The Battle of David vs Goliath - Us vs NEET - PG

One of the most challenging and nerve-racking examinations of our medical career.

The exam which shapes up the rest of our medical career.

This exam is a test of your grit, determination and unrelenting perseverance to get into your dream branch.

These statements superficially summarize the general sentiment of an average medical student, who is about to appear for the NEET - PG exam and also paints a rather frightening picture in front of future aspirants.

The NEET - PG examination is a centralized common entrance test conducted by the National Board of Examination (NBE). This test is conducted once a year, almost usually the First Sunday of the month of January of every year. This test is used as a basis for admission into post - graduation courses across the country barring a few central institutes like AIIMS, JIPMER and PGI Chandigarh. With the medical education in India revolutionizing into a more compact and practical approach, it is stipulated that the central institutes will also base their admissions on the NEET score in the near future.



Some basic points to remember before we embark on the journey to dissect the exam up to the grass-root level:

  • The exam is conducted once a year. So its true when people say that your performance on that single day decides your future. No pressure right?

  • The exam has 300 Multiple - choice questions with +4 marks for each correct response and -1 for each negative response. So that makes a total maximum score of 1200.

  • The exam is conducted online at a testing center. So, practice sitting at one place and looking at the screen for 3 hours. Gamers have an edge here.

  • Each question has only one correct response. Here, the NEET - PG exam differs from other central institute exams like AIIMS and PGI wherein you get an assortment of different types of questions, with the possibility of mulitple correct answers, in turn, adding to the probability of getting those questions wrong.

  • The basic eligibility rule you need to keep in mind before you apply for the NEET - PG exam is that, you need to finish your internship before 31st March of the year in which you give the exam/ the year you wish to take admission to the post - graduation course.



HOW TO STUDY FOR THE EXAM?



This is the ever - burning question which puts many medical students into a frenzy. The mere herculean task of having to study 19 subjects in a matter of almost a year makes us all jittery.

But then, before we start cramming our little brains with gazillion pieces of information, let us look at what is known as the ' Pareto Principle'. Pareto Principle states that 80% of our results is determined by 20% of the work we do. This principle drives home the point which every exam strategist and exam toppers will tell you - STUDY SMART. It is not important to know all the details about every pathology or disease there is but you ought to know the most important points about every topic. Let's just say we call ourselves - JACK OF ALL DISEASES.

But the most important fact which distinguishes toppers from average rankers are the number of questions they solve every day over a consistent period of time. Solving questions is the single most important determinant in getting a great NEET score.



HOW DO WE KNOW WHICH TOPICS ARE HIGH YIELD?


In Medicine, everything we study has some relevance to us but practically speaking we cannot possibly remember every detail about each disease. So to make it realistic, we focus on the topics which have been repeatedly asked in various exams over the years. Teachers who set the NEET question paper are more likely to focus on those topics rather than question you about a very rare disease which is not very prevalent in our setting. For e.g:- You will most likely be asked about thyroid disorders and pathology rather than about Von-Hippel Lindau disease. But having said that, you can expect or rather are bound to get a few (around 15- 20 questions) which would be termed as 'outliers' and something which you would have either never heard of or have very limited knowledge about.

Therefore, rather than focusing our precious and limited time on topics which are unpredictable and would be of the same difficulty to the majority of students, we should streamline our preparation in perfecting those topics which we think are most important and most probable to come in the exam. We should maximize our chances to get an easy question correct rather than getting a tough question wrong, because an easy question wrong means you lose out on those invaluable 5 marks (4 + 1 for the negative marking) which can pull down your rank by at least a couple hundreds if not thousands.

So, coming to the question of 'How to know which topics are the most important?'

There are three ways we can go about this question.

First, this option is a tad elaborate but is more tailored to your preparation. Start by solving questions as soon as you finish reading a topic from your notes/guide books. Then look at the fraction of questions that you get wrong in that particular topic and give it a particular tag (green, yellow, red) based on your performance. After going through the whole subject, you will get a rough overview of the particular topics which you are lagging behind in and you can focus on them in your next revision cycle.

