Clinical Skills & OSCEs

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Importance of Clinical Skills

Medicine isn't just about learning theory. It's also about practical applications of what you have learned.

Medicine involves a unique blend of practical skills, communication skills and data interpretation skills.

To progress in medicine during both undergraduate and postgraduate medical training you will need to complete OSCE exams which assess this practical side of medicine.

In this guide we'll be looking at how to improve your clinical skills and pass OSCE-style exams.

What are OSCEs?

OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) are examinations administered to assess a medical student’s ability to demonstrate medical and clinical skills in a simulated environment.

OSCEs measure competence and performance, rather than simply knowledge, making them an invaluable tool for assessing a student’s skill level.

OSCEs are widely used around the world in both medical school and postgraduate training programs, as they provide an effective way to evaluate a student’s clinical skills before they enter the real world of medicine.

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of OSCEs including what they are, how to prepare for them, and the various skills that will be tested. It is intended to be used as a reference piece for anyone preparing for an OSCE exam.

Definition of OSCEs

OSCE is an acronym for Objective Structured Clinical Examination. It is a type of assessment that evaluates medical knowledge and skills via a practical, hands-on approach. In essence, it allows medical learners to demonstrate their competency in particular clinical skills and techniques.

OSCEs are set up in a specific environment, usually a simulation centre. There, a range of professionally designed mini-stations are created that test a variety of medical skills. Each station has a set list of activities that the candidate must undertake with a predetermined amount of time.

Participants are scored according to their performance at each station. A total score is calculated at the end, giving a more comprehensive measure of their competency.

Preparing for Success

When preparing for an OSCE exam, it is important to ensure you have the right support and resources needed for success. There are many strategies and tips that can be used to help students succeed when taking an OSCE. Here are some of the most helpful:

  • Set realistic goals. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is expected of you during the exam and set achievable goals.
  • Start studying early. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and make sure you are well-versed in the expected material.
  • Practice under realistic conditions. Find a simulation centre or other suitable environment to practice your clinical skills as this will best reflect the situation in the actual OSCE.
  • Understand the marking system. Familiarize yourself with the performance indicators used to assess your performance and strive for excellence in each area.
  • Use reliable resources. Make sure to use quality resources such as textbooks, online tutorials, and study groups to help you learn the necessary material for the exam.

Following these tips and strategies will help set you up for success on your OSCE exam. Good luck!

Clinical Skills in OSCE Exams

OSCE exams are designed to assess a student’s medical knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge to practice. As such, the exam includes a range of clinical skills which students must demonstrate in order to pass. Some of the common clinical skills tested during an OSCE exam include physical examination techniques, communication skills, and infection control.

Physical examination skills are part of the core of medical practice, and OSCEs seek to evaluate the student’s ability to perform them. Common physical examination techniques tested in OSCEs include abdominal examination, thoracic examination, neurological examination, and obstetric/gynaecological examination.

Communication skills are another key aspect of medical practice, and OSCEs often include stations that assess a student’s ability to communicate effectively with patients. This involves understanding the relevant medical terminology, being able to ask appropriate questions, and being able to listen and respond to feedback from patients.

Infection control is a vital component of the medical profession, and OSCEs typically include stations testing a student’s ability to follow correct infection control procedures. This involves understanding and following all relevant policies and guidelines, as well as the proper use of protective equipment.

Simulation Centres for Practicing Clinical Skills

Before undertaking an OSCE exam, students can benefit from practicing their clinical skills in a realistic environment. Simulation centres provide a great setting to hone existing skills and prepare for the exam. These simulation centres can be found all over the world and offer the necessary resources to trainees.

The activities conducted in a simulation centre are designed to mimic those encountered during an OSCE exam. This allows the trainee to experience the environment before they take the actual exam. In addition, it provides a great opportunity for instructors to assess the trainee’s progress and give feedback.

In order to create a realistic environment, many simulation centres use mannequins and other medical equipment, such as monitors, stethoscopes, and otoscopes. Some also use virtual reality technology to simulate different scenarios. Through these methods, trainees can build their confidence and become well-prepared to take on an OSCE exam.

