Friday, 6 May 2011


Currently listening to: In The Waiting Line - Zero 7

Exam season kicked off today with Cellular Pathology & Haematology. QMUL's Great Hall is being refurbished so I guess they didn't have anywhere else large enough to accommodate us, so it was off to Stratford Town Hall which is one stop away on the Central Line. A word of advice to any non-Londoners considering moving here...the Tube is brilliant (if only it ran 24/7 eh?), but as soon as the temperature gets marginally warm, Tube carriages basically turn into mobile saunas. You have been warned.

I've done several past papers which has made me more familiar with the examination style and the phraseology of questions, which kind of removed the fear I've had in the past to do with exams. I made essay plans and did eight past paper questions for this module, so I sort of knew what to expect. So I felt a lot more prepared than I did this time last year.

I'll be honest with you though, CP&H is a pretty intensive course with some of the lectures being 120 slides long, and quite complicated too. Lots of growth factors, adhesion molecules, cytokines and cascades to remember, though I'd say I managed to revise about 75% of the course very well, or at least well enough to do an essay on. Areas I felt confident in were acute inflammation, tissue processing, haematopoiesis, cellular injury and cellular adaption. Areas I felt "okay" in were coagulation, chronic inflammation and metastasis. Areas I hoped to god wouldn't turn up in the exam were anaemia, thrombophilia and cancers. These final three are the 25% I was terrified about.

The CP&H exam is comprised of seven essay questions, and you needed to pick one from Section A, one from Section B and one from Section C. So you can imagine what would have happened if Section B had been, say, thrombophilia vs cervical cancer. I would have been absolutely screwed and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. Quite worrying.

As it happened I needn't have worried, since the paper was very good. The questions I answered were as follows (obviously they were worded more formally):

1a) Describe the role of fixatives in tissue processing.
1b) Describe the role of other techniques involved in tissue processing.
1c) Describe the role of stains in tissue processing.

3) Give an account of haematopoiesis.

6a) Compare and contrast acute and chronic inflammation.
6b) Describe the role of leukocytes in acute inflammation.
6c) Describe a typical mycobacterial granuloma.

I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when I saw the questions as they were in the areas I'd revised the most and which I had completed past papers on. So I got to work. Unlike last year where I really struggled with completing one section of the three (usually the MCQ or SAQ which I was clueless about), for this exam I think all the questions were manageable and I think I made a decent attempt at all the essays.

That's not to say I think I've done perfectly. It's a pointless act of self-torture but exam-time tradition for me to go through my notes after the exam and conduct an exam post-mortem. I realised that for Q1b I forgot to mention the role of dehydration in processing (though I did get all the other steps). That's one mistake in 33% of 33% of the exam so it can't be that bad, can it? I did mention how ethanoic acid acts on tissue proteins but I didn't mention that it causes them to swell. These might all seem like little details, but I'm worried they'll add up and cause the examiner to think I don't know any extra details and give me a 2:2 :( Do any grads or anyone with knowledge about how lecturers mark exams have any advice to give me on how seriously little omissions like this affect your final essay grade?

I think Q3 was easily my best, I'd completed a past paper on haematopoiesis just the night before so I basically repeated that and when I checked my notes after the exam I was happy to see I'd included all the points on my essay plan. Q6 was good too though I ran out of time towards the end so Q6c was basically a diagram of a granuloma with labels and explanations, but not much by way of an essay. Still, they're always telling us "if you can simplify it with a diagram, do so", so I hope they remember their own words. But again, that worry in the back of my mind...

Anyway, I think for a first exam it went well, certainly much better than I expected. One down and five to go, with the next exam being PBL on Monday. I hope things continue on this note. I just really hope my good feelings regarding this exam aren't all just a massive misjudgement on my part and I've actually messed up the exam really badly...after last year's experience I'm kind of unsure about my judgement.


  1. Yay! Sounds like you had a really good paper, with all your favourite topics coming up ^.^!! Good luck with your other exams! Can't wait to read the other exam posts.

  2. Tofu: Cheers, I hope so...I asked my friend and he said he also made a few minor errors/omissions and he's always got good grades I'm trying not to freak out too much about my dehydration mishap *facepalm*

    Next post will be Monday night :)

  3. Well at Imperial we were told (at least for one set of exams run by a certain faculty member) that if an essay had 20 marks you should mention 20 distinct points. This would give you 70% if you showed evidence of drawing conclusions that aren't necessarily in the original question. For example, I always ended my essays with some rubbish about evolution, e.g. the mediators of acute and chronic inflammation have evolved in order to be different and serve specific functions.
    A different lecturer said that she would automatically give a good essay 80% as she didn't believe a first was only worth 70%. Anyway the point is not to worry if you left something out. I once got 60% for an exam question where I had to describe two drugs for a certain cancer and only described one (because I didn't even learn the other one from that lecture).

    So you can imagine what would have happened if Section B had been, say, thrombophilia vs cervical cancer. I would have been absolutely screwed and I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it.

    That's exactly how I felt in the papers where you had to choose one of two several times. Unlike you I actually got screwed because we had sections ABCDEF! Guaranteed to miss something there considering I only revised about half of that course - got 57% but it was worth it as there were about 150 lectures. I spent more time on another course which had 50 lectures and 3 sections - and for Section C, there were only 4 lectures so it was almost dead certain. Aced that one.

    In final year I only selected modules where you could choose any 3 of 9 essay questions for the exam. Avoided multiple choice and short answer ones. Maybe not the best way to choose modules but by then I didn't care about biomed any more.

  4. Monday today.. good luck!!

  5. Thank you all!

    @Anonymous: Thanks, that's very reassuring :)I also spoke to my adviser and she basically reiterated what you said and said it probably isn't too much of a big deal that I forgot thmention that point about acetic acid :) She also said that a diagram should suffice.