Preparing for Assessments. Your Guide to Visit 1

Time Management – the key to a successful pre-registration year

One of the most important features of the Scheme for Registration (SfR) is the need for short and long term planning so that you are able to prepare effectively for the assessment visits and final examinations.  Time Management is an effective results tool used throughout all successful businesses.

Effective planning can help you to achieve:

  • Better results
  • Better overview
  • Better utilization of your time

Most of us create lists in one form or another; for example task lists or reminder lists.  Most lists usually will have some reference to time; for example whether the tasks need to be completed today, or over the course of a week.  In the main, however, most of us never accomplish everything on our list; often we set our expectations too high, give some important tasks a low priority, or complete the things on the list that we like the best, opting to ignore the ones we enjoy the least or find the most difficult.

However, if you are someone who does makes lists, or who keeps a diary, then you have the basics of time management.  The next step is to understand how much time you actually have and how to set these tasks with priority.  Time management has an unlimited number of possibilities.  You simply choose the possibilities that suit your particular purpose.

Effective planning will encourage you to:

  • Do the right things, at the right time
  • Distinguish between the essential and the non-essential
  • Remember appointments and tasks
  • Communicate better
  • Coordinate your efforts with those of others
  • Create better relations
  • Be more creative
  • Be more in control
  • Save time
  • Release energy
  • Create a balance between work and personal life

You do need to keep in mind though that time management is very individual, and what works for one person may not work for another.  Some people make very careful notes of their activities on a daily basis and are fastidious about planning; others can keep a lot of ‘planning’ in their head and may not feel the need to use formal time management plans.

Each trainee therefore needs to assess their own situation and manage their time in a way that suits their personality and individual needs.

Regardless of differences in terms of individual situation and need, the key to all time management is self-awareness – be honest about how you spend your time and be prepared to alter your thinking and behaviour to use your time more effectively.

Below are some simple ways in which you can quickly and effectively create a plan to cover your workload over the coming weeks and months.

The year plan – your overview of the training year

The first step is to create a year plan or overview of the whole pre-registration year, from now until the end of your contract.  This is as simple as using a large wall calendar or an ‘annual overview’ contained within most diaries, to capture all your commitments for the whole pre-registration year.

Include in this overview all important events and dates, for example:

  • Assessment Dates
  • Exam dates
  • Personal events, birthdays, and appointments
  • Agreed study leave and holidays
  • Your supervisor’s annual leave
  • Refresher courses and scheduled meetings, etc.

A quick glance at this plan will allow you to see what is coming up, what times are busy, and what times are relatively free.

This time plan is useful to record not only all the deadlines that have been set for you, but those you have set for yourself.  For example, preparation for a quarterly assessment in January may seem a long way off at the start of the pre-registration year, but when considered in relation to all of your other commitments, it will require good planning; you will still need to give yourself ample time to complete all of the various tasks necessary to acquire and prepare competency evidence.

Once you have the core of what time is left, then you can start to create monthly, weekly and daily time plans, goals and task lists.

Monthly Planning

When planning your monthly goals and tasks, it is worth referring back to two specific documents in the College Handbook: the patient episode sheets and the competency framework.

For example, create a plan of the minimum number of patients you should be aiming to see each week which should increase gradually (and realistically) over time so that you can achieve the minimum number of minimum dispensing, and refraction (including contact lens) episodes.  It is well known that the greater the number and range of patient episodes you manage to see, the greater the experience and more likelihood of success in your training year.  It is also recommended that you review this number regularly to see whether you are realistically achieving your goal.   Often trainees are caught out closer to the exam times when they take time off for study or perhaps the supervisor takes annual leave.

  • Plan the number of patient episodes that you need to achieve for the month
  • Plan the type of patient episodes you need to see
  • Plan time for updating your log book, copying referral letters and additional study
  • Plan time to write up any hospital cases seen

It is worth highlighting the need to acquire specific cases to your clinic manager.  If you look at the patient episode sheet in the College Handbook, you will note that you need to have seen a certain number of specific cases, such as cataract, diabetes, gas permeable fits etc.  If practice staff are made aware of your needs in advance, then hopefully an opportunity may not be lost if the patient is then given over to another practitioner in the practice that day.

Setting Goals and Tasks – being SMART

In setting goals and task lists, you need to take a realistic view.  Don’t set yourself the goal of seeing 8 patients a day at the start of the training year when you are still finding your feet.  This opposes the principles of good time management which should result in relieving stress, not adding to it.

In setting yourself goals and in listing tasks, consider the acronym, SMART:






After you have set out your task lists, then set the priority of each task and the date that each should be achieved.  Then make reference to this in your monthly, daily or weekly plan.

