students Study Group the only secret of passing medical entrance exam barrier

By Live Dr - Sat Nov 22, 11:14 pm

PG Entrance Preps : Dr. KKV

Hello all,

I have been receiving a lot of e-mails from PG aspirants asking me to write an article about preps for PG entrances. I will try my very best to put down what I have been doing over the past year or so with regard to the same.

First and foremost, you have to be really strong in the mind to be willing to take this course. It is going to be hard to keep up the intensity through out the period of preparations. You must also be willing to face failures just in case you are not doing well in the first attempt. This is not an attempt to scare you. Instead, be prepared to face everything. Such mental make-up has helped me to be more positive in an attempt to chase my dreams.

You have to fix the time-frame for preps. I guess most of you are aiming for the coming AIPGE and the next set of state entrances. That would give you about a year to prepare. This should be adequate if you are planning well and executing your plans.

Planning, in the broad sense, means that you must pick out your weaknesses (in terms of subjects or topics) very early. What are these weaknesses? For me, these were subjects which I did awfully during my MBBS days or which I had a lot of trouble trying to prepare. If you are not aware of your weaknesses by now, you might very well spend some time trying to find these. For a very few fortunate ones, this passage might be boring because they are good at everything! For me, if I had to pick four subjects where I was weak, they would be #1 – SPM (or PSM as some call it), #2 – Forensic Medicine, #3 – Psychiatry, #4 – Microbiology/Pharmacology.

It was easy for me to pick out these for the following reasons. SPM is the subject which I flunked regularly. I was so surprised that I had passed the University exam that I gave a treat to my friends on passing it! Forensic Medicine is a subject that I hated and Psychiatry was a subject which I never bothered to read during my undergraduate days. Microbiology/Pharmacology is in there because I am very bad at memorizing things. Such subjects need special attention from the less-gifted guys (like me) because they hold the key to improving in all subjects in the fray.

Preparing would become a whole lot easier if you had a good set of friends whom you can depend on. This matters both for academics and for moral support. That is why I would rate the concept of the “Study Group” as the single most essential factor for the preps. If you have a good study group, you are going to get benefited tremendously. You might be wondering what I mean by a good study group. Let’s ponder over that for a minute.

A good study group is one in which all the individuals complement each other. It needs to be a bunch of guys who want to prepare hard for the exams. It really helps if each one in your study group is strong in a particular subject. That rubs off on all the persons in the group. A study group shoves off the dullness in preps when you are at it all alone. You can share your jokes and have fun. But at the same time, you make sure you are not wasting too much of time. Another advantage of having a study group is the fact that the text books you have can be shared and can be used as a reference pool for the whole group. Chances are that a few in your study group would have studied different text books that yourself. Some might even have some of the classical reference text books. This is really going to help you find the references to those weird questions which might help you get an edge over the rest.

To site examples, In my study group we had persons strong in SPM, Forensic, Pharmacology, Microbiology, Psychiatry, General Medicine etc. and I will be the first person to tell you that these persons helped me a hell lot in my preps. I was very fortunate to get such a study group. Coming to the reference text books, we had a guy who has back-referred just about all the questions from our MCQ book (Salgunan). That too, from all the top-rated reference books. Just because he was around, the rest of us in the study group didn’t have to waste time referring the text books. About pooling books, just to give you example. In anatomy alone we had 6 reference text books at hand. Everyone had Chaurasia and IB Singh’s Embryology. I had Keith L. Moore and the whole set of Dutta including Embryology, Neuroanatomy and Osteology. One had the whole Cunningham set. The other two persons contributed Snell’s anatomy and NMS anatomy books. And of course, we had Gray’s anatomy online at Bartelbys.com for reference. This might look really pompous. But tell you what, each of these books helped us find references to just about all the question from Salgunan. Not only that, they improved our knowledge considerably in our effort.

Being in a study group doesn’t mean that you don’t get any time to do your reading alone. You have to split up your study plans both in the group and alone. Being in a group helps you find your weaknesses. You can use your personal time to read up these and also for regular reading. When you are with your group later, you can feel the difference when you go well prepared.

Okay, I assume you have prepared your list of subjects and have an eager study group to back you up. Now, set out to prepare a time table. As I have mentioned earlier, the time table has be split up into two; one for your own reading and the other fro the group. For preparing the time table, you have to first figure out how much time you are going to spend on studies daily. I suggest somewhere in between 12 and 14 hours a day as the ideal quota daily. That would give you enough free time to have some recreation and sleep.

Once you have about 12 hours, I’d suggest everyone to split up whatever time you have into sessions of 2 – 4 hours each. I used 3 hour sessions with about half an hour break between these. That really helps to get you task oriented and gets you closer to the goal instead of wandering away. About sleeping, it is an individual’s discretion. Everyone needs a particular amount of sleep at a stretch or in short stretches to make themselves comfortable. This is very essential and you should not compromise here to increase your study time. Try cutting it on your TV viewing etc.

