My Experience of MRCEM Primary - Dr Behzad Rashid
Are you an overseas emergency medicine doctor taking the postgraduate route to GMC registration through the MRCEM exams? Are you interested in sitting the exams in the future?
As part of IMG Stories, we introduce to you Dr Behzad Rashid, an emergency medicine doctor who has recently sat and passed the MRCEM Primary exam. Dr Rashid will be sharing with you his experiences of the first of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine exams, taking you through his preparation, experience of sitting the exam and sharing some hot tips for international MRCEM aspirants.
Tell us about yourself... what should the IMG Community know about Behzad Rashid?
I am a Resident Emergency Medicine Physician, currently working in Pakistan and have worked in A&E since completing my internship. I started off as a medical officer, and then began an A&E residency programme in my country. I would say a combination of hard work and fate are the reason why I am where I am today.
What motivated you to sit the MRCEM exams?
I had booked a space on the PLAB 1 exam, however, due to COVID, it was unfortunately cancelled (three times in fact). By the third time, I’d had enough. I decided to progress my career in Pakistan because I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with the exam bookings, and everything was very uncertain at that time.
Even though time felt like it had stopped, it was actually flying by. I therefore decided to sit the residency exam in Pakistan. I worked in A&E at the time and had heard about the MRCEM exams from my colleagues. Due to the lockdown, they had just announced that the exam could now be taken online, even within the comfort of your own home. I was ready to go all in and grind my way through both exams, so I studied and succeeded in clearing both PLAB 1 and MRCEM Primary.
At what point in your career and training did you sit the MRCEM Primary exam?
There wasn’t anything in particular that made me realise that I was ready to sit this exam, besides the fact that COVID had been ruining my plans. I was going through a difficult time, and A&E was something I dearly wanted to pursue. I saw an opportunity, and I took it.
Applications can be frustrating… how did you find the application process for the exam?
The whole process took me about 30-45 minutes to complete. The details of application and exam are available on the website, and whilst a bit tedious, it is a straightforward process. Based on the RCEM’s eligibility criteria for the first exam, you only need to have graduated with an approved medical degree in order to sit the exam.
Since I was planning to sit the exam in my own country, I was provided with some options for exam centres. There were multiple private exam centres nearby, and I did not want to sit the exam at home and risk the internet issues others had experienced. I booked my exam for 8 am, because that's when I function best, and I would recommend that everyone books whatever time of day you think you would perform best.
How far in advance did you start preparing for the MRCEM Primary?
I booked the exam 4 months in advance (around the end of October, with the exam in Dec). Everyone has their own method of studying, and for some, this may not be enough time, so whatever schedule has worked for you in the past - stick to it. In my opinion this exam requires about 3-4 months of studying if you are unemployed or have any daily commitments, and about 5-6 months if you are working or have a very busy schedule.
Often IMGs are a bit at a loss to get support... did you benefit from speaking to senior colleagues or peers about the exam? Did you study with other candidates?
I was in touch with a few individuals who had already sat the exam. They guided me through the application process and resources I could use to prepare. They were also the ones who entertained my idea in preparing for both exams at once, and they believed that I could succeed in both.
You don’t need a lot of friends, just the right ones who will push and support you in your journey.
You were preparing for PLAB at the same time as the Royal College exams...how do you feel studying for PLAB 1 compares to your experience of MRCEM Primary?
PLAB 1 and MRCEM Primary are completely different exams.
PLAB 1 focuses on the application of medical knowledge in common day-to-day scenarios that a doctor would encounter in the UK. MRCEM Primary is more of a theoretical assessment of the basics i.e. anatomy and physiology of emergency related scenarios. This became even more apparent after I’d gone over the curriculum provided by the GMC and RCEM, which is honestly the best part of the exams. I would not say that one is easier than the other – they assess different things.
I focused on the blueprint/curriculum for each exam and made sure to get in as many MCQs as possible. That gave me a better overview of what I would actually be tested on.
Emergency medicine doctors are notoriously busy...in the months leading up to the exam, how much time did you spend a week on preparation?