For example:

Goal To achieve 3 cycloplegic examinations by the end of the month
Task No Detail Priority





Liaise with clinic manager and supervisor over appointment diary




Raise staff awareness in booking pre-school children on Pre-reg clinic list




Check drugs cabinet for range of drugs available




Read chapter 5 on cycloplegic drugs




Practice method of instillation of saline with member of staff




Check prescribing methods – read up in chapter




Check methods of recording VA in infants




Check Sheridan-Gardener & Kay Picture test charts



Order new Kay Pics


Order new Kay Picture test charts



Weekly Planning

Every week set aside 15-30 minutes for planning the next week.  Find out how you wish to spend your available time – mornings, afternoons, evenings and hours.  Decide what you wish to get done in the course of the week and reserve time for meetings and tasks.

Prepare the tasks of the week: make detailed programmes, plan time for logbook review, meetings with your supervisor, searching for case records, planning your appointment book, creating lists of patient episodes that need to be seen, desired etc.

This type of plan can be particularly useful in helping you establish a regular study routine.  A study routine will go a long way towards ensuring you work through your various tasks each week.  And remember, the earlier you start a good study routine, the greater your chances of success.

Start by allocating time slots to all the non-academic activities you undertake each week.  The importance of factoring in exercise and relaxation also cannot be stressed enough!  You will study far more efficiently if you also spend some time balancing your study routine with some fun.

Daily Planning

The day is the most important of all planning tools.  Daily planning determines whether your goals and tasks are translated into reality.

Decide how to use your available time, and prepare each day in detail. Wherever possible, get everything ready: equipment, patient records, notes, and log book.  Update your log book daily with a running total of how many patients you have seen; make a note of whether you have either achieved your daily minimum or if you have fallen short.  Plan to make up the difference the following day or over time.

At the end of each day take stock of what you have done and spend just 5-10 minutes on making a detailed plan for the next day.  With a clear awareness of the tasks and problems of tomorrow you can put your subconscious brain to work.  And by not allowing too many loose ends to accumulate, you will gain a number of advantages:

  • You will have a feeling of overview and control
  • This will boost your energy and performance
  • This will in turn lead to more enjoyable training year

With clearly defined plans for the time of day at which the events will take place, it will be easier to avoid being side-tracked.  You will use your time more efficiently.  The fact that you have planned all of your tasks enables you to accomplish the results needed to achieve your goals.  The other members of the practice, including your supervisor will find it easier to communicate better with you and coordinate their time with yours.  This strengthens your self esteem and reduces stress.

Planning time with your supervisor: the monthly training review

Each month, and certainly in advance of each assessment visit, you should plan to spend some time with your supervisor.  Regular meetings are essential in not only reviewing how well you are progressing  within your role, but are also important in highlighting areas of weakness that need to be addressed.

By using the Monthly Training Review Sheet within the College Handbook, it will become clear where your strengths and weaknesses are.   As these review sheets are viewed by both the supervisor and your Assessor, areas which need additional experience will also arise.

For Example:

1.1.1 Obtains relevant history and information relating to general health, medication, family history, work, lifestyle and personal requirements.


1.1.2 Elicits the detail and relevance of any significant symptoms.


1.1.3 Identifies and responds appropriately to patients’ fears, anxieties and concerns about their visual welfare.


Level 0– trainee has had no experience in this area

Level 1 – trainee demonstrates little understanding of the requirements for this area of practice and completes tasks only with detailed guidance from supervisor

The example above highlights three specific areas of weakness.  In this case, the trainee is weak not through lack of study, but rather through lack of experience.  The trainee has not managed to see any gas permeable patients, and neither has he had the opportunity to interact with any visually impaired patients.

During the assessment visit, the Assessor may discuss these scores with both trainee and supervisor and come to an onward management decision.  This, for example could mean that the trainee makes an arrangement with the local hospital to sit as an observer in the low vision clinic, or that the supervisor organises for all new gas permeable contact lens fits to be booked in for the trainee in the month of October.  How each weakness is addressed will vary between practice and trainee.

So, when scoring your competence, you are encouraged to be as honest as possible.  Giving yourself a higher score to impress the Assessor will work against you.  If you are honest about your lack of experience in a competency area, then action should be taken for you to acquire these skills, either by yourself, your supervisor, or your practice manager.   After all, if the competency cannot be signed off, then you cannot progress onto the Final Assessment.


Staying flexible and adaptable

If you have followed the above planning techniques, your time plans should now fit both the needs of the practice and your own personal ‘pre-reg’ needs.  The various techniques mentioned above are simply examples of how you can approach your own personal time management, and it needs to be emphasized that you’ll need to experiment with what works best for you.  It is important to realise that no time management plan is set in stone and you really do need to be flexible.

However, we all live in the real world.  Unexpected events occur in all of our lives which lay to rest the best intentioned plans and you need to be adaptable in these situations. Moreover, setting up a time management plan that is rigid is very likely to backfire – you may end up spending more time thinking about creating the ‘perfect’ time management plan so that you are left with little time for actual studying.

Jane Macnaughton MCOptom is a director of CLEARVIEW Training, which provides pre-registration and post registration training courses for optometrists.
Examples of paper based time management systems:

Time Manager:         

Filofax Professional:


  1. Reblogged this on CLEARVIEW Training.

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