5 Tips for Passing the Canadian Royal College Exams

Universal healthcare coverage, paid parental leave, and a great quality of life entice many American doctors to consider practicing medicine in Canada. The criteria for medical licensure/registration in Canada is unique to each province, specialty or subspecialty, location, and type of medical license. Some provinces like Ontario allow you to work indefinitely on a restricted license without additional exams, while British Columbia expects those with a provisional license to take the Canadian boards – the Royal College Exams – within a specific period of time.

The Royal College Exams are notorious for having a lower pass rate for foreign medical trainees. Most recently 78% of foreign doctors passed the Royal College Exams, compared to more than 90% of Canadian trained doctors. Foreign doctors often do not have access to the right study materials, making it hard to study effectively.

Here are 5 tips for passing the Canadian Royal College Exams:

1. Know the Format: The exam format depends on your specialty. Most specialties require a written and an applied component which are taken at different times in the year. For most specialties, the written component takes place over two days and consists of multiple-choice questions or short answer questions, or a mix of both. Depending on the specialty, the applied component could be an Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE) or an Oral Exam. For some specialties you need to pass the written component before you can move on to the applied component. The OSCE will likely be held virtually in the upcoming year and conducted over ZOOM or another virtual platform due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Start Studying Early: The Canadian boards are hard – the questions are vague, and the study resources are limited. Most successful candidates start studying a full year in advance.

3. Join a Study Group: Being part of a study group is critical to pass the written and applied components. Email the chief residents from a residency program in your specialty and in province of interest and ask them to assign you to a study group. Alternately, join a study group through Student Doctor Network. Most study groups meet weekly and you can join via Zoom/Skype/WhatsApp. The study group will get you access to the best study materials, namely, prior exams.

4. Review Prior Exams: The study group is your key to accessing old exams which are not publicly advertised or shared. A significant portion of exam questions are recycled from prior exams for both the written and applied components. Most study groups will review the last 10 years of exams. The exams do not come with an official answer key. You can use the study aids you used for the American boards, though your answers should align with Canadian guidelines and practices. For more information on study resources for the Canadian Royal College Exams check out 6 Study Tools to Pass the Canadian Royal College Exams

5. Practice: The applied component, in particular the OSCEs, are challenging for Foreign doctors. The Canadian format of the OSCE consists of history-taking stations and/or physical examination stations. The exams will be held virtually in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the virtual OSCE you should clearly describe how you would examine a patient and what you are looking for on the physical exam. There may also be stations without a patient, where the examiner will ask a series of questions with further discussion. It is essential you review your OSCE skills and practice with your study group.

Bottom Line

If you are considering moving and practicing medicine in Canada and need to take the Canadian Boards, take them seriously. Use these tips to effectively study for the Canadian Royal College exams. For more information on study resources for the Canadian Royal College Exams check out 6 Study Tools to Pass the Canadian Royal College Exams

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