The essay type shortlisting questions (CBQ) used as part of the Stage 2 GPVTS exam seems to cause candidates much worry. There are numerous posts in forums requesting past questions and model answers, but many of these candidates are missing the point. Learning model answers given by another successful candidate is of little use in this exam, which requires you to think laterally, and relate episodes from your OWN experience.
So, if you can’t prepare by learning dozens of model answers off by heart, how can you maximise your score in this part of the assessment? First, know the basics about the exam, second know what the examiners are looking for, so you can demonstrate it, and finally by writing a structured answer.
Exam basics – when, what, how?
The shortlisting exams are being held as part of the Stage 2 assessments. The
next Stage 2 assessments are on Saturday 9th September.
The exam lasts 2 hours and 20 minutes, and in this time you will have to answer
7 questions. This gives you 20 minutes per question – in this time you have to
read and understand the question, plan and write your essay AND leave a few
minutes to check over your answer.
The exam must be handwritten, so it is important to write as clearly as possible
– no point having a great answer that nobody can read.
What are they looking for? Criteria for shortlisting
The entire application process is designed to select candidates suitable for GP
training according to the core competencies laid out in the National Person
Specification. Know the competencies, and you know what the examiners are
looking for. The core competencies are:
• Empathy and Sensitivity
• Communication Skills
• Clinical Knowledge and Expertise
• Conceptual Thinking and Problem-solving
• Professional Integrity
• Coping with Pressure
• Personal Organisation / Administration Skills
• Managing Others and Team Involvement
Each one of these has several criteria, and you should be familiar with all of
them. You can do this by downloading the full National Person Specification.
So now that you know what they are looking for overall, how do you go about
writing an answer that will allow you to show the examiner that you have these
Basic tips for writing your essay
First of all, READ the question carefully, then read it again highlighting the
key words. Having decided what is being asked, you need to provide a structured
answer that is easy to read and easy to mark. Break your answer into paragraphs
or sections, rather than one long essay with no breaks: this is easier to follow
and easier for you to write. Make sure that your spelling, punctuation and
grammar are as good as possible – not only are there specific marks for this,
but it can affect your overall score as it creates an impression of your overall
ability. Here’s a simple exercise. Read the following two paragraphs:
“While worckng in a bussy, unit! I notissed that a college regul-arly turned up
‘late!!! tHiS caused bad feeling am’ongst the junior’s in the dipartment. Wee
call’d a meeting to discus the problem’!”
“While working in a busy unit, I noticed that a colleague regularly turned up
late. This caused bad feeling amongst the juniors in the department. We called a
meeting to discuss the problem”
What is your impression of the first candidate? And the second? The content of
the two is exactly the same, yet we instinctively feel that the first is a
poorer candidate than the second. This is an easy way to lose marks, so avoid
Structure your way to a higher score.
Now that you have read and understood the question, you need to have a plan and
a structure to your essay. This makes it easier to write, and easier to mark.
Here is a basic outline to apply to any scenario based essay questions (e.g.
“Describe a situation when…..”) – these form the majority of questions asked.
• Introduction – set the scene – a sentence or two to help the reader understand
the setting for your experience
• Main body of answer
• Summary of learning points
Main body of answer
This is the part where you answer the question! Break the question into
components and start a new paragraph or subsection to address each. You should
find it easier to approach once broken into small chunks. Make sure that you
have addressed all the points asked.
All doctors in General Practice have an annual appraisal, and a part of this is
dedicated to evidence of reflective learning. If you can show the examiner that
you have already adopted these skills, it should make you stand out from the
bulk of responses. This can be done in a sentence or two, summarising what you
have learned from this incident or episode.
This shows that you try to learn from your experiences, and that you reflect on
experiences to improve yourself.
Hopefully you now feel a little more prepared to tackle shortlisting essay
questions. Remember that learning model answers and responses from other
candidates is of no use in the exam – you need to be able to apply a structure
to explain your own experiences. Remember these final tips and hopefully you
will fly through your exam.
• Read the question carefully, highlighting key words
• Plan your response before starting to write
• Remember the core competencies in formulating your answer
• Write neatly, and make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are great
• Structure your answer – introduction, main body, summary
• Break up your writing into sections or paragraphs – this will make it easier
to read and easier to write
• Answer all the points asked in the question
• Show that you reflect on your experiences and learn from them
• Don’t go over the word count
Note: This article has tips taken from the Ebook "GPVTS shortlisting essays: a study
guide" 2nd Edition (updated July 2006)" by Dr Mahibur Rahman. Further free
advice on applying to a GPVTS is available at GPVTS.info which is a FREE educational resource for anyone interested in GP