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What is the best way to approach a test question?

There are many ways to tackle questions. I often teach my own approach to students, and that is the approach detailed in this chapter. But this approach may not work for everyone. Whether you choose to adopt my approach, or develop one of your own, what’s important is to have a systematic approach to questions that is consistent and works for you.

Why do we need a systematic approach?

Pretend you are moving into a new house and need to go to buy furniture at Ikea. I would bet that most of you would have a plan before arriving. Many of you would probably have a list of items that you need. Some may even grab a map at the entrance and draw out the path you plan to take. Planning and strategizing ahead of time helps to ensure that all necessary items and furnishings are secured. But for those who arrive to Ikea without a plan, the experience would likely be more chaotic and take longer.

When we have a plan, we are often more successful with whatever we are doing. Test-taking is no different.

My 5-Step Approach to answering questions is the plan in this analogy.

The most important element involved in my approach is the process of pausing to synthesize information. If you ultimately decide not to adopt my approach, I encourage you to at least develop an approach that incorporates this element.

What does it mean to synthesize information, and why is this important?

In general, to synthesize means to combine pieces to make a whole. But from the perspective of test-taking, synthesis will involve summarizing the situation based on all its parts and assigning meaning to the information presented to you.

Let’s imagine the following scenario.

A patient comes into your office complaining of fatigue, low energy, difficulty sleeping, and overall achiness. She has no appetite. You might start worrying about cancer, infection, or even an autoimmune disease. As you review her chart, you notice she has a history of major depressive disorder. If you do not pause here and reassess the scenario, you may gloss past this important piece of history.

As we obtain new information, our differential changes. As our differential changes, the information that is most important, and the information that we should pay the most attention to, will change. This is why it is important to periodically pause and synthesize all the information we have before us. With each pause, our perspective may change.

To synthesize information well, we need to learn to assign significance to that information as it relates to the clinical scenario. If this woman had presented with an ankle fracture, then ...

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