GP careers: How to take – and pass – the DRCOG exam

Dr Ramiya Al-Alousi gained the highest score in the Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (DRCOG) in October 2020. Here she offers some top tips on how to pass the exam.

(Photo: Geber/Getty Images)
(Photo: Geber/Getty Images)

What is the DRCOG?

The Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (DRCOG) is a reputable qualification aimed primarily at GPs or trainees who wish to expand on their knowledge and confidence in women’s health. It can also form firm groundwork for developing a special interest or for those wishing to build experience in this field if not exposed sufficiently to obstetrics and gynaecology rotations during training.

How is it assessed?

The DRCOG exam is held twice yearly in April and October and can be booked online via the RCOG at a current cost of £476 to UK candidates.1 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exam is now rolled out online through Pearson VUE Centres nationwide this change has meant it is more accessible for most candidates.

This three-hour exam, recently remodelled to involve answering 120 single best answer questions only, assesses understanding and clinical decision making skills within seven pertinent areas relevant to obstetrics, gynaecology, sexual and reproductive health.1 Syllabus details are included on the RCOG website to help guide revision. There are no longer any specific pre-requisites in terms of experience and no clinical training component.

Top tips for passing the exam

Having sat the exam successfully in October 2020 and gained the DRCOG Prize Medal for the highest score, here are my five top tips to making the most out of this diploma and passing first time.

1. Allow ample time for revision

With work and family commitments alongside, it is often difficult to find time to revise for postgraduate examinations. I would recommend allowing around four months of time to prepare daily; I found my revision to be most effective for a few hours every evening after my children were asleep and gradually increasing this revision time closer to the exam date.

2. Consider the DRCOG Bite Sized Revision Course

Although not obligatory, and at an extra cost, I found this one-day course beneficial and it helped to cover key syllabus content in a succinct and memorable way. There was plenty of opportunity to practice DRCOG style questions, in addition to sitting a mock paper with answers discussed on the day to highlight techniques for success. The course can be booked through the RCOG website and costs £201 – during COVID-19 the course has been delivered virtually.

3. Practise plenty of questions

The key to passing is answering as many questions as possible. I found the PassMedicine website to be most effective with over 800 questions,2 giving you a breakdown of how your performance compares to the average and which areas you need to focus on.

Reading the answer summaries was worthwhile, but I felt that a further dive into suggested guidelines was essential to gain a good understanding. The site also allows you to retry just the questions that you initially answered incorrectly, which I found handy to revisit towards the end of my revision. This costs £25 for four months' access.2

I also found the book The DRCOG Revision Guide: Examination Preparation and Practice Questions by Susan Ward, vice president of education at the RCOG, invaluable, filled with over 400 exam style questions and answer discussions. Conveniently, the third edition has just been released in 2021 to align with the new exam format.

4. Read the guidelines

I recommend reading the main guidelines from RCOG (especially the green-top guidelines), NICE and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), including memorising the salient headings from the UK Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use (UKMEC) which features heavily in the questions.

If you can afford the time, then reading the entirety of each guideline is advantageous as some questions may come out of the fine text rather than just the summary. If there are newly-updated or released guidelines then be sure to read those, as they may feature in the next exam.

Have an inquisitive mind when approaching questions, and address any gaps in understanding as you go along. I found this concept helped to breakdown the volume of guidelines that needed to be covered, instead of leaving all of this reading until the end.

Depending on your learning style, some people find that writing short summaries helps to consolidate learning. I certainly found this useful, which then meant I had a convenient notebook of guideline synopses that I could refer to easily prior to the exam.

5.Read the question carefully

Remember that all the words in the question summary are included for a reason, so to hone down it might be useful to write down key words on the whiteboard provided in the examination room.

Contrary to what I initially thought, there is plenty of time to be able to read each question thoroughly and think about the most appropriate answer. An example is a question around antihypertensive choices in pregnancy, but a mention of asthma in the patient should then help to guide you away from beta blockers despite being the usual first choice.

In summary, the DRCOG is an affordable and attainable qualification that I highly recommend. It looks good on your CV, forms a part of your continual professional development, and marks additional expertise or the start of an extended role within women’s health.

  • Dr Al-Alousi is a GP in Leicester

References

  1. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. 2021. DRCOG exam. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/careers-training/drcog/
  2. PassMedicine. 2018. DRCOG revision. https://www.passmedicine.com/drcog/index.php

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