How To Study For Your MCA Oral Exam


One question that we get all the time is simply; “How do I study for my MCA Oral Exam?” The flippant answer is “a lot” but, to be fair, working out how to study for your MCA oral exam is a new experience for most people.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Whichever ticket you are doing, the amount of information that you’re trying to learn is huge and very wide-ranging. Unless you plan, it is very easy to follow a root and branch approach to revision, where you head off in a random direction and get further and further into a topic, until you realise that you’ve spent the last three hours learning about the intricacies of type-approval for sewage treatment plants but you’re not entirely sure what SOLAS stands for.

As the exam is often a rather quick dash through a variety of subjects, mostly at rather a high-level (see our “What’s the MCA Oral Exam really like?” blog), it’s super important that we have really strong, high-level answers on all subjects, rather than deep expertise on one and nothing on another.

So, we need a plan:
  1. Take a look at your syllabus in MGN 69 and make a note of all of the topics you can be asked about. However, because MGN 69 is rather vague, it’s only useful as a high-level summary of what you need to know.
  2. Break down each of the topics in MGN 69 into bite-size chunks and flesh them out with the detail. As a simplified example, MARPOL > Annex I – Oil > Discharge Requirements In/Outside Special Areas, Carriage Requirements, Record Keeping & SOPEP. Make sure you go through this exercise for all of the topics.
  3. It’s hard to know the kind of detail to go into, so sense-check against the orals reports. There’s a blog post about orals reports or you can go directly to the Facebook group and dive in. Find as many orals reports as you can for your centre and go through them all. This will be intimidating to start but you’ll soon see that a lot of the questions repeat themselves. You’ll also get a sense of the level of detail in the questions and how much you need to know. Do please take the reports with a pinch of salt though; they are often not the whole story.
  4. Take your framework and start adding content to it in a methodical way. Start at a high-level and don’t allow yourself to go too deep into the weeds. Then move on and do the same with each section until you have comprehensive notes for all topics.
  5. Make YOUR notes. By this, I mean both make your own notes (using someone else’s isn’t as effective) and make notes that work for you. Use whatever media you prefer, with or without colourful pens, brainstorms, flash cards, etc.
  6. Don’t go mad. It’s very easy to get utterly obsessed with the orals and revise all day, every day but you will burn out. Make sure that you schedule some time to relax, go to the pub, exercise or whatever else you enjoy. You’ll come back to the books refreshed and find you retain more.
Concentric circles

We should now have some awesome revision notes! Yet, our revision also needs to be well-structured and cover everything in the time available. Imagine that your content is arranged in concentric circles, with the most important stuff in the centre, moving out to the least important in the outermost circle.

If you’re an OOW candidate, COLREGs, buoyage and safety-critical stuff would go in the centre. The next layer would be, say, watchkeeping, passage planning, etc. Then, perhaps, MARPOL & SOLAS. Then, other regulations and cargo operations. Use the orals reports to make sure the common subjects are closer to the centre than the infrequent ones.

When you’re revising, start in the centre and work outwards but not just once, do so repeatedly. Keep coming back into the centre to make sure that that core knowledge is solid, even as you move further and further outwards.

We’re on your side

It’s more than possible to revise for your orals by yourself but it’s so much harder than working in a group or with a tutor. They both give you the invaluable opportunity to practice speaking out loud and reduces the chance that a topic will entirely escape your attention.

Whether you just want to put yourself to the test with a realistic mock orals or need some help getting your head around the content, we’re on your side. You can read more about our orals prep services or just get in contact to discuss your revision plan.

Best of luck!

(1) Comments

  1. Some thing I might add initially do not use someone else’s oral notes, as these may have been an abridged adaptation of the original, there is no short cut to passing Orals by using someone else’s work. Cross reference at a later date, but not as 2nd hand learning. To keep British Officers on the Oceans they need to be the best at the job, so no half measures.

    As to how to revise I agree, but start with legislation Solas , followed with safety and experience. When questioned can you explain
    Why? (law /procedures),
    How? ( Your experience)
    So contextualise your answer were possible to your own experience.

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