The Anatomy Process: Part Three

We’re finally here, huh! The last part of this series is upon us at last. I hope this is helpful and enlightening with regards to the notorious OSCE.


You’re almost there, right at the finishing line. You’ve spent the past few months (or weeks, or days, don’t worry, I won’t judge) learning and then memorising semesters worth of anatomy facts, organ details, neurovasculature and the like. The final hurdle? Answering the questions in written exams and the OSCE.

I think you can have all the knowledge in the world but if you can’t accurately and concisely convey the information (more relevant in the OSCE), then it could be a major downfall.

I split this post into a few parts to outline my tips and tricks for every aspect of anatomy in exams that you could be facing.

Answering in Written Exams

Honestly, if you’ve memorised everything to the best of your ability, this should be quite simple. At Manchester, we’ve had a few questions in our semester exams about the anatomy of relevant organs and it’s popped up on the progress test before too.

My MCQ tips here would be to read the question carefully! They can either be sneaky with their wording, or you may make assumptions about the question when you skim read it in a rush and see the answers. Sometimes when I get too far ahead of myself, I link cue words in the question rubric with the options available as answers and when you think you already know what you’re looking for, your eyes can be clouded as to what the question is actually asking.

If you have practice questions available to you, then definitely do them. I always make a note of concepts/facts that I get wrong from questions in revision notes so when I go over them, I can make sure I don’t make those mistakes again.

Answering in OSCEs

What am I even supposed to know for the OSCE?

Let’s work from the big picture into smaller details:

Organs

It’s vital to know structure and function. For example:

Where is trypsinogen released from and can you point this organ out on the pro-section?

Some anatomy OSCE examiner somewhere, I made this question up to be honest

You see how deliberate these questions are with the facets they cover? Not only do you need to know what trypsinogen is (generally), but where it’s released from and also where the pancreas is, which is what produces trypsinogen.

The one other main point I have to highlight is that identification forms a huge part of the OSCE. Essentially, the OSCE is the only place where you get to demonstrate your knowledge and identify anything, because most of these questions could be twisted into written exam questions too. As such, it’s so crucial to get the identification right, but I’ll cover more on that later.

Bones

Bony landmarks are, to my knowledge, one of the very few things they can ask you relating to bones, so learn them well. However, in all honesty, once you’re so deep into anatomy, bony landmarks come as second nature anyways. Other things that they could possibly ask about in relation to bones include joints and organs that may be associated to specific bones.

Muscles

The general way of organising knowledge of muscles in medical school is with these specific categories: origin, insertion, innervation and action. In my experience at my medical school, I’ve tried to learn the facts of all these categories for every single muscle I’ve come across, but realistically, this is a tough ask.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; if worst comes to worst, and there is no possible way for you to even attempt to learn everything, then you may be better off learning a couple muscles from each larger type of muscle. By this, I mean that if you’re doing lower limb, the thigh for example, you know that there are the anterior, medial and posterior compartments. Now let’s say the OSCE is in two days and you have a lot of other things to focus on, so you can’t sit around and try to memorise so much content about 15 different muscles. You can try and memorise maybe three or four muscles from each compartment, so if they ask generally for you to describe a muscle in a certain compartment, you can choose from the ones you know.

This isn’t foolproof by any means, however. I’ve been in other stations that have been combined with anatomy, and they have asked for very specific details about very specific muscles, but for the anatomy-only station, I think this is a safer bet than panicking and being unable to learn anything as a result.

Also, just as a sidenote, if they let you choose our own muscle and they want you to identify it too, then don’t pick an obscure, deep muscle you can barely see on the pro-section. I would go for something easily visible and easy to remember (I always go for sartorius in the thigh, it’s superficial and long, how can you go wrong with that?!)

Neurovasculature

For questions about blood vessels, nerves and lymph, I would try to have a basic knowledge of the main, big nerves and vessels, and then know what vessels supply and drain each organ.

Identification is big with vessels! The difference between arteries and veins? Arteries are thicker-walled and you can feel it – don’t be afraid to touch the specimens and pro-sections and move things around to orientate yourself properly. Sometimes the veins also look darker, which can give it away.

But Malaikah, how do I answer the question in the heat of the moment?

  • Stay calm
  • Listen to the question
  • Ask them to repeat it if you need them to
  • Don’t say the first thing that pops into your head – evaluate that first answer you come up with mentally: does it make sense? Are you using the right terminology?
  • Once you’ve evaluated it, tell them your answer
  • In my experience, if they ask you if you’re sure about your answer… I hate to break it to you, but you might be wrong. At the end of the day, the examiner doesn’t really want to see you fail (unless they’re particularly mean-spirited but this is very rare!) I’ve only ever been asked if I’m sure when I was wrong about an answer
  • It’s okay if you might be wrong though, wrack your brains, find another answer, you can do it

Tips and Tricks

Examine the specimens! When you have the opportunity to be with the pro-sections and models, make the most of it but identifying things and working through what you can see systematically. Go with your friends and test each other or go by yourself and test yourself if you want more focused time to get to know the specimens.

I find it better to do with friends the first time, because many brains are better than one, and you can work through it together.

Know the question style. Speak to students in older years to figure out what kind of questions they like to ask, or if there are any particular topics that they like to bring up a lot. At my university, the last question in the OSCE is a three-mark question where they ask you to speak on a concept, like a specific joint for example. With these, the trick is to have a nice, logical system of going about it. So, if they ask about a joint, you could start with the bones that articulate together to form the joint, any ligaments that support the joint, the movements possible at the joint, etc.

Know the grading style. Normally, for us, it’s a mark per accomplishment, so if it’s a double-question where they ask you to name the organ that does X and then identify it, you’d get one mark for naming it and one mark for identifying it. Sometimes they won’t ask you to name it so beware of answering the right question.

Don’t worry. OSCEs are my most dreaded exam types because you can really just go in and totally do everything wrong, but the anatomy station is often my least worrisome station because I have such a strict regime to follow regarding it. The thought that I’ve definitely learned and (hopefully) memorised anything that they can ask me brings me comfort.


I hope you guys enjoyed the final instalment of The Anatomy Series! This deep-dive into my study routine for this one aspect of medicine has been fun to write, and I hope informative to read, at least to a certain extent. If you guys have any suggestions of what you’d like to see me cover in detail next then please let me know, and if you have any questions about any part of this process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Hope you’re all staying safe and social distancing. Sending my love.

Check out the other posts in the series below

The Anatomy Process: Part Two

I’m back, better late than never, with the second part of my anatomy series. This part is based on methods to memorise anatomical knowledge, in particular for OSCE stations focusing on anatomy. Hope you’re all staying safe, staying at home, social distancing, and checking up on your friends. Memorising So I’ve always enjoyed learning for …

Continue reading The Anatomy Process: Part Two

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