds of text from books or guidelines without properly understanding the concepts or even the definitions.

Sure enough, I was undoubtedly putting in the hours but on reflection none of the information was sticking and the hours will just poured down the sink. It’s very tempting to mindlessly write lots of notes because it feels productive and time passes a lot more quickly when writing notes. Try it for yourself – time passes a lot more slowly when deliberately reading and trying to understand complex paragraphs.

When preparing for a life-changing exam like MRCP, you need to make every hour count. Any hour spent mindlessly writing notes is almost as good as looking out the window and chewing your pen.

If I don’t write, should I read or listen instead?

As psychologist Howard Gardner essentially proposed with his theory of multiple intelligences, different people study effectively using distinct techniques. And whilst it’s true that information could be absorbed more readily for you personally if you read or wrote rather than listened for example, I think that regardless of technique, the focus should be on deliberation.

If you’re focused and ensure everything you write down is deliberate, writing is the study technique for you. If like me, you have a notebook full of notes and you’re not very knowledgeable then you need to reconsider.

If you read every word, sentence and paragraph from guidelines and textbooks with focus and actively think about what the author is trying to say then reading is the study technique for you. On occasions when you find yourself reading an entire paragraph (or chapter as I have) and not remembering what the content was then you need to reconsider.

Listening can be a very effective way to learn and if you manage to engage with the speaker and actively listen to every word and sentence they’re saying then listening is the study technique for you. I’m quite an avid listener of self improvement and business podcasts and I can’t count the number of times I get lost in my own thoughts whilst the podcast continues to play in the background.

Just remember than 1 hour of focused active revision every night is easily more superior than 3.

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.