How are you examined? When are your exams? Do you have to write essays? All questions that I get asked time and time again…so guess what (I’m sure you know the drill by now) I’m going to be answering all these questions by talking about how we are assessed in the first 2 years of medical school.

A couple of things for you to bear in mind before I dive in: firstly these examinations are only in reference to pre-clinical medicine as it does change slightly as you go into clinical years; secondly this is specific to Manchester Medical School (MMS) as that’s where I study and can talk to you best about. Other medical schools will be similar and most will have some of these exams but it won’t necessarily be identical.

There are 2 times in the year that you have exams: January and June and there are 4 forms of assessment we have here at MMS: Semester Tests, Progress Tests, OSCEs, PEP, PPD. Each year you have 2 semester tests, 2 progress tests and for everything else you just have 1 assessment. I’ll now talk through each of these below.

Semester Tests

These are multiple choice pen-paper tests that you take at the end of each semester. We have 4 semesters (2 in each year) so you’ll take a total of 4 of these in the first 2 years. For each paper and you are graded either: unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours, distinction. The boundaries for these grades are set in a similar way to A-level grade boundaries so it accounts for the difficulty of the paper. You just need to get a low pass in order to get through. If you get unsatisfactory you have to re-sit the exam during the Summer and must pass in order to continue on the course.

In terms of content covered, as in the name, the semester tests assess you on the theory of that particular semester. This could be PBL, Anatomy, Histology or EBM (Evidence Based Medicine) though it tends to mainly be the PBL content. The single greatest thing about this paper is that there’s no written questions it is 100% multiple choice!

Progress Tests

These are also multiple choice and are taken at the end of each semester, again meaning you have a total of 4. The grading is the same as with the semester test: unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours, distinction. There’s one catch with the progress test though and that is the fact that it covers the content from all 5 years and all the students (from year 1-5) take the same exam on the same day. The idea of this test is again in the name, to show your progression as you progress through medical school: as you go through the years the idea is that your score will improve.

This test can seem a little daunting at first, especially when you first take it but you are graded according to your own year group and since nobody will know anything your grades will come from a level playing field. The test is also very clinical, questions often list a set of clinical observations and ask you about a possible diagnosis or the best course of treatment. For that reason, in years 1 and 2, the progress tests do not count and you do not need to pass it in order to progress to the next year.


Perhaps the most famous medical school exams and quite easily the most daunting.

You have 2 OSCEs during your pre-clinical years. Our OSCEs each consist of 10 stations and are divided into 2 parts so the whole OSCE is completed over the course of 2 days. In year 1 you do 5 stations in 2 days in June, the 2 days are a few days apart giving you some time to brush up before tackling part 2. In year 2 however, you have 4 stations in January and 6 stations in June.

The OSCEs are graded in the as either unsatisfactory, low pass, pass, satisfactory, honours, distinction. You must pass the OSCE in order to progress on to the next year, if you don’t you do have the opportunity to re-sit in the summer. For your OSCEs you’ll be assessed and given a percentage for each station. In order to pass the OSCE your average percentage must be above a certain boundary set by the medical school. Each station also has its own pass mark and you must pass at least 6 out of the 10 stations. So the OSCE markings are a bit of a balance, yes you can fail 4 stations but you don’t want to fail them too badly because that’ll drag down your average.

OSCEs cover everything! They aren’t specific to a semester or a year so you need to know everything for them. They can ask you anatomy questions, knowledge from PBL just like the semester test. But…on top of that their main purpose is to assess your clinical skills. You can be asked to take a history from a simulated patient, to carry out a physical examination or demonstrate the procedure of carrying out a physiological or pharmacological practical.


PEP stands for Personal Excellence Pathway and is essentially a research assignment you have each year. It’s done in the second semester of each year. In year 1 it involves writing a short report and working in a small group to produce and present a poster. In year 2 it involves writing a dissertation. This again needs to be passed and re-sat if not. Next week’s post is going to be all about PEP where I’m going to be talking about each stage of it in detail so I’ll leave going into depth with this for later.


PPD stands for Personal and Professional Development and isn’t necessarily an assignment or exam as such. Here at Manchester we keep an electronic portfolio documenting our interactions with patients and reflecting on our abilities and clinical capabilities. Throughout each semester you’re given a list of PPD topics that you must write a reflective piece on. Each task doesn’t have a time limit for itself but it must all be complete by the end of the year in time for the ‘PPD reviews’. For your PPD review you’re given a set date and time, you must dress smartly and arrive to go through your portfolio with your academic advisor. This is pretty relaxed and all they do is ensure all the relevant pieces are there so if you’ve been keeping on top of it there’s nothing to really worry about.

In terms of grading you’re either given a satisfactory or an unsatisfactory for your portfolio. Those with an unsatisfactory grade are given a limited number of days to make any necessary amendments to their portfolio.

And that’s all the exams I’ve sat over the last 2 years and all that you really have for pre-clinical Medicine. So to answer the most important question of them al…no we don’t have to write essays during our pre-clinical years at MMS (unless you count PEP)!

Posted by:Life of a Medic

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