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'I still have nightmares about my practical exam'


Even though my practical skills exam was over a year ago I find myself still traumatized by the memory of it, and I am sure I am not alone.

The OSCE exam is dreaded by many student nurses who have to dress up in their uniform and ‘act out’ small scenarios.

This is carried out in a very alien environment in cubicles that are curtained off, behind which you find random members of the healthcare staff sat eagerly awaiting their tenth blood pressure reading of the day. And beside them another member of staff with an angry looking clipboard, ready to mark and comment on your abilities.

Unlike a theory exam which can be prepared for (think sticky post-it notes all over the bedroom walls with random anatomical terms on them) a practical exam like the infamous OSCE cannot be prepared for in the same way.

Of course tutors may tell us to prepare; to pop on our freshly ironed uniform and tie our hair back tightly, but when the process begins, all words of advice and potential preparation go straight out of the window.

My first year OSCE experience almost seemed to merge a display of some basic clinical skills (that I knew I could carry out competently) and my GCSE drama examination. The idea of playing the role of the nurse and walking in and introducing myself as ‘Jen the Nurse who will look after you today’ only added to my nerves as I truly felt I was on a stage playing a part.

The different scenarios I faced for this particular exam were manual blood pressure, pulse, basic life support and hand washing. Although the skills asked of us were simple and basic, when behind the dreaded curtain in the midst of my exam blur, the idea of doing a manual blood pressure seemed baffling. In fact an even simpler task of palpating a radial pulse seemed overly complex as I was actually unable to feel or hear anything due to my own pounding heart thumping away in my chest.

While some people get worked up at the prospect of a theory exam and would rather be hands-on (presumably these people have never done a driving test) the idea of regurgitating revised information in a calm environment in which you get on with the work at your own pace in a theory exam seems preferable to me.

I think it is fair to say that practical examinations are not always an accurate reflection on a student’s abilities. Although it is difficult to suggest how these necessary skills can be tested in another way. It would seem however that the idea of ‘performing’ these skills in front of our tutors, combined with feelings of nerves and embarrassment are responsible for many students not doing as well as they should have rather than the fact that they are incompetent.

Do any of you feel the same way?

Jenny Wilcock is a second year adult nursing student at the University of Leeds.



Readers' comments (3)

  • Hi, I am a first year nursing student and we dont have OSCE we have a recorded assessment. This is daunting however, it doesnt matter if we mess the whole assessment up aslong as we put it right in the reflection essay which we have to write afterwards. I agree with you that this doesnt show how good a nurse you will be, its quite a daunting experince having people watching you feed someone or do CPR on a dummy etc.

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  • Hi, thanks for your comment. Yes it certainly was a daunting experience. Luckily my University only makes us do 1 now, whereas previously it was 1 every year!
    Good luck with you exams

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  • I have my first OSCE next week and I'm absolutely terrified, so any tips would be greatly appreciated! 😰

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