5 ways to make your writing test stand out

Medical writing tests don’t need to feel like an overwhelming challenge! Follow these simple MedComms Microtips to make your test stand out for all the right reasons.

Video transcript

Hi, I’m Eleanor Steele and I’m the MedComms Mentor. I provide specialist training and mentoring to medical writers of all career stages.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when you’re getting your first job as a medical writer is the writing test. I’ve been in MedComms since 2004, and I got my start in medical writing the same way as everyone else – I had to do the writing test.

But I’ve also created the writing test for several different agencies and I’ve marked literally hundreds of tests over the years. I know what the person who will be marking your test will be looking for, and I want to help you tick all the boxes.

In this video you’ll find my five top microtips so that your writing test will stand out and it will help you get that medical writing job.

These microtips are applicable for anyone doing a medical writing test, whether you are totally new to medical writing or you’re an experienced medical writer who’s applying for a promotion or a job in a new agency.

You can download a PDF summary of all of these microtips from the link in the description below.

And do let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

So how can you make your medical writing test stand out?

1. Follow all the instructions

You can make your medical writing test stand out by following all the instructions.

I realize this might sound pretty basic, but you’d be amazed by how many people lose marks by missing out really obvious things or just not doing exactly what they’ve been asked to do. Sometimes this might be because people are rushing, maybe trying to do it quickly to meet a tight deadline.

But sometimes I get the impression that people are doing the tasks they expect to be asked to do, rather than really taking in what the instructions actually say.

So I’ve got a few examples. I was recently marking some tests where there were two different elements and each focused on a different therapy area.

This was pretty obvious in the instructions, but a couple of candidates used the therapy area from the first task when they were doing the second task, so they lost easy marks for not following the instructions appropriately and not including the right information for that second therapy area.

In another test, I’ve asked candidates to review a short Word document and edit it for consistency and accuracy, using track changes and comment boxes to note what they’ve done.

This is so that I can easily see what they’ve changed when I’m marking it. But a surprising number of candidates send through a clean document with no comments or track changes. This makes it much harder for me to mark, not something you want to do as a candidate, and it shows that the candidates didn’t follow the clear instructions, so more easy marks were lost.

This is so important because as medical writers, we need to take in and assimilate complex instructions and act on them appropriately. It’s a big part of the job.

And for a test, it means that it’s crucial to slow down and make sure that we’ve understood all the instructions before we get started, and then check whether we’ve completed them all appropriately before we send the test off.

Now, I know this is easier said than done. A writing test – it’s a weird scenario, especially if you’re doing it at an interview or under timed conditions. It’s stressful and nerve wracking, there’s pressure to do it quickly, and these things can all affect our attention to detail. To tackle that and make sure that you’re doing exactly what you’ve been asked, I would recommend:

Number one, reading through the instruction slowly, and two, writing out a checklist of each step you need to take. It’s a good idea to do this by hand if you can, and have it next to you while you are actually working on the test to refer back to. And finally, number three, when you finish the test, you can check back through against each item on your list before you send it off.

That way you can be certain you’ve followed all the instructions.

2. Ask questions

You can also make your medical writing test stand out by asking questions. Now, this microtip might seem counterintuitive. Surely the test is for you to demonstrate your writing skills? Well, yes it is, but being a medical writer means having to think critically about everything.

We have to look at the data that we are given and analyze it to understand. Not just what it means per se, but what it means for a particular audience, and then communicate that in the most effective way for them.

We also work on projects that could have multiple approaches, but it’s likely that the client or the external experts we’re working with, or the congress or journal, will have specific requirements or preferences that we have to adhere to. Basically, we can’t assume anything as medical writers. It’s always better to check.

Medical writing tests will often include elements where something is ambiguous or could be tackled in different ways because the people marking the test want to see how the candidates handle that. It could be as simple as using a mix of US and UK English in the briefing materials.

Do the candidates notice? Do they use clues from the instructions to pick the most appropriate spelling and use it consistently? Do they flag this concern and include a professionally worded query or note about it?

