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How I passed AKT with Dyslexia: Dr Canh Van On

If you are a GP trainee who has dyslexia (or in fact any junior doctor or medical student with dyslexia who is currently preparing for exams), this this blog is a must read. We are lucky to have Dr Canh Van On – a GP who passed her MRCGP AKT exam at the 5th attempt – share her experience of dyslexia and how she adapted her studying to pass and complete training…  

To use our free day-by-day AKT Advanced Programmes click here: https://aroramedicaleducation.co.uk/free-downloads/

For our comprehensive All-in-One AKT Gold Pass Package click here.

To watch back our last AKT ‘8 week booster’ webinar from 1st March 2022 click here: https://youtu.be/q1v1AT92x4s

To register for our next free ‘4 week booster’ on 29th March 2022 click here: https://aroramedicaleducation.co.uk/webinars/

My Journey in Brief

I’m a GP with dyslexia.  I currently work as a locum GP and actively promote dyslexia awareness in healthcare workers.  I took the MRCGP AKT exam 5 times before I finally managed to pass and complete GP training. 

I was a mature medical student and single mother – and I didn’t really plan too much ahead.  I took one day at a time, dealing with steps and challenges as they arose in order to follow my ambition of being a doctor.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my second year of medical school, following a conversation I had with a fellow student.  I asked her how long it took her to read and understand a short chapter on our reading list.  My mind boggled that it took her only an hour and it took me 5 hours – I just couldn’t understand it! 

I later learned that some characteristics that may indicate underlying dyslexia include difficulty with short term memory, cognitive processes such as reading and comprehension, disorganisation and following instructions.  I had to tackle many of these in passing the MRCGP AKT exam on my 5th attempt.

Getting Diagnosed

If you think that you may have dyslexia, you can do a screening questionnaire on the British Dyslexia Association website. 

I initially approached my university’s study skills tutor, who did a screening test and forwarded me to the student finance department to fund a dyslexia assessment.  If you are on a training programme, the first person to speak to is your supervisor or training programme director.  If not in a training programme you can consider approaching occupational health or an educational supervisor.

Some training programmes will not fund one until you’ve failed a set number of exams, though there is a deanery that will fund it after failing the first attempt.  As a final option, an assessment can be self-funded – a list of educational psychologists who are trained to do assessments can be found on your local Dyslexia Association website. 

The Assessment

This is usually a 3 hour assessment that includes a variety of tests which assess various skills.  It is not a ‘test’ as such so you do not need to prepare for it – the only preparation is to be yourself.  On the day, don’t rush it and don’t try to ‘do your best’.  It is important that it truly reflects your daily work, so that appropriate recommendations for support can be offered. 

The assessor will then write a report and make recommendations for work adaptations, equipment and extra time for exams.  It will show your strengths and weaknesses and indicate where your skills are compared to the general population.

Getting Support as a GP Trainee

As a GP trainee, I got in contact with the Professional Support Unit (PSU), who funded a dyslexia tutor/coach to go through strategies for my MRCGP AKT exam preparation.  Some deaneries require a recommendation prior to being able to access the PSU – your Programme Director can advise you on this. 

My educational supervisor was extremely supportive and ensured that I had my own dedicated room.  I was able to set it up as I wished, have my own colour printer set up, have two screens and be near his room for when I needed to discuss patients during clinical sessions.  For me, these all made a huge difference as I found that ‘hot desking’ and not knowing where everything is was extremely stressful and disorientating.  It also meant I was able to study and practice questions during any spare moment in a quiet space without being disturbed.  

If you know that you have dyslexia, I would strongly suggest discussing early on with your supervisor to see how they can best support you in your first meeting – everyone’s needs are different and so this first meeting is extremely important.  I have generally found supervisors to be very supportive and keen to learn more about dyslexia – they want you to get the best out of your time with them.  It is also useful to regularly plan meetings to review how you are getting on, rather than leaving it much later towards the end of your rotation.  Look to your colleagues for advice and support as well – they may have done the same rotation before you and may have some helpful tips which you could adapt to use for yourself.

