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Quick Guide to Assessments In Medical School

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

Exams, exams, exams. As they loom over our heads this exam season, we thought we’d do a quick post on the assessments used in medical school. For our readers who are aspiring medics, we hope this gives you an idea of how you can get assessed in medical school, happy reading!

Written Exams

These are the kind that usually comes to mind when you think of exams, where you sit in an exam hall and answer an exam paper. This year, however, our exams will be online.

At Manchester, we take the Semester test and Progress test. The Semester test assesses us on what we have been learning that semester. For example, our Semester 3 exam will be assessing us entirely on Mind and Movement. In these exams, questions can be about Anatomy, Histology, Bioscience, Ethics and Law, and so on.

On the other hand, the Progress test includes questions for students in all years of the course. The questions are usually very clinical so 2nd-year medics like us won’t be able to properly answer most of the questions. You’re expected to be able to answer more of the test as you progress in the course so we just try our best to answer questions and guess the ones that we don’t know. Other medical schools also have a similar test which might be called something different.

For Final Year Medical Students:

Final year UK medical students have some exams to take before they qualify as a doctor. This includes:

  1. Situational Judgement Test (SJT): similar to the SJT taken in the UCAT, this test aims to assess decision-making skills.

  2. Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA): this test aims to assess drug prescribing skills.

  3. Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA): UK medical students graduating from 2024/25 and onwards will have to pass the MLA before they can join the GMC register. The MLA also replaces the PLAB, which is a requirement for international medical graduates who are applying to practice Medicine in the UK.

Links to the official pages for each test have been included, feel free to check them out for more info!

Practical Exams/Clinical Skills

For us at Manchester, we start taking OSCEs from Semester 2 of Year 1 and onwards. However, due to the lockdown back in March 2020, our cohort will be taking our first ever OSCEs at the end of this January.

OSCE stands for Objective Structured Clinical Examination. Structured similarly to an MMI interview, they assess practical skills such as communication and examination. At the moment, we’re not expected to make diagnoses but will be expected to as we progress.


Coursework at medical school usually is related to research. The amount of coursework to be done varies significantly by the medical school. For example, we are aware that medics at Cambridge write essays regularly, whereas at Manchester we don’t get much coursework except for our Personal Excellence Pathway (PEP) project.


In our first year PEP, we chose an overarching theme of our choice (e.g. Public Health, Cancer/Immunology) and were allocated groups based on that. Each group then had to produce a poster on a topic related to our themes and present it (the presentation for us last year was cancelled due to the lockdown); each member also had to produce an individual report on an aspect of the topic.

For our PEP this year, we will be doing a literature review. In later years, PEP gets more clinical as students get the opportunity to do a Quality Improvement project in 4th year.


At Manchester, our portfolios are assessed on a pass/fail basis, based on a list of compulsory requirements to fulfill each year (such as a log of clinical skills learned and patients seen). We can also add extra entries about events/conferences that we attend and include reflective entries on them. This is a good place to keep all those certificates in one place as you will be able to retrieve them when we need to put together our CV for job applications.

Failing a PPD portfolio review may or may not affect progression into the next year, depending on which year you are in. You might have to fulfill some extra requirements as a “resit” if you fail, but as long as you meet all the stated requirements from the list of ILOs then passing should be no problem.


And that’s the end of this post! We briefly covered the main types of assessments encountered in UK medical schools, including written exams, OSCEs, coursework, and the portfolio, with a focus on what these assessments are like at Manchester Medical School. We hope you enjoyed reading this, good luck to all of you with exams coming up!

While you’re still here, make sure to check out our other blog posts and follow our Instagram!

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