When I’m marking tests, I will often give extra credit for queries or comments, especially if the candidate has included a potential solution to the problem that they’ve spotted or potential next steps that could be taken to resolve it.

This shows me that they are thinking and acting like a medical writer already, which means they’re going to hit the ground running when they start work.

So when you’re faced with a medical writing test, look at it with critical eyes and ask yourself, is there anything that doesn’t make sense? Is there anything ambiguous or inconsistent?

If you spot something like that, don’t assume that you just haven’t understood. It’s probably there for a reason, and if you include a comment or a query, it will show that you are looking at the test with a critical eye, which will make it stand out because there will be plenty of other candidates who don’t mention it, even if they’ve noticed it.

3. Include how long it took

Another way you can make your medical writing test stand out is by including how long it took you to complete the test. Now, I will caveat this by saying that not every test will require it, so check your instructions and all communication you’ve received about the test to see whether it’s something that you’re being asked to do.

It’s basically something I would expect to see in the majority of tests, but I can’t guarantee that it’s always going to be included. If you don’t spot it immediately, it might be buried at the bottom of the instructions or only included in the briefing email you receive. Kind of hidden and therefore easily missed.

As I said in my first microtip, you should always follow all the instructions and including the time it takes you to do a test is such an easy one. Sometimes you might be asked to include the overall time you’ve taken for the whole test. Sometimes you might need to break it down into the time for different components of the test.

Either way, if you know what you’re being asked to do before you get started, it will make it much easier to get the marks for including your time taken than if you only notice the instructions once you’re about to submit and then can’t actually remember how long it took you.

There are various ways that you can keep track of your time taken, maybe setting a stopwatch on your phone while you’re doing the tasks, or simply jotting down your start and end times on a Post-it.

You can also use time tracking apps like Toggle, whatever works for you, and however long it takes you, be honest when you’re reporting it.

Don’t try to second guess how long it “should” take or how long the person marking is expecting it to take. Honesty is definitely the best policy.

I don’t expect an entry level writer to be able to do these tasks in the same time as an experienced writer, and I take that into account when I’m marking the tests.

Also, I can see from the test itself how much effort has gone in. It’s usually really obvious if the quality of someone’s test response doesn’t match up with how long they said it took them, and that can be a red flag.

When I’m marking a test, I use the information about how long it took the candidate to understand how much time they might need when tackling similar tasks once they start work.

But I also use it to get an impression of what kind of training or support they might need so that they can do these things to the required standard. That way, I can help make sure new starters have the right support from day one to help them hit the ground running. So if you are asked to report it, include an honest report of how long it took you to do the test.

4. Think about your file names

And for microtip number four, you can make your writing test stand out by thinking about your file names. If you’re trying to get a job, it’s quite likely that you are applying to multiple companies and each company has sent you a different writing test to complete. It makes total sense from your perspective to name the files for each writing test according to the company it’s for. You don’t want to send them the wrong writing test!

But think about it from the perspective of the person marking those tests. They will be marking multiple tests when trying to recruit someone, even for one vacant position. And if they’re recruiting people to join a new entry training scheme, they might be marking 50 or even 100 tests for one cohort.

If every single test is called variations on “Agency X Writing test”, imagine how complicated it will be for the person marking them to keep track of who submitted each test, especially if the candidates haven’t included their names in the actual body of the test either. What if your test gets muddled up with someone else’s? Total nightmare!

The easiest way to avoid this nightmare is to include your name in the file name of each document that you submit. I’d recommend starting the file name with your name so that it’s super obvious. You can still include the relevant agency’s name so that you don’t get muddled, but you could abbreviate it or just use initials if it’s a long name, and make sure that that comes after your name.

This is a tiny way that you can demonstrate that you are thinking about your target audience in everything you do, and making life as easy as possible for them. That’s a fundamental part of being a medical writer, and it’s such a simple thing to do, but very few candidates actually do it, especially at entry level.

