Two doctors explain what you can’t learn from books for the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) and how to prep for the exam during the pandemic.

When you rotate through the foundation programme as newly qualified doctors, you spend a lot of time on administrative duties such as completing notes, discharge summaries, booking scans, and making sure important information is available for seniors who are the key decision makers.

After years of study, huge financial expenditure, and the realisation that you may have someone’s life in your hands, the first year can at times seem tough. However, the importance of what you learn in that first year cannot be underestimated – it sets the basis for your career.

You learn how to communicate with patients and their families, find out how a hospital works, and hopefully by the end of your F1 year, will have seen thousands of decisions made and can start work without direct supervision. This time spent rotating through multiple hospital jobs is a key formative process.

What you can’t learn from books

Just like many of the skills you need as a doctor, the knowledge you need to perform well in the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) cannot be found in books. This critical assessment is part of the selection process for entry to the Foundation Programme and accounts for half of your total score.

Frank Acquaah is a trauma & orthopaedic surgical trainee and is part of the team that run the SJT Preparation course. He knows what it’s like and explains why he wants to help you achieve top marks in this important exam.

MDU F1 members receive an exclusive discount. Find out more about the SJT Preparation course.

The test tackles the problems and issues that are a daily part of clinical practice. A key aspect of this clinical practice is the ability to assimilate all available and relevant information and make a decision – this is what the SJT is testing for.

Take the example of an angry patient. Everyone will have seen multiple such situations and probably have seen what happens when the situation is dealt with poorly. You will also most likely have witnessed examples of it being handled well too. It’s only after experiencing it that you’ll understand how to tailor your approach and make it suitable for that particular patient. You can then give them the best treatment despite the pressured situation. Books simply can’t teach that, which is why clinical experience is key. Once you are able to take these learning experiences into the test the base is set for exam success.

SJT Preparation course

Prep during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted clinical placements for students so preparation this year will be somewhat different. It is important to remember that despite whatever reduction in hospital time has occurred, each of you will already have amassed hundreds if not thousands of hours in hospital observing, learning and doing.

Take the time now to reflect back on these activities and consider writing some of your personal reflective pieces for each placement you have had. While this may seem arduous at first, once you have spent time collating your thoughts for each branch of medicine you’ve encountered, you’ll realise how much information you already have – some of which you may even recall when you start to reflect.

What you’ve learned on the wards will help with your SJT prep

The SJT is a very high-pressured exam, particularly with the emphasis it places on the overall score from which Foundation Programme job allocations are based. In order to perform well, the ability to recall first-hand the difficult dilemmas you have seen managed effectively is a huge benefit. It streamlines your thinking and helps create a knowledge bank that you can dip into.