How to spot examinable content fast.

How accurate is your sixth sense for spotting examinable content? Do you ever get that feeling when you spot something in lectures and you can just tell that it’s going to come up in exams?

Over the years at medical school, I felt that I developed a good radar for the sort of content that wolld get assessed – there’s some soft clues out there which indicate importance of topics you’ll cover.

This is a key skill for very student to develop. The beauty about spotting examinabke content is that it can help you to focus your revision sessions. Here you’ll find some top tips on how to spot examinable content fast.

🥜Article in a nutshell

  • The caveats
  • Tips for spotting examinable content in lectures
  • Tips for spotting examinable content in practical exams
  • Tips for spotting examinable content during wider reading

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🤔The Caveats

Just to note before we get started.

  1. The soft signs of examinable content are different depending on mode of delivery i.e. lectures, practical exams and wider sources of reading
  2. In the UK we’re moving towards the UKMLA, where all content will become more standardised – this means less of your questions will be written by your lectures (and therefore specific to the content delivered by your medical school)
  3. You’ll need to make these skills a habit and appreciate that they are merely soft indicators of what you could focus on.
  4. It goes without saying but you shouldn’t over rely on these pointers – they helped me for my medical school, in the years 2016-2020, in the pre-covid era of in-person lectures (but largely self led study). This won’t be the same for you. I also was at a medical school where we would be examined 4 times a year.

👀Spotting examinable content in lectures.

Who is the lecturer? – Are the the module leads leading the session i.e. those that will be writing the questions? Are your lecturers specifically asked to write at least one question in your exam? if you dont know, ask them. Sometimes they may be honorary lecturers who provide a single question and are mainly there to fulfill their academic requirements for the year – at my medical school we’d occasionally have very heavy clinical genetics lectures, yet it was clear that the content was way too detailed and out of sync with the rest of our lectures to warrant spending too much time on it.

How many slides are dedicated to each topic? The heavier it is, the more likely that it’s an area to focus on. (Though that’s not always the case as per the example above)

Is it clinically important to know? You are training to be a doctor after all, and the medical school wants to ensure above all else that you’re safe and able to deal with common/important conditions.

Does the lecturer stress about it in the lectures? – if they wrote the exams they’ll sometimes be more biased to make the question fodder clear.

Has it been examined before? Med schools often repeat questions. If you’ve been provided access to past papers you’re at a greater likelihood of coming across similar themes and questions. Writing new quesitons, reviewing said questions and getting a consensus on new questions every year is a lot of effort for medical schools.

If you could summarise the key takeaways from a lecture, what are they? There’s a point to every lecture and often there’s a key message they want to get across as that’s what they’re writing questions for it.

🩺Spotting examinable content for practical exams.

Is the condition very common? If youre going to be tested on real patients (e.g. in OSCE, OSLERs or PACES in the UK), then your medical school is unlikely to source those with rare diseases. In the first instance, you can focus on those conditions that commonly have signs – identifying aortic stenosis vs. mitral regurgitation if a classic examiners favourite for cardiology presentations, for example.

How easy is it to get actors with that sign? for the same reasons as above.

Consider that a patient needs to be well to be brought in for medical school examinations – It’s not very ethical to bring in a very unwell patient to be examined by 300 medical students. Consider that your histories and examinations are unlikely to be conducted on those in extremis.

Would you see it on a daily basis in a real ward? Above all else, medical schools just want to make sure you’re being safe. They’re not looking for you to be like Dr House, they want you to know the common and clinically important things well.

🔍Spotting examinable content when reading widely.

Have you seen it before? – learn in layers. Learn the key concepts from a range of different sources. Is there a recurring theme in the learning points associated with a particular concept or condition across multiple sources?

Is there a validated scoring system named after it? and is it needed to determine appropriate management or prognosis? If so, learn it.

Does it form a guideline? Similar to a scoring system an examiner favourite, but be surety learn the updated guidelines and understand that different organisations have different guidelines (e.g BTS vs NICE for asthma treatment). If possible, ask your medical school which guidelines they’d like you to learn.

Does it have clinical importance? Is it an important side effect? Again they want to test if you’re going to be a safe F1 doctor, and there are a few things that you must absolutely know about.

Does it form an eponymous syndrome? This is less clinically important, but often can be the questions separating the top students form the average students.


In conclusion, finding examinable content quickly is an extremely important skill for every efficient medical student to develop. Remember that <20% of the content you cover will make up >80% of the exam. Id highly encourage you to approach your revision sessions by asking (i) do I understand the content and (ii) how could this look in a question. Itll help you focus on content that is likely to appear.

I hope this helps 🙌


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