So it’s something incredibly easy that you can do to make your writing test stand out from the moment the person marking it receives the file.

5. Run spell check

And the next microtip to help make your medical writing test stand out is to run a spell check. Now, this might seem a bit basic, but you’d be surprised by how many candidates clearly haven’t done it.

Typos and spelling mistakes happen to us all, but there is such great tools to help us avoid them now that if they creep into test submissions, it makes them stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Now, a lot of medical writing tests will include words that aren’t in the standard spell check dictionaries, like complex medical terminology or drug names, and potentially even the names of authors or journals that you need to cite to support your work.

If you’re using words like this, the best thing you can do is to double check the correct spelling and then add them to the custom dictionary for whatever program you’re using so that any mistakes will be highlighted and you can correct them.

Also, if you’re working in a document that has been shared by the agency, make sure that spell check is turned on to automatically highlight those errors.

I have been known to turn it off for test documents to see if people are canny enough to turn it back on again. This isn’t cheating, it’s really important!

I’ve known some authors and clients who turn spell check off when they’re working on a document because they get annoyed by all the highlighting that happens, especially if they have another language set as their default on their computer.

It basically highlights everything in a document and that can be very distracting. We need to make sure that it’s turned on again when we pick up the work on the document so that we don’t risk any mistakes slipping through the net.

Spell check can also be really useful for making sure that we are consistently using either UK or US English. If you haven’t been briefed on which to use for the test, it’s always best to pick one and stick to it throughout the document, rather than hedge your bets with a bit of both. Consistency is key for medical writers.

Bonus Microtip. Check your work with fresh eyes

And as a cheeky bonus microtip, you can make your medical writing test stand out by checking your work with fresh eyes before you send it out.

This is such a crucial thing to do, I couldn’t leave it out. It’s also something I would recommend incorporating into your processes as a medical writer after you get the job.

When we work on something, we become so familiar with it that we tend to see what we intended to write, not necessarily what’s actually there.

Things like repeated words, typos, phrases that are simply a bit awkward to read, are really hard to spot when you’re in the thick of it. Finishing the test and putting it to one side, preferably overnight before you read it through again, will make it much easier to find all those niggly little things to change, especially if you combine it with using spell check as discussed earlier.

But spell check won’t necessarily catch everything. What about a typo that’s been autocorrected into the wrong word? Spell check did that, and while it sometimes will flag a word that seems incongruous, you can’t rely on the fact that errors like this will be highlighted. We have to do a manual check for that.

It can be really useful to read our work aloud or use the narration function that a lot of programs have now. Hearing our work makes us slow down, and stops us skimming over mistakes so that we are more likely to catch things that need to be corrected.

Also, if you made a checklist based on the instructions for the test, as I suggested in the first microtip, this is a great opportunity to go back through it and make sure that you’ve ticked all the boxes.

Completing a medical writing test can be nerve-wracking even for experienced writers, but I really hope that if you follow these microtips and:

  1. Follow all the instructions
  2. Ask questions or make comments in the task to demonstrate your critical eye
  3. Include how long it took you, honestly, as long as that’s been requested
  4. Use your file names to show your thinking about the person marking the test
  5. Use spell check to maximize the accuracy of your content
  6. And finally, check your work with fresh eyes before you send it

… you’re going to demonstrate to the person marking the test that you have got what it takes to be a medical writer.

I really hope you found this useful. Please hit the like button if you have, and you can download a PDF summary of all of these microtips from the link in the video description below to support you whenever you are completing a medical writing test.

This is my first MedComms microtips video, but there are plenty of other topics that I want to cover, so do subscribe to the channel and there will be many more microtips coming your way.

If you have a burning question or there’s a topic that you would like me to cover, just leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.

‘This content was originally posted on the MedComms Mentor blog and is reproduced here with permission from the MedComms Mentor’

Download a PDF summary of all the microtips to make your medical writing test stand out.