If you have hobbies, finding enough time for studies is a problem. To site an example, I spend a lot of time at watching comedy on TV, on the computer daily and enjoy playing my guitars and listening to songs etc. Plus I need to sleep at least 7 hours a day to feel good. In such cases, I had to shut out my TV viewing completely to find enough time. There, I would save about 2 hours daily which I could distribute evenly between my study time and recreation time.

How do you allot time for reading? I preferred working at a couple of subjects at the same time so that you don’t get bogged down. Each subject would have different books to read. The best method that I had come up with contained time slots for reading/revision of all the various books which had information about the subject. For eg. if I were to study Pharmacology, these are books that I would have to read. Tripathi, a bit of Harrison, a bit of CMDT, SARP Pharmacology, the AIIMS and AIPGE solved books *(Ashish Gupta & Mudit Khanna respectively), Salgunan, Sure Success etc.

Back to making the time table… You should give the subjects time limits. An average subject would take about 3 days to finish. The method that I adopted was suggested by a couple of friends of mine. Carrying on with the previous example, I would start with Pharmacology part of Sure Success. That would need two sessions (of 3 hours each). Next, I’d do Salgunan Pharmacology (2 sessions) Then I would try and solve the questions from AIIMS and AIPGE (1 ½ sessions). After finishing both of these, I would be very aware of the important topics that are asked repeatedly (in exams) and my weaknesses. Having found these I would spend the rest of my allotted time improving myself by reading text books. For this also, I would split up sessions for topics. For eg. General Pharmacology (2 sessions), ANS (1 sessions), Antimicrobials (2 sessions), CVS, CNS etc (1 session each), Miscellaneous (2 sessions) and of course, new drugs and charts in Harrison (2 session). Totaling these up, it would be about 15 sessions. That would be about 4 days on my schedule. If you had only 3 days in your schedule to finish pharmacology, cut ½ session each from a few topics.

Honestly, cutting about half a session does no harm more often. If you show urgency, chances are that you will finish the same amount of topics, even if the session had been longer. Another point should be highlighted here. Imagine that you have allotted a week instead of the 3 days for pharmacology. I’d say you would end up getting about 70% of knowledge of for the exams. Now imagine you are splitting the 7 days into three sessions each one about 3 months separated. The first one is at the time you are studying the subject for the first time and its duration is 4 days. The second one is for 2 ½ days for the first revision about 4 months before the exam. And the third one is the shortest; ½ a day for the final revision.

You would get about 60% of pharmacology in the first session itself. In the next session you would add about 20% more and reach about 80% totally. And, you wouldn’t believe it; you would gain the next 20% in the last ½ a day session! See the difference? The same 7 days allotted properly gave you the additional 30% info that you need to qualify for the entrance. This is what I want to convey from this example – It’s very easy to misuse your time for the preps. But if you use it properly, it’s so easy to learn.

Our timetable started off with about 12 months in all, right? Split it up into a three blocks each. First one for 6 months, the next for 4 months and the last for 2 months. The first session would be for the initial study. The next one for the first revision and the last one for the pre-exam revision. Figure out a time-table involving all the 20 subjects and give stress to subjects that are important for the exams. Of course, allow more time for the subjects you are weak at.

Now, coming to the study group part. I suggest you use your study group to solve question banks like Salgunan, or the RxPG Buster series of books. In the first part, try to solve Salgunan in stretches of about 300 questions per day. Allot about 50 questions per persons per day. This means that those questions need to be back-referred by the person on the previous day. Those who are doing this need to jot the page references and the important points beside the questions itself. Each person ‘presents’ his allotted set of questions to the group. Everyone can ask their queries and add to the discussion. I would encourage everyone to start contributing more to such discussions. This shouldn’t stop even you utter blunders. Because the more blunders you realize that you are committing, the less chance that you will do the same at the exam. This way, Salgunan would finish in about 2 months if you do that daily. If you do it on alternate days (which is what we did), it would finish in 4 months.

You can do RxPG Buster series of books (of which, Medicine Buster is a must-do). In these, you can assemble and bring your own text books. In case of Medicine, you can bring your Harrison. You can aim to solve about 150 questions per day. You might be wondering why so less. That’s because you will gain a lot by discussing the topics asked in the questions between yourself. Take time to find the actual references from Harrison. Instead of skipping the important points related to the topics, take time to ask questions based on these. This helps a lot, believe me!

Group study is also very effective in dealing with extremely tough texts like Harrison. To cover such texts, you need to allot a set of about 20 pages per person per week. He/She needs to go through the pages and highlight all the important points. One day each week, the study group assembles and each person presents their topic. This will work like a charm if everyone presents concisely. At the end of the session, you would have covered about 100 pages of Harrison! One more revision before the exam, and you become a very wise PG aspirant!