Revision Strategies for the AKT if You Suffer With Dyslexia

Planning & Organisation

During my GP training, it was a huge challenge to work as well as study for the AKT.  Using weekends became difficult as Out of Hours time commitments (a necessary part of training) also built up.  Having failed the AKT a few times, I needed to review my approach and be realistic.  I definitely was not prepared enough in advance – I did not do enough questions or put in enough hours of reading.  After failing the AKT a few times, I decided to sit my CSA exam first, managing to pass on my second attempt. This helped to significantly boost my confidence and indicated to me that I was not a bad clinician, and that I did have the necessary clinical knowledge to pass the MRCGP exams.  Since then, I have also come across other trainees who have passed CSA (or RCA) with dyslexia before passing the AKT.

Allocating time for studies and motivation was a huge factor for me – I needed to address these first.  With support from my dyslexic tutor, I planned my diary to tackle the most challenging topics first, giving me more time to understand it.  I used the Arora timetable poster to plan my revision, cutting it up to adapt them to my own timetable.  I noted all key dates in a diary, the GPVTS topics for teaching sessions, all learning events and webinars that I had registered for – and accounted for all the hours in a day, to include sufficient rest time.  I planned my tutorials to cover topics in order to reinforce knowledge in a timely fashion and discussed a list of patients that I had managed – for example someone with diabetes – to enhance learning.  I would prepare for any tutorial or learning event by reading the relevant section in the BNF and CKS, as well as attempting the relevant section in question banks, so that I was able to discuss anything I did not understand with my supervisor. I also ensured there were short or more enjoyable topics spread out in a timely fashion so that I was able to keep motivated.

Using Different Learning Styles to Consolidate my Learning 

After failing a few times, I knew that I needed to find revision that would suit my own dyslexia strengths and weaknesses.  I am a very visual person, as well as finding auditory learning beneficial, so I needed colour, sounds, interactions and repetition.

Having been on different courses, I went with the provider that suited me the most in terms of personality, quality of material and availability of different modes of delivery.  These included Dr Arora’s online teaching, his free YouTube videos and free daily revision emails.  I could change the speed on some of the resources – I often had them on high speed to get an overview and “prime” my brain in preparation, and then re-watch again later at a slower speed.  I had initially found his CSA course to be extremely enjoyable and fun – something that was important to me, as being relaxed meant I was able to retain information better.  This experience then led me to try some of his AKT resources.  His teaching method was structured in such a way that it generally suited me and my form of dyslexia.  His delivery was fun, interactive and structured – with introductions and regular summaries – and his notes were hugely user friendly with colours and pictures.  All of these combined helped make my learning more memorable – as memory recall was by far my biggest challenge. 

I would suggest researching what would suit you by speaking to other trainees, sign up for any taster events or check out some YouTube videos – you’ll soon find which style of learner you are.

Use of Colours and Pictures to Make Learning More Engaging

I used notebooks that had coloured sections and minimal lines – I found that these multiple lines gave me eye stress in the past.  Because I found Dr Arora’s notes colourful and concise, it meant that I did not need to carry around reams of paper as a form of comfort!  As I found comfort in writing/drawing notes, I learnt to summarise them by typing them out, adding drawings/pictorial summaries, colour and humour and then emailing them back to myself.  I would then organise them into folders in my email, so they were easily accessible and searchable when needed.  It also then gave me the ability to print certain parts out and edit them by writing or drawing all over them to enhance learning. 

Break up Revision Rather Than Spend Long Periods Revising

For fun breaks, I would spend a few minutes each day actively reviewing my notes by turning them into visual pictorial notes, or redraw my notes that did not involve too much effort.  These both helped to reinforce information into my long term memory.  I also downloaded a question bank app so I was able to set it to a few timed questions if I was waiting in a queue, or needed a “breather” from solid studying. I tried to turn revision notes into pictures with lots of colour and humour, making them a more interactive and multisensory learning experience.  You can also try turning notes into a song, use the traditional mnemonics, or, like me, even try to crochet or knit out a pattern!  I had used Dr Arora’s revision flash cards as a good start for key facts – and added to them from there. 

Ultimately, the most important aspect of this is to enjoy it and find something that is quick and fun that works for you.