In my case, I had to appear for the MRCEM Primary first, and then a week later for the Pakistan Residency (FCPS I) exam. Since work was extremely hectic, and I felt that I was not able to set aside much time to prepare for both, I quit my job to study for the exams and managed my time throughout the day to study and prepare for both (around 12 hours each day).
It goes without saying that any goal without a plan is just a wish. I divided my day into 2 halves where I would wake up at 5am, and study till 12pm, take a break (which included sleeping, eating or working out), then start off again at 5pm and go at it till 10pm. The first half would be MCQS and making Anki flash cards, second half would be to review the cards I had pending for that day. I would throw in a mock exam every week to see where I stood at that point, correct my mistakes and make cards on those as well. I stuck to this routine for 3 months and by the end of the 3 months, I had a deck of about 2000 Anki flash cards, divided into two groups for the 2 exams, and that is all I would review because I was confident that is all they would test me on.
How did you manage to juggle other commitments whilst studying for the exam (without panicking)?
During COVID, I was pretty much stranded by myself in Pakistan. My family lived in a different country, and I had limited interactions with the family I did have around me. This bizarre period of isolation and confusion gave me ample time to prepare for my exams. Being alone did get frustrating at times, and anxiety would creep up on me, but the hunger to clear my exams and progress my career gave me tunnel vision and cancelled out all the other noise.
The preparation for 2 examinations was an enlightening and humbling experience. My goal is to reach out to students and help them understand what works best for them. I’d be more than happy to provide students with any resources (Including my Anki flash cards) they need. However, there isn’t a cookie cutter plan that will suit everyone - I did what was best for me in my circumstances, and you must do the same.
What resources did you use to prepare and practice for the MRCEM Primary exam?
I used the curriculum provided by the MRCEM on their website which you will find here.
Along with that I was using the MRCEM Success question bank, which I have to say is an excellent resource. The actual exam was very close to the MCQs provided, which is why I would highly recommend it.
I am also an avid user of Anki. It has helped me ace exams in med school, the MRCEM primary, FCPS I and even the PLAB 1. I have never made any notes from any textbooks, and I honestly think hardcovers will eventually become obsolete. I would highly recommend making your own cards since that allows you to work at your own pace and address any weak points. I would love to share my own deck of Anki cards as well, which covers everything provided in the MRCEM curriculum. Feel free to add more to this deck and pay it forward.
Let's face it, exams are not everyone's favourite day out... so on the day of the exam, what did you do to relax?
I woke up early and decided not to go over any cards. I’m the type of exam-taker who enjoys working out and listening to music before an exam. At that point, I know what I know, and that is all I know. So I drank a nice cup of coffee and got some cardio done while listening to music.
What was your experience like on the day?
My exam was around 8:30am, so the drive was about 5 minutes to the exam hall and I got there around 30 minutes before it started. The invigilator was friendly and after leaving my personal belongings in a small locker, they provided a sheet of paper and stationary at the centre. The computer prompted me to start once the invigilator asked me to, and everything after that went smoothly. The invigilators are ready to help you with your queries if you experience any problems during the exam as well.
What was the most challenging part of the exam?
In my honest opinion, I did not come across anything that would throw me off. After going over the curriculum, and having a plan, I just stuck to that plan and followed it till the end.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
I was already taking the most extreme measures by preparing for multiple exams and taking time off work, given everything was shut down during COVID. I have no regrets and cannot think of anything I’d have done differently.
What nuggets of advice would you give to any MRCEM Primary aspirants?
The best thing about the Royal College exams is that they provide a curriculum of what you should know, and they would never ask anything more than that. I would highly recommend you go over that and familiarise yourself with the content you will be tested on. Question banks might provide extra information to give you a different perspective of the subject, however the real exam sticks to its curriculum. If you know what you are required to know, preparation for the exam becomes easier.
What are your plans going forward?
I'm planning on appearing for the PLAB 2 and the MRCEM Intermediate soon. I have already started preparing my Anki deck for the intermediate as well, so wish me luck and stay tuned for that as well.
To learn more about the RCEM exams, see our IMG Resources library.
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