Study Advice

When making a plan on how to get past this exam, I was pretty daunted. The aim of this website is to help others to get past an exam, which in my opinion, is highly irrelevant to becoming a good anaesthetist. Nevertheless it is necessary.

The driving force behind my work is that:

a) I dislike textbooks. I find them a very inefficient way to learn. Relevant facts squeezed in-between many unnecessary  words. I was told the other day that American Textbook authors get paid by the word. This might explain it.

b) I dislike topics being made over-complicated. The concepts and topics for this exam require learning. They do not require a great deal of intelligence (hence my success). Thus my notes should be very easy to understand with simple explanations of all areas.


I wrote the notes to cover the syllabus as laid out by ANZCA. It took me a long, long time. That said, the syllabus leaves a lot of wriggle room for the college to pick abstract topics to examine.  However, i believe i have got a very balance of breadth and depth in the notes.

When i started studying i was handed a CD of notes from someone else. I don’t know the author of these but they were very helpful in writing mine. Thank you!!! I re-wrote these, integrating them into my previous study notes for ACEM primaries (yup, for some reason I’ve been through primaries twice). I also sourced information from texts such as Ganong, West, Power & Kam & Peck Hill & Williams.

Due to the vast syllabus of this exam, I think it is very difficult to achieve success, unless you have a good efficient study plan. The exam is very much in 2 parts. The following is a summary of my plan. Of course peoples learning style varies, but in hindsight, my plan was spot on for me:

1) The written (50% total mark)

I would suggest almost total focus on the SAQ’s. 50% of doing well in the SAQs is technique not knowledge. It is a ridiculous bun fight. I used Amanda Diaz’s model SAQ answers extensively. The key is to excel on previous SAQs quickly in the exam, then do as well as you can in the new ones. Knowing previous SAQs inside out will really help. I think i went through Amanda’s notes over 20 times ‘cover to cover’. I supplemented this technique with my notes for difficult topics or an overview where required. I didn’t practise writing down SAQ model answers myself because of time pressure. Instead, I would talk through what I would write in my head, or out loud. This served me well, allowing me to cover more topics more quickly. (I was concerned about not building enough endurance in my writing hand before the exam, but i think adrenaline saw me through fine on the day).

You can cover the MCQs in the immediate run up to the exam. Previous recent MCQs are invaluable. 25% of the next MCQ paper will be from the previous one. 25% will be from recent papers, and 50% will be new. Thus in theory you should already be able to score a pass mark by learning recent MCQs.

2) The VIVAs (50% total mark)

Congrats on your success! I was told the viva’s should be easier than the written and to stay broad. I was also told by specialists not to study anymore but to brush up on viva technique. I disagree. The modern viva is much more about knowledge than technique compared to the old viva. Yes, the ability to categorise topics remains essential but you must have an in depth knowledge of the syllabus. I took 2 days off after the written and started studying again. Probably harder than before. I used my notes much more here to supplement topics from SAQ study. I also used Kerry Brandis’ “Physiology Viva” book. Look in the Study Aids section on this website for Diagram or Die and the definition document. They are very useful.

Lastly, on VIVA day pool your resources with other candidates. Surprisingly, viva topics are recycled across the 3 days and some even the same day (perhaps this will change as the new syllabus establishes itself?). Ask each other what you got to give you advanced warning.

So good luck to you all. I hope using this resource will save you months of work that i had to go through.

Summary of Other Exam Resources Amanda Diaz’s Primary SAQ sample answers The legendary black bank, compiled by Kerry Brandis. Education resources for ICU. I would especially recommend their drug manual. They also host very comprehensive exam study notes for CICM exams.


10 thoughts on “Study Advice

  1. Excellent resource Adam thanks mate. Was wondering how long you gave yourself to study and if you could provide a rough guide of how long you spent on each subsection (eg cardiology physiology etc) Cheers and thanks again!

    1. Glad it’s helpful!

      I spent way too long making my notes! Around 6 months working pretty much flat out including taking lots of annual leave to study. Hence why I felt sharing my notes might help others avoid that pain. I then spent about 2 months trying to learn my notes in depth with little focus for the SAQ’s. I felt quite lost and very worried. I then got advice that saved me and changed plan to focusing on Amanda Diaz’s past SAQs for approx 2 and half months prior to the written. High yield focused study is the key to passing the written. As I say on the advice page, you need to specifically prepare for the style and technique in the SAQ’s. It’s a bun fight and you need to be able to roll out past questions quickly and easily in order to buy yourself marks and a little bit of time for new questions.

      I also obviously wouldn’t recommend cutting it as fine as I did in studying for the SAQ’s. It probably was ok for me because of my previous work making my notes. If you had 6months to practise old SAQs while supplementing topics from my notes or others, in my opinion, that would be pretty good. But obviously the more time the better. I’ve never been good at work life balance while studying so tend to focus completely when i have to. Hence giving any time frames is very difficult.

