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MCQ Terminology

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It is important that all examiners and candidates should have a clear understanding of mcq terminology. You may find helpful the following advice usually issued to the exam question conveners.

'Recognised' means 'an accepted feature of the disease'.

'Pathognomonic' means 'a feature specific to the disease, and to no other'.

'Characteristic' means 'a feature without which the diagnosis is in question'. This term must therefore be used with care.

'Typical' is synonymous with 'characteristic'.

'The majority', 'most' or 'usually' mean over 50%.

Percentages as a specific figure are unacceptable, and should be given as a range e.g. 30-40%.

Vague non specific terms e.g. 'commonly', 'frequently', 'often' and 'rarely', should be avoided .

Use of 'can' or 'may' typically demand a true response, and should therefore be avoided.

Absolute terms 'always', 'never' and 'invariably' similarly demand a false response and should also be avoided.

Eponyms should be defined unless in common use [e.g. Crohn's disease].

Avoid double negatives.

Male : female incidence ratios are usually pointless items.


The following tips may help your intuitive guessing strategy:

Use any clues in the question terminology. Give away words such as 'may' and 'always' sometimes slip through the question selection process.

Examiners are usually trainers, and want to teach you something. If you have never heard of the question topic, the stems [A-E] are more likely to be true.

If you have heard of the question topic but are not aware of an association raised in a question stem, it is probably false.

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