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Are Online Platforms Sufficient For NEET-PG Preparations?

’It was 5 months into the pandemic. Families were on ‘Together we sit united’ mode. Couples were on ‘Netflix and chill’ mode. Individuals were on ‘Let’s be chefs & bake cakes’ mode. Meanwhile our doctors-to-be were busy with their own educational paraphernalia. Some were busy creating ‘humerus’ meme pages on Instagram. Some were preoccupied with inter-collegiate quizzes on WhatsApp. Some were immersed in organizing interactive symposia with celebrity doctors on Zoom. And some were enlightening the non-medical folks about COVID-19 vaccines on YouTube. But essentially, at some point of time during the day, everyone would be found at their desks, viewing live or pre-recorded lectures, with bulky headphones gripped onto their ears and ischial tuberosities glued to chairs.

Ever heard of permutations and combinations? Yeah, it does sound like a high-school math theory. But believe me, it’s the medical students of today’s era, who are popularizing the art of its practical application by trying and testing out every possible permutation of coaching platforms available online and you thought biology majors were poor at math!

The streets of the modern-day medical educational market are bustling with players offering virtual classroom apps, live conferencing platforms, on-demand video lectures, customized question banks, personalized study planners, subject-wise flashcards and e-book apps. The array of such aides is so diverse and plural, I couldn’t help but draw the following analogy. In the so-called wedding of undergraduate learning and postgraduate entrances, the guests have a lot of options to choose from the buffet menu – appetizers like Marrow, Prepladder; main course dishes like DAMS, DBMCI; continental dishes like Kaplan, Amboss – just to name a few.

I hate to be the to be known devil’s advocate for medical colleges, but as per a pan-India survey, online coaching platforms seem to be faring a lot better than the liveclasses being held by universities in the lockdown setting – which are purportedly counter-productive due to lack of continuity, slow internet speeds, inability to concentrate and disinterest from both sides. The intuitive viewpoint that 2-way Socratic Teaching is better than 1-way Didactic Teaching thus holds false when it comes to these live-streamed lectures. But this comparison was the effortless part. Sweat needs to be shed when we want to settle on the best choice amongst the vast multitude of equally alluring online platforms.

When it comes to making an priorly discussed decision, we think of a cafeteria approach – as preached by community medicine experts. In a similar fashion, the choice of which platform to use is highly variable and is decided only in the light of personal factors. People wishing to learn only a few subjects for the time being or wanting a rapid revision choose PrepLadder for its subject wise app bundles. People fond of exhaustive and constantly updated question banks, high yield snippets/ pearls and video lectures – all in one place choose Marrow for its seamless user interface. People wanting to practice daily workouts or build on weak topics choose PrePG for its PrepDNA feature. People aspiring for USMLE may use any one of these, in conjunction with their Kaplan videos & NBMEs, to lay groundwork for their university exams. Nothing except credit card details stops you from taking free trials to assess whether these platforms suit you or not! And once you’ve found the best online study buddy, there is no looking back.

“When you have two coins – each with a good and a bad face, hold them together by sticking both the bad faces together & you’ll have a coin with good faces only”

– A modern problem solver

The trend is now shifting towards clinical vignette based learning & hence all platforms will integrate that approach into their framework. But classroom courses like that of DAMS, DBMCI reinforce that approach by offering a vertical and horizontal integration across pre, para & clinical subjects from all four years of MBBS, which is quite tough to achieve through topic specific pre-recorded videos. Classroom teachers converse freely about cases & incidents that they themselves had come across – making diseases more memorable, which is not always practicable for online teachers when the audience is just a large camera staring right into their face. The pandemic scenario has made live-classrooms, like the ones held on eMedicoz App by DAMS, even more engaging due to the ability to put forth real-time queries in the comments section. In defense, the flowers of online coaching wouldn’t have blossomed if not for the perks they offer. As egocentric humans, we always love to have things in control. Be it making the faculty chirp at speeds like 1.5 – 2X (try doing it for teachers with a South Indian accent and you’ll realize The Flash is a snail, on a lighter note) or be it taking a moment to pause, reflect, capture screens and jot down notes that we might never even refer to! But the best facet is their constant companionship during our personal study sessions. One would rather refer to easily searchable pearls or fancy e-notes rather than going ‘man hunting’ for the same high yield topic from a dusty old register in the caffeine & guilt drenched nights before an upcoming exam.

“Two roads diverged in a wood & I took the one most travelled upon.

It has made my journey easier and trustworthy.”

– A modern anti-Frost philosopher

Every year we see institutes flashing ads and posters declaring that Top 10 Rank holders in NEET, AIIMS and PGI were from their respective courses. Call it a marketing ploy or a crude reality, but these meritorious students would have generally enrolled in at least 2 courses – a classroom course in conjunction with an online app-based course. The rest courses with which they’re associated are usually a mere result of some prize/scholarship they won in a sponsored quiz or a mock test. Hence a dual pronged strategy of using classroom courses like DAMS, DBMCI for conceptual understanding of subjects with online courses like Marrow, Prepladder for question solving and taking tests has worked out effectively for most undergraduates in the pre-final & final years as far as the current scenario is considered. But the eternal question ‘Am I missing out anything if I’m doing only one of the above?’ still haunts our minds. The answer here is two-fold. One, medicine is so vast a specialty that even if one utilizes all these resources, something or the other WOULD be left behind. And in the zeal of consuming all that’s available, one typically ends up gathering more and revising less. Two, prioritization is the key. If I’m tethered by financial constraints or wishing to study with a dedicated planning of my own with just a little assistive input from faculties – I’d opt for an online platform only. On the contrary, if I’m willing to complete subjects as a whole in just one weekend & solving respective questions/tests in the adjoining week – I’d pitch on for a classroom course only.

Amongst students studying in 1st, 2nd and to some extent 3rd professional years, there is hype around the NEXT – the first part of which would supposedly be conducted just after the completion of Final professional year, unlike the NEET that’s being held after completion of a fixed number of months of internship. This would imply the need of embarking upon an early bird preparation to catch the desired worm – possibly immediately after completion of the 1st year. For such students, online prerecorded video platforms are proving to be a boon. Most of my juniors have set the ball rolling by subscribing to Marrow and are contemplating about joining classrooms only in the Pre-Final or Final Year. And that’s wise enough considering the present day lack of feasibility of a face-toface classroom program. If one asks to opine personally on whether or not these platforms are sufficient enough for Indian PG Entrances when used alone, the answer would be a mixed bag of feelings. In the non-pandemic setting, they are best used as supplementary resources with classroom courses and clinical postings. But in this pandemic setting, they have become established as the primary or in majority of cases, the only resource for continuing medical education. That being said, let’s take over the helm of our preparation as a sturdy captain & set course along a fixed direction of our choice while adhering strongly to it, as any change of orientation for the sake of experiencing an uncharted territory deflects and delays us from reaching our desired destination.

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Author

– Nisarg Rajan Desai

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