Second, previous year papers are an absolute must in the months preceding the exam. Solve and use them to gauge the pattern of questions being asked in those papers and the topics which are being particularly focused on. You can then make a list of those topics and focus your revision on ironing out those topics.

Third, and most probably the easiest and the most popular would be to resort to Google and search the high yield topics prepared by some premier institutes and online preparation portals. I do not discount them by giving a notion that they are bad because they are made by faculties who have years of experience in teaching medical students for entrance exams and are very helpful. I myself have referred to them due to lack of time. They are suited for all kinds of students and the topics mentioned will tally with your personalized list to some extent too. But, on the downside, it is not personalized to your own weaknesses.

For more information, here are some useful links -





WHICH SUBJECTS SHOULD WE FOCUS ON THE MOST?


Since this post is only pertaining to the NEET - PG exam, I would only like to focus on the pattern of questions asked in this exam.

The online exam is divided into three sections - SECTION A, SECTION B, SECTION C.

SECTION A focuses on Basic Sciences, i.e., the first year subjects viz. Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry.

SECTION B tests your knowledge on the paraclinical subjects such as PATHOLOGY, PHARMACOLOGY, MICROBIOLOGY, FORENSIC MEDICINE and COMMUNITY MEDICINE.

SECTION C deals about the clinical subjects broadly covering MEDICINE, SURGERY, OBG and PEDIATRICS along with minor subjects such as RADIOLOGY, ORTHOPAEDICS, PSYCHIATRY, DERMATOLOGY and ANESTHESIA.

Although there is a demarcation made in the sections and which is also published in the exam brochure, we need to be well aware that questions in one section can always overlap with questions from another section. For eg : - It is very probable that a question of medicine shows up in a question related to pathology or a question regarding the mechanism of action of a drug comes up in relation to a clinical question.

Another thing to make a particular note of is the change in the pattern of questions. I had gone through the previous year papers of NEET and have given this exam recently. I can firmly state that the pattern of questions have made a complete turn around. From a predominance of one liners which focus on the retaining capacity of candidates along with their ability to rote-learn the material, the recent changes made in line with the upcoming NEXT exam sheds more light on integration and practical scenarios. This year the questions were vastly clinically oriented and would make the examinee think on various levels before coming to the final answer. This is a very similar pattern to the USMLE and AIIMS questions. Therefore, the knowledge of the basic and paraclinical subjects are fundamentals to a good score. I cannot emphasize on that last sentence enough. The weightage of marks given by examiners on these 1st and 2nd year subjects constitute almost 50-55% of the paper. Therefore, getting your basics right should be the mantra to a good score. Out of the clinical subjects, I would say OBG has the highest weightage in terms of questions asked and also does not correlate much with basic sciences. If you study Pathology, Microbiology and Pharmacology well, there will be very few questions unanswerable from Medicine as well as Surgery.

Therefore, my advice is to focus on the basic subjects predominantly with equal focus on integration of topics among various subjects.



HOW MUCH TIME IS NEEDED TO PREPARE FOR THE EXAM AND HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD WE ALLOCATE TO EACH SUBJECT?

To answer this question, we will go to basic mathematics and allocate time to each subject based on the weightage of that particular subject in the exam. For e.g.:- If Pathology has a weightage of 20 questions out of the total 300 questions, we can use this simple formula to get an idea about the ideal time we can give to each subject - 20/300 * 180 given our study period for first review of the subject matter is 6 months. So we calculate that 12 days are required to complete the entire pathology review for the first time. The usefulness of this formula is that it binds you into studying only the high yield concepts and not get lost in the sea of information. It lays down a timeline within which you ought to finish a particular subject, in turn, making you more focused on the review.

