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Use your reading time to the best effect in the writing test

The reading time is the most important 5 minutes of the test

These 5 minutes are critical. Use them well and you will find writing your letter is much easier. The 5 minutes are strictly for reading only. This means you can’t circle, underline or write anything during this time. In fact, if you even have a pen or pencil in your hand, you are likely to be told to put it down by an invigilator, so don’t do it!

Writing test format

The writing test is 45 minutes long. 40 minutes to write your letter and 5 minutes at the start to read the case notes which act as the stimulus for your writing.

How to use your time wisely

Here is a step by step process you can follow to make the most of the 5 minutes:

  1.  Read the task (found at the end of the case notes). The first thing you need to know is who you are writing to and what action you are requiring them to take.
  2. Skim through the case notes quickly to understand the key facts of the patient and their medical condition.
  3. Read through the case notes slowly and carefully pausing at the end of each note to think: does the reader of my letter need to know this information or not.
  4. For any case note which you think the reader needs to know, think how important is this information: very, quite or just for interest.
  5. Identify any case notes which you will omit completely from your letter because they are not relevant to the reader or the current situation.
  6. Identify any case notes which mention something which is mentioned again later in a different case note. If this is something the reader needs to know, pause and think, does the reader need to know both pieces of information or can they be summarised into 1 sentence e.g.

In March Mr Rodrigues weighed 96 kg.

In June Mr Rodrigues weighed 90kg.

In this example, the 2 notes could be clearly summarised into 1 statement:

Mr Rodrigues lost 6kg between March and June and now weighs 90kg.

Spend some of the writing time planning your letter

This will probably take the whole of your 5 minutes reading time. Make sure you think clearly and carefully through steps 3-6. You have time. The invigilator will then tell you that the writing time is starting and you have 40 minutes to complete your answer. Spend the first 2-3 minutes of this time planning with the decisions you have just made. The task is going to tell you how to start your letter by making a request from your reader and introducing the patient. The next few paragraphs will be organised in order of importance. Anything you thought was very important will go in a paragraph before anything you thought was quite important and so on.

Fit your structure to your reader

It’s really important to remember that each letter will be different. There is no perfect structure you can use each time you write. There is also no perfect number of paragraphs to use. Each patient and each medical situation will be unique. It’s important to follow the steps above in your reading time to make sure you choose the best structure for the reader who is receiving your letter.

On this point, don’t think of your reader as an assessor but the person named in the writing task. Of course, you are writing this letter to pass a test but you are going to give yourself a much better chance of this if you focus on making your letter as clear as possible for the reader in the task.

Use these steps for greater confidence on test day

These 6 steps will help you make the right decisions about the case notes in your reading time. When you start writing, you will have a clear plan in your mind and feel more confident that you can complete the letter in the time and word limits.

For more tips about the Writing test, or any of the other sub-tests, check out our Masterclasses .