      After the written I followed the plan I laid out in the ‘advice’ section. Don’t take any time off. Get broader, study harder. Use my notes more.

      That’s my two cents worth. It worked very well for me, and others I advised in the most recent sitting. But obviously people learn differently! But I must stress, the syllabus is so broad that if you don’t focus (at least for the written) you could study for years and really struggle.

      Hope that helps?

  2. Hi Adam, Again thats for the ridiculous amount of work you have shared. Much appreciated.

    In terms of writing style for the SAQ’s is it acceptable to use a bullet point format with diagrams etc where applicable (i guess thats how many of Amanda’s and your notes are layed out ? ).

    Also what were your thoughts about order in which to go through past exam papers i.e. more recent to older, or older to recent or subject group(e.g resp questions, cardio questions etc)

    Thanks in advance



    1. Hey,
      I’m certainly no examiner, but can pass on what i found useful and what i was told at the ChCh exam course…

      I think bullet point is exactly the way to go. Prose takes too long and doesn’t allow you to get your knowledge across quickly or succinctly enough. Examiners, after all, are looking to tick off required facts from your answer on a checklist in the most efficient way possible. This is partly why Diaz’s work is so excellent.

      A good SAQ question format would generally be:
      [discuss, explain Qs]
      – Intro sentence or definition
      – equation or diagram (where relevant)
      – organised subcategories with info in each;
      – either from the equation or
      – from something like a systems based approach (CNS, resp, CVS etc (physiology) or the subcategories of PKs or PDs (pharmacology))

      structure and organisation in your answer is great for the examiner. it shows you’ve practised and helps them find the facts they’re looking for, in order to give you a mark

      [compare & contrast Qs]
      – intro sentence or definition
      – split the paper in two with a vertical column. Use subcategories to compare both things
      this should be all you need to do for compare/contrast questions. Avoid general bullets or prose

      My suggestion would be new > old in each subject topic would be the way to go!
      Remember you need to keep reasonably broad and cover a little bit of everything.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Adam,

    Firstly, what an invaluable resource – thank you! Hugely appreciative.
    Regarding textbooks, I’m buying a few that are generally thought to be very useful. Thinking of buying Stoelting for Pharmacology (I’ve heard many of the MCQs come straight from there?) – from your experience, is the latest edition always recommended? I’ve noticed 5th edition coming out in January that’s been completely re-organised, wouldn’t want to get it if the examination panel stick with the 4th edition for their questions.


    1. No worries glad its helpful. I’m afraid i’ve no idea whether new editions would have an impact so really couldnt comment. It is important to remember that the exam is set up that 25% of mcqs are from last paper and 25% are from previous papers so targeting study is important. Stoelting certainly has some nuances which ANZCA seem to focus on but on the whole most appropriate texts wouldn’t send you wrong. Hope that helps.

  4. Hey Adam, how much time / emphasis did you place on the random topics like endoplasmic reticulum, ocular pressure etc. Often those contain a lot of info which can easily be forgotten if not covered heaps?

    1. Hey, it’s a difficult one. Ocular pressure has absolutely come up in the past as an SAQ so this is important to know in some detail. Endoplasmic reticulum is probably a little too granular so I would suggest (but who knows) that an overview would be fine. I guess just try to think could they make an SAQ out of this topic and then focus accordingly. For example mitochondria are very impt to know as they can hinge from physiology to pharmacology. Sorry, no easy answers here. Focus on old SAQ’s and then try to supplement as much as everything else as you can. Hope that helps

  5. Hi Adam,
    Just about to begin the year long study regime for this exam. Sitting it in August next year. Haven’t actually started studying anything yet at this stage. Think I’ve opened a book maybe twice since starting as an anesthetics reg this past December. I’m wondering but do you think if I only look at your notes and model answers from Amanda Diaz that would be enough to pass? Like learn your notes through and through? Don’t actually open any textbooks at all? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated as this whole 1000+hrs of study needed for this exam seems unreal. I’ve never come close to studying that hard for anything.

    1. Hi, Sorry for the delayed response! I feel nervous giving prescriptive advice such as; if you do this you will pass. I can offer what worked for me and the intention behind my notes. My strategy is laid out in the advice section. I hate text books thus when it came down to it i pretty much studied only Diaz’s SAQs and my notes. I did also read & re read Kerry Brandis book too for the viva’s. You also need to focus on past MCQs but more nearer the time. Plus ensure you are up to date on recent SAQs which are not covered in Amanda’s work & recent viva topics for the viva’s. As to the 1000hrs. I didnt add up my time, but I’m sure i got near that figure. It is going to be very hard. For 3 months, when not working, or sleeping i was pretty much studying. High yield study is the key though, hence where my notes might help. Welcome to professional exams unfortunately. Hope that helps, & good luck.

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