I sat an open book medical school final exam from my bedroom

Year group photo taken before exams

Final year MBBS medical student, Shohaib Ali, shares his experience of taking the first ever remote online finals last week.

As I sat in my dressing gown, a cup of tea on my desk, and my laptop fully charged, I took in the scene and started to laugh. This wasn’t supposed to be how six years of medical school ended. Covid-19 had burst into everyone’s lives, respecting no national boundaries, why would it pay homage to the smilingly sacred medical school finals?

Shohaib’s desk when undertaking the exam

I was worried about the move to an online platform, not only because of the technology itself, but more widely of what this would mean for my medical degree. If we were able to look up answers, I was scared that this would dilute the academic rigour and l would graduate with a hollow degree. Having just sat them, I feel that I have had enough time to give you my thoughts on it.

Firstly, the fact that faculty have acted with such speed to move a whole medical school finals online in a couple of days still amazes me. Everyone is working in ways that I don’t think they could have ever imagined, and in this uncertain time massive leaps are being made. The online system itself worked effortlessly, and no one I spoke to had issues.

Speaking to my friends, everyone still found it hard even though we were allowed to have the whole internet at our disposal. The questions that worked well were ones that required a multi-stage reasoning to get to an answer, tested ‘grey’ areas of the curriculum that couldn’t be found online, or image/data interpretation. The few simple fact recall questions felt out of place in an open book exam which reflected the limited time faculty had to deliver this exam.

The exam has made me realise that medical school finals test a higher level of learning then just remembering information. If being a doctor just meant googling key information, they would have been out of a job a long time ago. We have actually learnt so much during this degree, which is easy to forget. The ability to synthesise information to come up with a management, or interpret complex data are skills I’ve somehow learnt. It took an open book exam for me to realise this.

Moving forward the medical school needs to look at what assessments will look like in a post-COVID world. The data from this year should be used to see which questions discriminated students best, and could hopefully lead to a change to which questions make the bank.

In this ever digitalised world, the skills of what makes a doctor have shifted, and our exams should reflect this. No parts of society will be the same after COVID, and medical education is no different. It will be exciting to see the full impact once we enter the other side.

Shohaib Ali (@ali_shohaib) has recently completed his final year of MBBS Medicine at Imperial College School of Medicine. This post was originally published on Shohaib’s blog

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