Exam Conditions

On the day of your OSCE exam, you should be prepared for certain conditions you will encounter. Each station will usually last for around 15 minutes, during which time you’ll be assessed on your knowledge and skills. The types of feedback you will receive from the examiners can range from verbal to written, so it is important to be aware of the different kinds.

For example, verbal feedback may include your examiner asking questions to assess your understanding of a particular topic or procedure. Written feedback may come in the form of notes and comments on your performance that are provided to help you improve and refine your skills.

Performance Indicators

Performance indicators are used to measure a student’s competency in the clinical skills they need for success in an OSCE exam. Performance indicators are based on the objectives set out in each individual station, and can be used to determine whether a student has achieved a certain level of performance. The performance indicators typically include the following:

  • Ability to identify and correctly apply relevant knowledge and skills.
  • Comprehension of the clinical management of the patient.
  • Communication skills to discuss diagnosis and treatment with the patient.
  • Correct application of safety protocols.
  • Ability to reflect on the outcome of their actions.

Performance indicators are often measured on a numerical scale from 0-5, with 5 being the highest score a student can achieve. These scores provide a benchmark for the student to assess their clinical skills and development, and inform the next steps they should take to improve and refine their knowledge and techniques in preparation for the OSCE exam.

Debriefing: Learning From Mistakes

One of the most important elements of preparing for an OSCE exam is debriefing. Debriefing enables students to review their performance and to identify areas that need improvement. This provides them with an opportunity to gain a better understanding of their clinical skills and to learn from any mistakes they may have made during the exam.

Debriefing sessions can take place in one-on-one or group settings with experienced professionals who can provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. During these sessions, the facilitator will review the student’s performance and discuss how they could improve their skills in the future.

The importance of debriefing should not be underestimated. It allows students to reflect on their performance and to identify areas they need to work on. By discussing their mistakes with a qualified professional, they can develop the necessary strategies and techniques to ensure success in future OSCE exams.


When taking an OSCE exam, students will receive feedback during and after the assessment process. During the exam, the assessors will give verbal or written feedback on a student's performance which can be used to further refine and improve their clinical skills. It is important for students to interpret this feedback correctly and take steps to build upon their successes and learn from their mistakes.

After the exam has finished, the student will receive written feedback from the assessors. This feedback can be used as a guide to understand which areas of their performance were strong or weak, and where they may need further training and practice. By reviewing the feedback carefully, students can gain valuable insight into their performance and make improvements for future exams.

Finally, it is important to remember that feedback is a crucial part of the learning process. By seeking honest, constructive feedback from their peers and assessors, students can gain even more insight and help to shape their own future development.


This guide has covered the key concept of OSCEs and how they can be used to assess medical knowledge and skills. It has also discussed the importance of preparation, clinical skills, simulation centres, exam conditions, the role of teachers, performance indicators, debriefing, feedback, and technology in successfully completing an OSCE exam.

To ensure success, it is essential for students to understand the objectives of the OSCE exam and the tools that will be used to assess performance. Additionally, students should take advantage of training resources such as simulation centres and practice exams to help hone their skills prior to the main exam. Finally, debriefing after the exam is critical in order to gain valuable insights about the student's performance and develop strategies for improvement.

FAQs about OSCE Exams

What is an OSCE Exam?

An Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) is a type of medical exam which evaluates the knowledge and skills of medical students, healthcare professionals, and residents. It is designed to assess a student’s competence in areas such as physical exams, communication skills, and medical decision-making.

How can I prepare for an OSCE exam?

The best advice when preparing for an OSCE exam is to practice and develop the fundamental clinical skills in a simulated environment as much as possible. Additionally, there are numerous websites offering guidance along with recommended study materials and resources.

What types of clinical skills are tested in an OSCE?

An OSCE examines a wide range of skills including physical examination techniques, communication and situation handling aptitude, decision-making, and practical problem-solving.

What type of feedback will I receive during an OSCE exam?

During an OSCE exam, you will receive feedback from examiners which is designed to help improve performance for future exams. This feedback typically includes a ratings score for each station, comments on particular parts of the exam, and overall feedback on the overall performance.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 10,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime