Pastest for Medical Students
Typical Subscription: £30 for 6 months
Pastest is a company that offers both MCQ/EMQ books and a question database.
These online revision centres are popular, especially in final year, and most students just tend to go for the one they have heard about, or the one that their friends have a subscription to.
Pastest offers over 3,000 questions in various formats, including MCQ’s, true/false, and EMQs, as well as other bonus features, including some videos and spot diagnoses.
So, what’s it like?
They have an awful lot of questions. I used the site for a couple of months in the run up to finals and didn’t even manage to get through a third of the database. A few of the same questions did start popping up on several occasions, and I can imagine this gets pretty annoying as you complete more and more questions. There is an option to turn off question's you;ve already viewed called the 'Question Filter', but this wasnt immediately obvious.
You can choose to answer random questions, or just those from a specific speciality. There’s also the choice of working your way through at your own pace, or taking a ‘timed test’ with a set number of questions in a given period.
They offer a performance tracker, which shows various statistics including:
- Your progress over time
- Your performance across specialities
- Your performance compared to other students
The progress tracker is OK, but it doesn’t make it clear whether your scores are compared to those of all medical students or just those in your yeargroup. Also, some of the performance across specialities can be a bit misleading, as some sections only have a very small number of questions. Obviously, the benefit of the tracker increases, the more questions you do.
Every question comes with an explanation, and depending on the format in which you take the questions, you can review the answer straight away, or at the ‘end of your examination’ if you chose to take a ‘timed test’. These explanations are generally pretty good. They give you more than enough info to understand the question, and aren’t usually long enough to put you off.
I didn’t come across any inaccurate information, although there were a few little annoyances, (e.g. in some instances, explanations of some of the available options was not present, and in other cases it might not explain why one answer is more accurate than another, even though some good background information was provided).
The most striking absence here was the complete lack of any images, and disappointingly, there are also no external links or further reading information.
The questions themselves are reasonably challenging for someone like me (a 5th year at Manchester), and certainly harder than our bi-annual MCQ exam; the ‘Progress Test’.
I did think there were a lot of ‘true/false’ questions which do seem a little old-fashioned, and aren’t the sort of thing we get at Manchester. Also, the EMQs (Extended matching questions) were frustrating if you were to ever take a ‘timed test’ as a whole 5 part EMQ only counted as one ‘question’ making it tough to finish in time. For example, a 20 minute test usually has about 23 questions in it. An average test might have about 5 EMQs, so you actually end up having to answer 42 questions in 20 minutes!
The mark scheme also dictated that you have to get all 5 EMQs or true/false questions right to get that one particular questions right, which can make for some pretty embarrassing test scores. This can be remedied if you view your ‘responses ‘and not your ‘answers’ in the performance section, but this arbitrary distinction just makes things more complicated than they need to be.
Finally, the other features are a nice touch, but don’t feel very well integrated. The spot diagnoses are probably the best. They are good fun, and there are quite a few categories to choose from. There are pictures and videos, which does slightly compensate from the lack of multimedia elsewhere, but the explanations in this section aren’t that great.
In addition, they offer some video lectures and podcasts, which are fine, but you can find this kind of stuff all over the web without the need for a subscription.
There’s also the ability to get online access to some of Pastest’s books if you own them, but again, I’m not sure this really adds much to the overall experience.
Theres also an iPhone app and mobile version of the site, which are really useful, and i found myself using them quite often when on the bus/tram and with a few minutes to spare at hospital.
Compared to Pastest books
I own quite a few pastest revision books, and think they are really useful, and also offer a good variety of questions. I would certainly recommend the MCQs for finals, as well as their EMQs for medical students series.
Compared to these publications, I feel the website lacks a bit of polish. There are sometimes spelling mistakes, and a few other little discrepancies, like missed capitalisation, as well as slightly poorer descriptions.
How useful are these websites anyway?!
You’ll never pass a medical degree, or learn that much of value if you do questions alone. But, using them to point out gaps in your knowledge in the run up to exams, and then (used a bit more desperately!) in the last few nights before exams, they certainly offer a memorable alternative to working your way through pages of text.
For me personally, in the run up to finals, I think they particularly helped to point out all the rarer and eponymous diseases that I’d heard mentioned before but just never looked up.
Overall, a good investment, and you’ll be unlikely to regret it. The Pastest website seems a little dated, especially with the lack of images, and isnt the easiest to navigate, but the underlying content is good, and unless you’re up late every night for months in advance, you’ll never make it through the whole database. The extra features are nice, but don’t add much to the overall experience, and feel very much like an afterthought.
I think OnExamination is a much more polished online experience and also offers a little more, including images and better descriptions but is notably more expensive, at £45 for 3 months, or £80/year (although I don’t think you need more than a couple of months in the run up to exams).
Pasmedicine is the favourite amongst the almostadoctor team. Its website is beautiful simple to use, with all the features of pastest (and more), although fewer questions (but I doubt you’ll ever get through them all anyway!), and is ludicrously cheap, at just £10 for 4 months, or £18 for 9 months.
What’s the competition? (read reviews)