HPAT Countdown: Musings from an Experienced Tutor

HPAT Countdown: Musings from an Experienced Tutor

3 months ago by Tom

The day of your HPAT is without a doubt one of the most terrifying – yet unusual days of the year. Over the past few years, I have uttered the phrase “The HPAT is a game” numerous times, and now, on the brink of becoming an actual doctor (finally!) and exiting the world of HPAT, I thought I’d pass on my suggestions for this game.


Suggestion 1: Learn about HPAT test day

Ensuring you have reviewed all information about the HPAT is a really good way to prepare. Go to the ACER HPAT Ireland website, and from the home page download the HPAT Test Taker booklet.  This booklet contains important information about the HPAT and what you need to sit HPAT. If the booklet seems a lot to take in, get someone to help you go through it with / for you. 

Then read all email correspondence from ACER.  There is some important information contained in the emails that are essential to read and follow in the lead up to HPAT.


Suggestion 2: Prepare everything you need

The day before HPAT, prepare everything you need so you’ll feel ready to go. Ensure you have a private testing location and a computer with a webcam and mic. Remind others that you cannot be interrupted during HPAT.

Have everything you need to complete the test on your desk (erasable whiteboard and pen or 2 sheets of A4 paper, a pencil, eraser and sharpener), acceptable current photo ID and a clear water bottle.

Remove prohibited items such as your mobile phone, calculator, recording devices, dictionaries, food, etc.


Suggestion 3: The night before HPAT, switch off your brain

You can’t cram for the HPAT, so it’s not even worth trying. Enjoy a romcom or funny TV show and have an early night. This will help you get into a positive mindset to face the HPAT exam.


Suggestion 4: Breakfast = low GI, low sugar

If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle without a snack during the exam. Eat a big breakfast (or lunch depending on your HPAT testing time) of low GI foods (think porridge/Weetabix instead of coco pops, or wholegrain bread instead of white). If you need to, eat a muesli bar or banana just before the exam.


Suggestion 5: Your mood is your top priority

The HPAT is designed in such a way that your mood greatly impacts your performance. Why? Because it’s an exam of emotions, of empathy and of understanding. Feeling stressed / anxious / overwhelmed will ultimately lead to less clarity of thought and transference of your emotions onto the characters at play, particularly in HPAT Section 2. So, do a happy dance in the morning. Play some baby animal clips off YouTube during breakfast. Have a few funny memories to pull into your conscience throughout the HPAT exam. Trust me, it makes the HPAT all much more digestible.


Suggestion 6:  Take a bathroom break, busting or not

This is always my most contentious rule. Here’s my rationale:

  • If you need the toilet and you don’t go, you’ll be very distracted
  • Physically walking to the toilet, and stretching whilst there, increases blood flow and oxygen to your brain, ultimately leading to greater concentration and performance
  • In total, that 2-minute break will make you feel refreshed for the rest of the exam

You should take this bathroom break between sections, to avoid wasting valuable HPAT testing time. Just remember to let your proctor know that you are leaving to use the toilet. Another room scan will be done when you return.

As an aside, I often advise students to scull a bottle of water the moment they wake up, and stop drinking much after this point. This way, you’ll need the bathroom before the HPAT starts and any bathroom break during the exam will be ultimately more of a stretch break.


Suggestion 7: Guessing can be an art form

Almost everyone will have to guess at least a few questions in the HPAT exam. It’s the reality of the HPAT, and nothing to be ashamed of. However, usually you don’t need to blindly guess.

Some tips for guessing include:

  • HPAT section 1: choose answers that include words such as “may” or “seems to” rather than more definitive words such as “must” or “will”. Choose answers that also make sense in real life (i.e. are logical in general), and choose answers that stay in the scope of the excerpt (for example, 17% of daily smokers in a study is not the same as saying 17% of Irish people smoke).
  • HPAT section 2: choose the answer that makes you look like a good person who is empathetic and non-judgmental i.e. don’t be too harsh. In doctor/patient interactions, always assume the doctor is subpar (until proven otherwise).
  • HPAT section 3: choose the answer with the most overlap. So, if a, c, d all have a circle in the top right corner, and c, d, e all have a star and b, d, e all have a smiley face = pick ‘d’. It’s a good start.


Suggestion 8: Finish the HPAT exam, no matter what

There are 114 questions in the HPAT exam that are split up into three sections, and it is possible that the last questions in each HPAT section will be the easiest. In the hospital, we “triage” patients. That is, we see every patient, but time and energy is distributed as per the patient.

How does this apply to the HPAT? You are much better off guessing (not skipping: making an educated guess) the HPAT questions you find difficult in order to make it to the end on time, and then if there is spare time, coming back to those difficult HPAT questions later. If you’re going to get 10-20+ questions wrong regardless, it may as well be the questions you find tricky in the first place!


Suggestion 9: Enjoy the process and just keep swimming!

My most poignant memory of my HPAT was at one point, sitting back and having a laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Allow yourself to simply enjoy how intense the HPAT exam is and how odd the questions are and even if you think it’s going badly – it probably isn’t. Just keep swimming, and enjoy the fact that it’s almost over!


Good luck and all the best with your exam! 


Written by Sarah, a past MedEntry student who achieved 100th percentile in HPAT and is currently studying medicine. 


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