These are the basic outlines to go about your preps. Always try to stay within the limits of the time table. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make little changes here and there according to your preferences.

During the course of my preps, I decided to start collecting all the important points, facts etc. on a notebook which I kept with me always. I would add all the things that I thought I would need reviewing. This helps if you are choosy about what you enter into the books. Don’t go astray trying to make up a trimmed up version of a text book. Only the very essential points concentrating on where you are confused need to be entered.

I wrote up about 3 notebooks like this. I suggest entering the information in a subject wise manner so that it is easy for you to revise. This would come in very handy during the last few days before the exam. You will be very confident that you have reviewed the most important points. Again, I would like to remind you that these little notebooks help you eliminate your grey areas totally. I have a strong feeling that this is the clinching point when it comes to tasting success.

Apart from reviewing, you can ask your friends trivia from these books. And since you will be referring back to these notebooks from time to time, you will be very familiar with the arrangement of the points. You might even be able to recall points based on the arrangement on the notebook. I don’t know if I can convey my point clearly here. I’ll try another example here. There is a humongous chart series in Harrison Part 2 in the region about Glomerulonephritis. It is very hard to recall anything from this region. I entered the information on one of my notebooks in two pages. And needless to say, it couldn’t have been more crucial. There were about 3 questions from those 2 pages of my notebook. I knew it was important and I was able to get 2 out of the 3 questions in the AIPGE 2004. Now, you could argue that revising Harrison would have given me the same advantage. But, just because I had an idea about the way I had entered the info in my notebook, I was able to recall properly. And for me it helped! You can decide for yourself if you want such help!

Apart from this, I suggest aspirants to make such useful notebooks based on anything they find difficult to study. I made a couple of books more – One for learning named Syndromes/Signs and the other one for Chromosomes and Genes, HLA etc. You could also prepare some flow charts for sticking on the walls of your room. I have got a few charts which really helped in preps. When making such charts, always take note that you must do your best to get the maximum information in the least amount of space with good colors and arrangement so that the picture stays in your mind. When making such things, try to incorporate different charts from different books into one single grand chart. To give you an example, I made a chart based on the Porphyrias – It included everything from the whole sequence of reactions, their intracellular locations, the different names of enzymes, the names of diseases, the biochemical and clinical features and their inheritance. I used a couple of charts from Harper and another couple from Harrison.

I’d give you a few tips on reading text books. Like I’ve said before, keep a time-limit for finishing portions or chapters from a text book. First, go through the topics which have been asked before. To know this, you would have to mark/highlight portions that have been asked before. Whenever you back-refer an MCQ, make sure you highlight the relevant portion on the text books. If there are some additional points, just note it on the side of the marked point itself. If you have done your Salgunan properly, you will already have a few highlighted portions in the text books. This helps us getting oriented in the topic. This means, we know what we would like to learn when we read the text.

After getting such an idea, go through the chapter. The more MCQs you do, the better you become at picking important points from the text. Whenever it occurs to you that something is important, mark it. Just like before, if you happen to know an additional point, note it down. If you land up in a portion without charts, go ahead and make a few on your own. If there is a related topic, try to make a chart with the comparisons and differences. Making such charts obviously deepens your grasp on the topic. I used to have my text books peppered with such little notes and post-it papers.

If you happen to share a book with someone else, ask your friend to mark the points when he reads the topic. Surprisingly enough, there would be a lot of points that you have missed out after your friend reads the topic. This way, both get advantage.

Having done all the reading, you might find it tough remembering what you have learned. Mnemonics are very useful in such cases. If you are skilled in making mnemonics, making them and remembering them would become easy. I would advise everyone to creatively think about making these. We had a lot of mnemonics in our study group and everyone would remember most of them. I was never good at making these but still make sure mnemonics are creative, funny and catchy. A little bit of vulgarity often adds spice to the mnemonic and it really helps in remembering this. It would help if you write your mnemonics down in another note book as well. I had one of these and it was very easy to revise all of them just before the exam.

You will be having a lot of doubts and queries after you finish reading. Never shy away from asking those to your friends. The more doubts you ask, the more you become good at the topics.

You will be wondering what books to use for preps. Here’s the whole list that I used. This might be a little too much for you, but I’m of the kind who likes having a lot of books around me.

