PBL and How to ace it!


I first heard about PBL’s (short for Problem Based Learning) during my 1st year and truth be told I had mixed feeling about it. On one hand, it is an exciting alternative and very different to the usual didactic lecture based learning but on the other hand I was apprehensive about it, because it was novel to me. I was not confident in the meagre amount of medical knowledge I had amassed then, with only 2-3 months into medicine.

Today, after 2 year’s of experience in PBL’s I’d like to call myself a ‘PBL Expert’. So,here I am with some practical tips to help you ace your next PBL.

*Remember that you will be developing your own ways of going about a session and you  do not necessarily have to follow the tips mentioned below. What works for you may not work for others.

To make explanation easier,  I’ll be dividing a PBL session into 3 chunks:

  • Level 1: This is your first exposure to the Case.  It is presided by the Chairperson and usually begins by the Case being read aloud by one the group members.

As you read through the case, use a highlighter or a pen to mark the important deciding factors on the sheet provided. Eg: age and sex of the patient, genetic diseases that run in his/her family, chief complaint,lab investigations,treatment options,etc.

At the end of the session an “official” list of LOs is distributed and the professor discusses any major differences between this list and the one generated by the students. We then evaluate the effectiveness of the just-completed PBL as a learning experience .

You will then be given a weeks’ time to do your research on the acquired objectives and present them to your group in the second session.


1-Think of  PBL as a brainstorming session. You drive the PBL,not the professor.Power is now in your hands.Your professor acts as facilitator and mentor, rather than a source of “solutions”.Direct your questions to your colleagues and not to your professor.

2-Remember!  Your aim in this session is to gather the important Learning Objectives (LOs) rather than to reach a diagnosis. This is one of the mistakes I have seen my colleagues do time and again. There is no need to wrack your brains to  get to the diagnosis because  it will  be provided in the last trigger.

3-Ask Questions! Even if you think its a stupid one. PBL is all about participating actively.If you have any questions,its best to clear them as and when you encounter them,even if you have to stop the person reading the case.This is completely acceptable in PBL.

4-No marks are deducted for making mistakes so feel free to voice your opinion.You will learn from your mistakes and are more likely to not repeat them in your actual exam.

5-Do not fear judgement by other colleagues for expressing  your views about the case.

6- It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with your colleagues.It is advisable for you to provide strong points explaining them your viewpoint.You don’t necessarily have to convince them.

7-Try not to dominate the discussion. I’ve seen a colleague being stopped by the professor because she won’t let others speak.

8-Give your colleagues enough time to speak and don’t interrupt them.

9-You will be marked on your attendance and how actively you participate.Be on the safe side and ask  your professor  about the marking scheme.

10-Last but not the least, make sure you file all your PBL sheets together as it will be helpful when you are studying about the disease during your lectures. I’ve lost track of  the number of times I had to rummage through heaps of papers to find the PBL case sheet. Filing all PBL sheets in one folder saves you loads of time later.

  • Level 2: You are required to present your objectives (gathered from session 1) in any form you chose. It is advisable that you make use of as many study tools as possible to explain yourself clearly.


1-Use mnemonics, flow charts, .ppts, images, shorts quizzes.

2-If a member is absent then one of you will have to cover up for the person.So be ready for any unforeseen situations.

3-Make sure your ppts work and projectors etc.

  • Level 3: Upload your objectives to the respective professor. This is usually done through your university’s learning management system.


1- Submit the LOs before the deadline put up by the professor.

2-Try to explain everything in your own words rather than to ‘copy & paste’ information from elsewhere. The professor can understand whether you have understood the concepts or not though the content you present them with.

3-Do not submit your friend’s file.Even if you edit out certain parts,the professor can usually detect that its not your original work. So,Try to Be Original.

I’d like to conclude by saying that, PBL-If utilized in the correct manner you can reap loads of benefits; like skills that you will need after your education.

However,not  participating in the PBL sessions,doesn’t mean you will fail your exams but you will definitely  miss out on some very important life skills.

Since your college provides you with this amazing opportunity, why not use it in the best possible way!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any Institution or Agency.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nafi Samira says:

    Perfectly written.
    Must read by the junior batches.

    Liked by 1 person

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