So, you’re preparing to sit your Fellowship exam(s). Have you considered if Fellowship exam coaching could help?

You’ve likely been reading a lot about the exam(s) you are preparing for, what the expectations are from your College, and talking to colleagues about the details. There are so many aspects to Fellowship exam preparation that you need to decide on, such as what resources to use, whether to buy an exam preparation course or not, should you study on your own or join a study group, and how often do you need to study each week to be ready when the exam date comes around. One thing you may not have considered is whether or not you need Fellowship exam coaching to help you better tackle this major career milestone.

What is Fellowship exam coaching?

Let’s start at the beginning: what is Fellowship exam coaching? Fellowship exam coaching (or performance coaching) is the process of assisting individuals or groups identify their strengths and areas for improvement to achieve their performance goals, in the context of achieving Fellowship. Performance coaching is based on the science of human motivation and behaviour. Every registrar or international medical graduate (IMG) will have different learning or skill development needs for exam success. A Fellowship Exam coach will assist the ‘coachee’ to identify their performance development needs, and provide individualised solution-focussed insights and practical strategies to optimise performance (such as evidence-based learning strategies) to better enable exam success.

Who is Fellowship exam coaching for?

You might be surprised to hear that Fellowship exam coaching is not only to support doctors who are struggling or have failed in the past. It’s basically good for anyone who is sitting an exam! There are many different doctors who may seek the support of a performance coach, and they do so for different reasons. They include:

  • Doctors who are sitting their fellowship exams for the first time. They want to give themselves the best opportunity and support to pass their exams the first-time round, giving it everything to ensure a successful outcome.
  • Doctors who have failed their fellowship exams, once or multiple times. They feel disheartened and have lost confidence – they need support and guidance on how to do things differently next time.
  • IMG and overseas doctors – some find the Australian Fellowship exams very different to those that they may have sat in the past or overseas; and they may have other challenges such as English as a second language, family living a long way away, or perhaps a lack of familiarity with online exams; all areas an experienced Fellowship Performance Coach will be able to assist with.
  • Mature-aged registrars who have had a career change or change in specialty late in life – they feel a bit “rusty” about studying and exam preparation.

If you’re not sure if you’ll need help with Fellowship exams, here are eight reasons why Fellowship exam coaching is important to consider for your exam preparation journey.

Reason 1: Study techniques

Many doctors struggle to remember what they have read, especially after a long day at work. Using Fellowship exam coaching (e.g., a Performance Coach) will help you achieve your Fellowship goals by using evidence-based study techniques from the start, rather than relying on your old study habits which may, or may not, be the most effective for these important exams. A Fellowship Exam Coach will review the techniques you are using and suggest more effective and/or efficient ones to use; for example, ones that promote memory retention and recall.

Reason 2: Work/ life/ study balance

Though learning and memorising content is an important aspect of exam preparation, it is often overlooked that study must occur in the context of a person’s life. That may include having a young family with child-rearing responsibilities, having a large mortgage with the financial responsibilities that brings, being a part of an extended family and community, or perhaps working in a relatively new town or area, like many IMGs do. Doctors lead busy lives, juggling work, long hours, different jobs, relationships with partners, friends and family, young children and their care, as well as studying for these high-stake exams. It’s a lot to handle. These differing contexts and responsibilities mean that exam preparation is never straight forward and is one of the many aspects of life that needs to be juggled and fitted into an already busy schedule. Fellowship exam coaching will assist you to examine your lifestyle, what is reasonable and what is not, and give you strategies for better work/life/study balance while maintaining resilience and managing stress levels.

Reason 3: Exam techniques

Did you know there is more than one way to sit an exam? Whatever medical specialty you are preparing for, exam techniques for multiple choice or short answer questions, or viva/OSCE type exams are important to consider and practice to optimise your marks. It can potentially mean the difference between passing or failing your exam. Personalised Fellowship Exam coaching will review your exam strategies and suggest ways to change your performance for exam optimisation. This could include reviewing your decision-making or time management strategies during the exam, or the heuristics you use to select multiple-choice answer options. For example, some doctors second-guess themselves during multiple-choice exams and change the option they’ve selected many times before settling on one, by which time they are highly anxious and uncertain which way to go – it’s often not until after the exam that they realise that their first choice was the correct one. For them, using a heuristic or rule of thumb, can be helpful to assist with over-thinking or second-guessing.  