1. Anatomy
a. Dutta (I would recommend this as the basic text book)
b. Chaurasia (Easy for remembering the relations using simple diagrams)
c. Keith L. Moore (Is extremely helpful in learning hard topics like the sole, and Head & Neck.
d. Neuroanatomy (IB Singh > Dutta. Again, very useful if you can read topics like Hypothalamus, Cerebellum, blood supply to brain from both)
e. Embryology (IB Singh > Dutta. I found both useful and Dutta has great General Embryology discussion.)
f. SARP – (useful for Osteology, Arthrology)
g. Osteology and Histology – only for Reference

2. Physiology
a. Ganong (Read through Ganong and do the question on the back)
b. Guyton (Great reference book to have. CVS is excellent and CNS/Muscle & Nerve topics might provide some tough references)

3. Biochemistry
a. Harper (Read through the regular sections and try to go through the last 200 pages. Those topics have been regularly asked in the last 2 years of AIPGE and AIIMS)
b. Vasudevan and Sreekumari (Very useful if you find Biochemistry difficult)
c. Chaudhary (For those hard question references)

4. Pharmacology
a. Tripathi (Read through. Just about everything is important. Try to add your own points from other texts such as Harrison etc. into this)
b. Tumor SARP (Chemotherapeutic agents)
c. Harrison Charts (Adverse Reactions pages 431 onwards in 15th Edition)
d. Pharmacology SARP is useful.

5. Pathology
a. Robbins (almost read through. Must read topics are General Pathology, CVS, CNS, Kidney, Muscle and Nerve)
b. Harrison (for the final word in pathology)
6. Microbiology
a. Ananthanarayanan (read through and give special importance to Virology, Mycology)
b. SARP is extremely useful here.
c. Harrison (final reference, great charts on offer in the last 100 pages in Infectious Disease topic)

7. Forensic Medicine
a. Naryana Reddy (mainly for reference)
b. SARP (very useful, especially in Toxicology and Identification)

8. Preventive and Social Medicine
a. Park (Almost read through)
b. RxPG SPM Buster (is useful, but has a lot of mistakes)

9. Psychiatry
a. Neeraj Ahuja (read selectively with stress on Psychopharmacology and substance abuse)
b. SARP series SARP (Essential)
c. Sure Success SARP (It’s even better than the original!)

10. Anesthesia
a. Lee (A truly wonderful book. If you have the time read it selectively. It will improve your knowledge in many subjects.)
b. SARP Original
c. Sure Success SARP

11. Radiology
a. Sutton (only for reference)
b. SARP (essential)
c. Sure Success SARP (must-read)

12. Skin
a. Pavithran (very good book)
b. Harrison (Skin topics are very good)
d. Sure Success SARP

13. ENT
a. Dhingra (read selectively with importance to Larynx)
b. Sure Success ENT & Ophthalmology book is very useful

14. Ophthalmology
a. Khurana (must read)
b. Parson (for reference)
c. Sure Success ENT & Ophthalmology

15. Orthopedics
a. Maheshwari (for reading)
b. Natarajan (for a bit of reference)

16. Surgery
a. Bailey and Love (very useful to read but has a lot of contradictions within itself and with other text books
b. Surgery SARP (very useful)
c. Manipal Manual of Surgery
d. Das (both Clinical and Short Cases)

17. Medicine
a. Harrison (ultimate Bible)
b. CMDT (very useful and concise. Essential for the latest protocols in most subjects)

18. Pediatrics
a. OP Ghai (for selective reading. Don’t ever miss out on Metabolic diseases)
b. Nelson (for reference)
c. Pediatrics SARP (very informative)

19. Obstetrics
a. Dutta (another great book. Selective reading)
b. O&G Buster (is okay)

20. Gynecology
a. Shaw’s (Great book, selective reading with emphasis on Tumors)
b. O&G Buster (is okay)

Other books which are extremely useful
• Mudit Khanna (AIPGE)
• Ashish Gupta (AIIMS)
• Sure Success for Medical PG Entrance 2nd edition
• Tumor SARP
• Stedmann’s Medical Dictionary (*most of the toughest references come from this)
• Pre PG Medicine Handbook by Raj & Sulfi
• RxPG Biostatistics
• A good statistics book

I would like to clarify that I am of the opinion that most of these solved question papers from previous years have some mistakes in them. Some of the explanations are very absurd sounding. I have always backed myself and our reference books when it comes to such questions. I really think that if you have a sound reference against the answer given in the guide, you might be the one who is actually correct. So back yourself until you find something to really back up the guide.

Lately, internet has become one of the important reference media available for our PG Entrance employees. I’m the kind who likes looking up everything online. Having done a lot of such ‘research’, I’ve found that the content on most of the sites is not very reliable. If you happen to find a reference for some question on a website, make sure you see the same thing in a couple of other websites also. If you can’t find that, always keep the query unsolved. Some days later, you might find a better reference somewhere.

Finally, I ask every one of you to remain positive through out. Whatever you feel like during your preps, always think positive. Never let failures falter you in your quest for your PG. Never give up finding reference to any question until you have found it. Put in the effort and the results will show. If I can pull it off, I’m sure most of you can!

Having read through the article, what do you feel? I hope this has been helpful. I’m looking forward to hearing from you about your thoughts.




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