This brings us to the next question, 'How much time is required to crack the exam.' This question has various answers for people in different scenarios -

SCENARIO 1 - A post - intern who is determined to take the year off to study, secure a good rank and get his/her dream branch in a good college. For such students, they usually get at least 9-10 months post internship to prepare for the NEET exam. Therefore, they have a longer time for their first review and thus are able to revise the subject matter at least twice before sitting for the exam.

SCENARIO 2 - A post - intern who had an average to below average rank and tried to go through the counselling process to try their luck at getting a seat that year. Such candidates have roughly 5-6 months till D- Day and hence, their schedule would be much more intense and rigorous. Therefore, a good first read and a revision of high yield concepts with solving question modules meticulously will give rewards.

SCEANRIO 3 - Last but not the least, an intern. They constitute the majority of people giving the exam. Given their busy schedule filled with long and tiring 36 hour duties coupled with a few months of gallivanting post the strenuous final year exams, they are left with a very limited amount of time to constructively study for the exam. But, as has been the case in the past, there are toppers and good rank holders who crack the exam at the very first try. How they do it depends a lot on their determination. Something common to all their success, is their ability to do at least 300-400 questions daily and consistently. This highlights the point I made before, that solving questions is the single most important determinant for a good rank.

Therefore, given an ideal scenario, one needs about 8-10 months of review and question solving to crack the exam. But, in an Interns' scenario, I suggest setting an early goal of your dream rank given the realities of intern life, solving questions consistently over a period of 5-6 months with a solid review of notes. This would be the most efficient way to achieve your goal.



WHAT RESOURCES TO STUDY AND HOW TO CHOOSE?




This is a question which has been asked generations down and over - time people's opinions and choices have shifted from a classroom based teaching to an online based teaching in today's world of deadly pandemics and the ease of learning at your own pace and your own comfort place.

Deciding which method of study suits a student, is completely upon the discretion of the student to try out various sources and finally come to a conclusion. There is nothing to worry as all these platforms and classroom based teaching institutes do provide a few 'free classes' for you to acclimatize with the style of teaching and ultimately make a decision for yourself.

But I can help you with an effective learning guide which can form a strong basis in helping you to choose the best resource for you. A few tips regarding choosing where to study from are :

  • Never overburden yourself with too many resources. This has been stressed upon by every individual giving the exam at least once. Referring to multiple resources does not help us in gaining better insight of the topics but can be counter - productive in a way that it confuses our brain by giving contradicting information.

  • Always choose one primary resource to focus your study on and supplement it with a reviewed and trusted question bank. The best and the most effective resource to read during the limited preparation time we get is the notes we have made through the years of medical school or by attending various online or classroom lectures. Many of us are not in the habit of making notes or have not paid enough attention in class to make complete notes. This does hamper the preparation strategy for interns or post interns with about 6-7 months of preparation time left. In such cases, I strongly advice not to make fresh notes and waste your precious time but in fact, utilize the remainder of the time to the fullest in solving as many questions on the topics as possible. Some students do have a habit of reading from handwritten notes of others which is not ideal but is not completely disapproving either. It is always better to go through a reading material at least once before starting questions as it forms a basis of knowledge in our mind which helps us in solving questions and understanding the correct answers.

  • For students like me and the majority studying during their internship, the idea is to acquire the maximum amount of knowledge in the limited time possible. And for this there is no better resource other than question banks. Students often underestimate the utility of the question banks and I did the same mistake. Question banks not only tests your base knowledge acquired over the years in medical school, but it also is a warehouse of all the essential and high yield information required for that particular topic.

  • While solving question banks, do not get demotivated or disinterested if you don't perform up to your expectations. This is not the real test and you are here to practice these questions to make sure you don't get them wrong on the final day. Pull up your chin and keep going through the questions. As most of the elite teachers in NEET - PG preparation say, "NEET - PG is a marathon", and you need to learn how to run long distances consistently. It doesn't come in a single day or a week. But keep at it and you will see yourself making progress in no time. If you have finished a particular question bank, just pick up another one and go through it. It's all about acquainting yourself with those long question stems and keeping the same level of focus for 3 and a half hours.

