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Risk-Benefit ratio in preparing for PG entrance exams

Author: neoplastic_neuron, Posted on Wednesday, January 21 @ 00:03:07 IST by RxPG  

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When one begins preparation for the entrance exams approximately a year in advance, they are confronted with a few fundamental choices with regard to their approach. In that this is quite similar to investing one's money wisely and waiting for the returns to flow in. Let's see...

I’m certain the AIPGME-2009 has inspired quite a few hidden artists among the aspirants to surface—right from poets, through passionate bloggers, melancholic singers, to insightful philosophers.

No wonder, it has stirred the hitherto latent entrepreneurial streak in me, too!

It’s surprising how we’re always aware of a few empirical principles, but need someone or the other to verbalize them to make them objective enough, so that those principles could actually be applied to life-situations.

One such principle is of risk-benefit ratio (click here), applied mostly in the business world. To put it simply, greater the risk involved in an investment, greater are the returns (premium) provided no untoward incidents (risk) occur. But, of course, lesser is the certainty of getting those returns. Conversely, a safer investment is such that it’s very likely to yield guaranteed, but measly returns.

When one begins preparation for the entrance exams approximately a year in advance, they are confronted with a few fundamental choices with regard to their approach. More specifically: whether to go through the texts and then try solving the MCQs (the so called “prospective” approach), or to simply solve as many MCQs as possible and try to virtually “memorize” the answers ("retrospective" approach)? The second option sounds daunting, but it is not when one actually ventures into it. There are too many cues to make us remember the answers like the other options in the question, the verbatim repetition of the question, the logic behind the explanations, and plus, the always reliable—repetition of the question again and again, and yet again. And, as is the case with so many other things in life, there’s the “hybrid” approach—prospective approach for important topics and retrospective one for the miscellaneous topics.

Past quite a few years have seen those candidates succeed who’d been solving MCQs by the thousands, and may be, not necessarily grasping the involved concepts. So, this approach had become the most successful and followed one. Everyone was like “nothing outside those five books ever comes in the exams”, or “solve the five books and ACROSS and AAA (and what not) and get a good rank”. It was a very tempting approach. And, the feeling of security was further strengthened by the various test series, which simply used to lift the questions from the past years. But, if one were to give proper heed to that skeptical voice in the heart of one’s heart, one would have heard the doubt, the fear of uncertainty. If one would introspect with honesty, one would know instantly that this approach was quite replete with risk—“what if the questions would be twisted, or if entirely new topics would be covered by the paper setters?” But, most of us either never heard that sane voice, or silenced it so that we could “get on” with the real preparation.

Coming to the crux of the analogy I’d started out with. Why these comparisons between preparing for PG entrance exams and portfolio management (click here)? That’s because just like limited money one has to invest, there’s limited time (say, one year) and limited effort (say, at the most 12-14 hours of study continuously for a year) that an aspirant has with him/her. Thus, time and efforts are our assets, albeit limited. Also, in both cases there are many options. In the former case, one has stocks, mutual funds and interest-paying bank accounts, while in the latter we have AAA; Amit-Ashish/Mudit Khanna; and text books.

The so-called retrospective approach is like investing in stocks (click here) through the stock exchange. One would score very well if the same questions were to be repeated. This could be achieved by very intensive preparation of relatively few, but frequently repeated topics. But, the risk was always involved.

The prospective approach is like putting money in a fixed deposit (click here)--very little return that too with too much effort. Meaning, if one could earn Rs. 5000 through stocks in a year by investing Rs. 10000, the same amount could be earned through a fixed deposit by investing Rs. 1 lakh. In terms of our preparation—too much text to read, with the risk of others getting a better rank by simply memorizing the answers (just like your neighbor investing in stocks earning ten times what you do investing in a fixed deposit scheme).

The hybrid approach is like investing in mutual funds (click here)--better returns as compared to a fixed deposit, and lesser risk as compared to investing in stocks, but with lower promised returns. But, just like mutual funds, even the hybrid approach could lean more towards the MCQ-based learning, or more towards text-based learning. So, we do have low-risk and high-risk mutual funds, with premium in the same proportion.

So, just like the stock market bubble burst, so did the bubble of retrospective preparation—maybe just for this once, but it did.

But, then we’re humans, and do have our intrinsic abilities and limitations. Just because one approach is proven to yield better scores and ranks than others, doesn’t mean we’re to pursue that approach. We’ve to also think of what suits us best. A person who finds solving MCQs day in and day out very mundane, can’t be at their productive best if they go against their instincts to rote-learn. Conversely, a person who doesn’t have the patience to go through the long chapters of text books and articles, can’t force themselves to read them; they’d just end up not retaining anything. In this respect, AIPGME is a bit about luck—it might favor one kind of preparation in a year, but an entirely opposite approach the next year.

I’m not writing in here to endorse one approach over other. But, want to point out that there’s no point asking others what to do, and what not to do. And, still worse, blindly follow their advice. What worked for them may not for you. So, I hope that this guide will help those who want to make some decisions at the beginning of their preparation. It’s also important to retain flexibility in one’s approach. If one finds that a particular approach or a set of study-material is not helping, then it’s important to recognize the tell-tale signs early on and alter one’s approach.

With this, all the best, and happy investing!

Note: This is an excellent article by neoplastic_neuron. We welcome articles on any aspect of medical education and pre-pg preparations for RxPG home page. Please use submit link on top of this page to send us your articles.

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