Use Different Questions Banks

During initial revision, I got used to a particular question bank style – and so to break it up I signed up to 3 different question banks for my final attempt to keep me on my toes.  You might find that your deanery already has free access for you to some question banks.  I aimed to score 90% and higher this time round as previously, I was scoring 70-80% but still kept failing. 

I asked my supervisor and dyslexia tutor to go through exam techniques – particularly reading the questions carefully – as if I was learning to read again.  

Discussing Revision Out Loud

At every opportunity I would have a general chat with patients about their condition or with colleagues about their clinical management plans and ideas.  For me, somehow knowledge seems to become second nature when I have had a multisensory interaction with someone – be it with a patient, relative or colleague.  Explaining information to patients or colleagues reinforced knowledge and recall of factual information, something that I struggled significantly with.

The Exam Itself

Having done the AKT 4 times prior to my final attempt, I knew that my reading and exam technique let me down significantly.  The knowledge side of things was being addressed by all of the above planning and strategies, so this helped reduce stress significantly.  This in turn meant that I could concentrate much better on exam day.  I ensured that I had covered the whole curriculum a month before the exam, so the final few weeks were spent practising questions again, reviewing notes and keeping calm.  

I planned for no proper revision on the day before the exam (this has always made me feel better going in), just allowing for a quick flick through my (by now much fewer pages of) revision notes.

On the day of the exam, I had booked a hotel the night before, so that the venue was only a short walk away.  I arrived early and relaxed, knowing I had pulled out all the stops this time round.  I planned to have regular toilet breaks so that I was not too tired, as I knew this affected my reading and exam technique. I did not spend too much time on a question and would answer it to the best of my ability, flagging it to go back to if I had time. 

Thankfully, of course, I did indeed finally pass my AKT and am now a fully fledged GP.  The most important advice that I can give anyone who is in similar shoes, is to reach out and ask for help. You are not alone and there is support out there. Good luck!

How we can help you pass AKT

To use our free day-by-day AKT Advanced Programmes click here: https://aroramedicaleducation.co.uk/free-downloads/

For our comprehensive All-in-One AKT Gold Pass Package click here.

To register for our next free AKT Booster webinar click here: https://aroramedicaleducation.co.uk/webinars/

To join our National GP Training Support group for daily AKT support, click here

About Dr Van On

Dr Canh Van On is a GP and has worked in the NHS since 2011, graduating from King’s College Medical School as a mature student, during which time she was diagnosed with dyslexia and central auditory processing deficit (CAPD).

She has enjoyed many years working in London and eventually in Kent ,where she did her GP training.  Since becoming a GP, she continues to support GP trainees and other healthcare professionals, advised those in a supervisory role of someone with dyslexia and has been consulted by businesses on how to make their companies more accessible for those who are neurodiverse.  She is currently studying for a coaching diploma to further support her work and is promoting awareness of neurodiversity in the medical field via social media.

Instagram: @the_dyslexic_medic
Facebook: The Dyslexic Medic
LinkedIn: Dr Canh Van On

About Dr Aman and Dr Pooja

Dr Aman Arora is a GP who is now 100% committed to transforming medical education, helping doctors across the globe to ace their exams and enhance their careers. He is proud to hold FRCGP (Fellow of Royal College of General Practitioners). Previous roles include:

  • GP Training Programme Director
  • NHS GP Appraiser
  • GMC PLAB 2 Examiner
  • GP Recruitment Examiner
  • GP Recruitment Question-writer
  • HEWM IMG Board Member
  • HEWM Advanced MRCGP AKT Trainer

Dr Pooja Arora is a GP with a background in Medical Politics, passionately focusing on improving the opportunities and working conditions for junior doctors. Previous roles include:

  • Vice Chair Birmingham LMC
  • BMA Council Member
  • BMA General Practitioners Committee elected representative 
  • BMA Sessional GP Committee elected representative 
  • BMA National Deputy Policy lead for working at scale
  • HEE GP Ambassador
  • HEE GP Stage 3 Assessor
  • RCGP Midland Faculty AiT representative

* Blogs written on our website are not for professional, financial or medical advice. Please seek appropriate professional, legal or financial advice where appropriate * 

 

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