  • Never make the mistake of not reading the questions which you have gotten correct. It's the most simple, yet hardest thing to follow. Our brain tricks us into thinking we know the answer but you might have just been lucky to get the correct answer which gives you a false sense of confidence. NEET - PG is evolving and conceptual questions are coming to the forefront. So, do not fall into the trap of rote learning answers. Spending 10-15 minutes extra on a question does less harm than getting the question wrong on the final day because you couldn't remember the answer. Therefore, always go through the entire explanation of the answers because it shows us how to derive the answer out of the question and corrects our thinking process.

  • Review your incorrect questions at least once after you have finished solving the entire module for that particular subject and make a note of the topic in which you have faltered. It helps you build your customized high yield topics to focus on right before the exams and iron out the chinks in your armor.



WHEN DO WE START GIVING FULL - LENGTH PRACTICE TESTS?

Full - length practice tests are a must do before you set foot into the examination hall. It prepares your mind and body to withstand the intensity and the stress of sitting for long periods of time. It portrays your weaknesses and strengths to help you focus on topics which you need to focus on during the final weeks leading to the exam.

Most students either don't comprehend the usefulness of full practice tests or are casual about the way they approach it. To get sufficient time to utilize practice tests to the fullest, one needs to start devoting time to these tests right after going through one reading of their material and one pass of the question bank. Given that the exam is in January, I feel September would be a good time to start giving these tests. You can start by giving one full length practice test every two weeks and gradually increase it to one per week in the month preceding the exam. A thorough and detailed review of the practice test can be beneficial on multiple levels and help you in going that extra mile towards a great score. My aim is to drill the importance of these full - length practice tests into your mind so as to help you to understand the effectiveness of these tests in boosting your score. As an addition to the full - length tests, many institutes and online portals also provide subject - wise tests which immensely help in revising the whole length of the subject in a matter of a few hours and is quite effective. I would suggest you to devise a strategy to include two - three subject tests and two full practice tests right from the month of September, when you should ideally start the first revision of your material, so as to give yourself enough time to work on the areas you are deficient in.

Another aspect to question solving which many students find effective especially in the later parts of their preparation is the Custom Module question solving given by a few online platforms where it allows the user to choose the difficulty and the type (whether factual, image based, clinical scenarios, etc.) of questions one wants to solve. Another aspect of this method of question solving is that it is timed, so it makes us think quick. Being a custom module, it is a mixed bag of questions from all subjects. This makes our brain work a little more in searching for those pockets of information. Therefore it is an invaluable tool for students either completing their revision, or students focusing only on question solving to secure a good rank in the test.

All in all I think this has been quite a mouthful of advice. However, the sheer importance of this exam and the role it plays in our lives makes it even more challenging and arduous.

To summarize, I would like to talk from the perspective of a student who has been in your shoes not too long ago, and having already gone through the same feelings of self - doubt and hopelessness. The exam is important and career - defining but it is not the last chance for us to show how good a doctor we can be. The recent changes in the pattern takes cognizance of that fact and if you are someone who has a good foundation of medical knowledge, you can be rest assured to do well in the upcoming exams. The exam is no longer a test of our ability to remember medical facts, but is instead, an assessment of our potential to understand the practical world we face day in and out, as doctors. All we need is to keep our senses sharp, our mind buzzing with inquisitiveness and the determination to do great things. A piece of advice for interns is to keep learning through everyday work in hospital wards and from the little things usually termed 'mundane'. Those are the things which are basic to working in healthcare, and is being made the focus of examinations today.

In the end, I would like to congratulate you on being doctors and empower you to take on the adversities facing our world today and in the future.

I would also wish all of you the very best for your upcoming exams and hope to see you on the other side as budding, bright - eyed and excited postgraduates next year.


CHEERS! CARPE DIEM!




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