Reason 4: Motivation and procrastination

Managing time effectively in the lead up to exams is one way to optimise exam preparation. However, a common factor many exam candidates struggle with is motivation and how to deal with procrastination (e.g., wasting time with unimportant or less urgent tasks). Fellowship exam coaching will discuss strategies for sustaining motivation over time and better managing factors that trigger procrastination. For example, did you know that procrastination is often triggered by a fear or failure or feeling overwhelmed? A Performance coach will support you to better manage these feelings of fear or being overwhelmed, as well as give practical strategies to keep you on track.

Reason 5: Self-care for exam optimisation and stress management

Did you know self-care, particularly sleep and exercise, is important for learning, memory retention and stress management (all important in exam preparation)? For example, sleep is very important for learning as we store information into our long-term memory overnight. Good quality sleep equates to better learning and memory recall, whereas poor quality sleep equates to reduced focus and concentration on what you are learning, as well as reduced retention the day after – wasting precious study hours. Hence a great exam preparation strategy needs to include good self-care, in the form of social or family support, sleep, diet and exercise. Good Fellowship exam coaching understands the importance of self-care and will discuss strategies such as ensuring quality sleep and not compromising exercise for study hours, knowing it is a false economy.

Reason 6: Exam/ performance anxiety

Exam performance anxiety can be related to past negative exam experiences or lack of adequate exam preparation, knowledge or techniques. For some, the exam anxiety is due to negative or critical self-talk about the exam(s) such as “I’m going to fail”, “I can’t do this”, or “What will happen if….?” Fellowship exam coaching, particularly when performed by a registered Organisational psychologist, will support you to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself in your self-talk, as well as react differently to the stories you tell yourself. This could include delving into the physical aspects of anxiety (e.g., butterflies in the stomach; sweaty hands; headaches or neck tension) and how to deal with them on exam day; and changing your mind-set about any anxiety you feel (e.g., “anxiety isn’t a bad thing. It’s my body telling me that the fellowship exam is important to me”).

Reason 7: Exam failure

For many doctors, sitting fellowship exams may be the first time they’ve failed – this often leads to feelings of embarrassment, shame or anxiety with lots of self-doubt mixed in. It can hit your self-identity (who you are, as a person and doctor) and leads to a loss of confidence. Fellowship exam coaching would explore these feelings and any underlying rigid rules, ‘musts’ or ‘shoulds’, and how this may affect thinking, self-expectations, self-talk and reactions to failing. Though no one sets out to fail an exam, how you react to failing and what you do afterwards is important for future exam performance. It can be a self-perpetuating prophesy (shame > self-doubt > fear of failure > procrastination > loss of confidence > failure) or a learning strategy to review past performance to improve future performance. A Fellowship exam coach will give you strategies to manage these feelings so that you can interrupt the self-perpetuating prophesy with new self-talk, beliefs and confidence, as well as review past performance(s) to develop improved performance strategies.

Reason 8: Life circumstances

Let’s face it: to paraphrase John Lennon, life happens when you’re busy making exam plans! Despite what is happening when you enrol in your Fellowship exam(s), something else can crop up when you least expect it, like needing to move house, change your job, get married or divorced, the death of a loved one, birth of a child, or health issues for yourself or a loved one, to list a few. Whether a happy or sad event, they can be very disruptive and pull your attention away from exam preparation. Fellowship exam coaching, particularly when performed by a registered Organisational psychologist, will support you during this time to proceed with exam preparation, or at times, assist you with the decision to postpone your Fellowship goal until a later time, dependent on your circumstances.

Becoming a Fellowed specialist doctor is both a very challenging and rewarding experience. The road to success can be difficult. However, with the support and guidance of a Fellowship Exam Performance Coach, the journey can be less daunting and ultimately more successful. You don’t need to do it on your own.

GPEx’s Fellowship performance coaching maximises your chance of exam success by giving you personalised strategies to help you address performance-related issues.