The relative proportion of ‘applied basic sciences’ (anatomy, physiology and pathology) vs ‘principles of surgery’, and the level of difficulty (therefore determining the overall pass mark) is difficult to predict for each exam. Historically, the number of anatomy questions in paper 1 varied, anecdotally at least, but this has been fixed at 75 questions from 2017.


Most people use online question banks only, and learn from reading the explanations that are provided for each MCQ.


Recommended question banks (in anecdotal descending popularity)





A smaller proportion will advocate reading textbooks in conjunction with doing the online question banks, mostly for anatomy. This does not seem to be essential, as some people learn anatomy from the EMQ’s alone, but reading in depth would be useful because anatomy needs to be studied again for part B. However, more time would need to be allocated to exam preparation to accommodate for the extra reading. Most successful candidates conclude that the more EMQ’s practiced beforehand, the higher the likelihood of success. Depending on the individual learner and on call rota’s/ work demands, between 3-6 months of good, regular preparation is needed for most people.


One recommended anatomy text is ‘Clinical Anatomy: Applied Anatomy for Students and Junior Doctors (Ellis, Mahadevan)’ which has extremely useful text but is lacking in diagrams/ pictures, so may require an anatomy atlas such as ‘Netter’ to be used in conjunction.



Depending on the demands of your CT1 rotations (assuming the exam has not been taken as an FY2), candidates should determine if part B is taken in their CT1 or CT2 year. Most would advocate at least 6 months’ preparation and at least one revision course.


Preparation needs to centre on textbook reading (mostly for anatomy, critical care, physiology and pathology), group practice (examination and communication sections, and the viva aspect of each station) and practical knowledge acquired through work (procedural skills). It is difficult to prioritise one section over any other. Trying to achieve a balance is essential and practicing regularly with one or two other candidates is a good way to make sure you don’t get side-tracked by too much textbook reading.


There is a popular, and expensive, course held at Kings College London which is over several days. There is a cheaper, but shorter course held at the RSM (including cadaveric teaching at Imperial College) which has proved popular with several core trainees in the East Anglia deanery this year. Cambridge University ran a part B anatomy course this year which is cheap and focussed on cadaveric teaching. The Royal College of Surgeons ran a number of free open days at the Wellcome Museum where surgeons taught informally on several different anatomical and clinical topics, and anatomy specimens/ bones are available to study.


There is a widely recommended website to frame revision around; ‘passtheMRCS’. Regarding textbooks, the two ‘Doctor Exam’ books cover all aspects of part B and similarly, allow you to form a framework for your revision or alternatively reference certain sections in practice. For anatomy, see the anatomy books recommended above for part A and also ‘Get through MRCS: Anatomy.’ In addition, the Jeremy Lynch ‘Part B OSCE: Anatomy’ textbook is in depth but also popular. Online, the Aclands anatomy videos (available for RCS affiliate members on the RCS website), the ‘Instant anatomy’ (Robert Whitaker) and ‘Teach me anatomy’ websites are recommended. For critical care and physiology, ‘Surgical critical care vivas’ and ‘Surgical physiology vivas’ both by Kanani are popular. For pathology, ‘Surgical pathology’ (Lowe) is commonly used but some have commented on it being a little erratic in its syllabus coverage. The ‘passtheMRCS’ website or ‘Doctor Exam’ books also cover pathology. Candidates, and indeed several books, often report that the exams frequently repeat previous stations. A useful guide to both parts of the exam is available at


Core Surgical Trainees, Norfolk and Norwich University

November 2016