How to successfully prepare for the ABPI exam

The ABPI Medical Representatives exam is an essential part of the professional development of pharmaceutical sales representatives. Here’s how to prepare for the ABPI exam and pass with flying colours.

When you are appointed as a Medical Representative or any role which falls within the scope of the ABPI code of Practice, if your company agrees to abide by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Code of Practice you will need to prepare for and pass the ABPI exam. You must sit all units of the exam within one year of being employed by your company and you must pass within two years.

The ABPI exam comprises the Certificate (four mandatory units) plus the Diploma (two-three units).

The mandatory units within the certificate are:

Structure of the NHS & Code of Practice

  • 5 credits
  • 30 questions
  • 30 minutes

Human body structure & function 1

  • 10 credits
  • 40 questions
  • 40 minutes

Human body structure & function2

  • 8 credits
  • 40 questions
  • 40 minutes

Development & use of medicines

  • 8 credits
  • 45 questions
  • 50 minutes

Your company will select your three Diploma units which reflect the company’s priorities, though if unit 6 is selected, only one additional unit is required as unit 6 provides double credits. You need to obtain 15 credits for the Diploma.

Get started

First you need to register as a student with the ABPI and you will then be sent the learning materials. Discuss your preparation for the exam with your manager and book your exam date. Then, working back from that date, prepare your learning schedule. Set yourself milestones by when you will have completed each chapter and book study time in your diary. Stick to your schedule.

Effective learning

Simplistically you have three brains, reflecting human evolution. We share the reptilian brain at the top of the spinal cord with birds and reptiles and this attends to your survival by controlling hunger, temperature control, fight-or-flight fear responses, defending territory, keeping safe etc.

During evolution, as animals became more complex, the limbic system developed around the reptilian brain to facilitate emotions, feelings, pleasure, attention and long-term memory. 80% of the brain however comprises the neocortex (cerebrum) which enables us to think, solve problems, translate and support language. If we feel stressed, the reptilian   brain becomes more active to ensure our survival, so to engage the cerebrum both whilst studying and in the exam room, where we must remain calm, positive and enjoy the experience.

Functionally the brain comprises the conscious mind, which can only deal with 7 +/- 2 pieces of information (George Miller 1956), and the unconscious mind, which has an almost limitless capacity. Clearly therefore, attempting to memorise such a large amount of information will not work. Instead you must absorb and assimilate the knowledge both consciously and unconsciously and a very effective technique is to create mind maps (spider diagrams).

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Prepare for success

Here’s some exam preparation tips:

  • Speak out loud rather than just reading
  • Create mental associations with mind maps
    • The central topic is the starting point for your mind map
    • Add up to nine branches which your conscious mind can recall with a mnemonic
    • Add keywords and images
    • Colour code your branches.
  • Create crazy associations with the syllabus content
  • Associate learning with people you know, for example people with heart disease, diabetes and so on.
  • Associate learning with your own physiology and personal experience
  • Use lots of colour which stimulates the unconscious mind
  • Annotate and highlight your ABPI materials
  • Draw diagrams to store visual memories; learn ‘actively’
  • Reward yourself with treats
  • Create flashcards / cue-cards for testing yourself
  • Block distracting apps such as social media
  • Search for animated explanations on the internet
  • Take regular breaks every 45-60 minutes
  • Watch documentaries or educational TED talks on the topic
  • Teach yourself or someone else what you have just learned
  • Maybe have music (without lyrics) playing quietly in the background
  • Consider using scents in your study environment
  • Wear the same after-shave or perfume while studying and in your exam
  • Study in different places
  • Use example questions to reinforce your learning
  • Have someone else test you
  • Study in a group
  • Focus on positive thoughts
  • Consider working with a coach.

Taking the exam

  • Go for a short walk before your exam; exercise can boost your memory
  • Tell yourself that you have prepared well for this and that you know the answers
  • Cover the multiple-choice answers with your hand, consider the answer then reveal the choices
  • If in doubt, go with your ‘gut feel’ or the first answer that came to you
  • If you get stuck on a question, move on and return to it later
  • Answer all of the questions
  • Remain calm; the Diploma requires cerebral thinking rather than simple factual recall
  • Remain in the exam room until the end and use this time to go back and check your answers.

Good luck with the exam and every success to you working within this amazing industry.

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