How to Answer Pharmacology Questions

how to answer pharmacology questions

Where You’re Going Wrong

Whether you’re taking the NAPLEX exam, another national pharmacy licensing exam, or a university pharmacy test, there are certain principles and criteria that must be followed to successfully answer pharmacology questions.

Many people ask the question of how to answer pharmacology questions yet fail to come up with a realistic plan of action.

Here, today, we intend to put an end to that uncertainty.

Answering pharmacology quiz questions involves long-term preparation. When we talk about ‘preparation’, we do not mean ‘just putting in the time’. If that time is not well invested – with a structured, defined approach – you are unlikely to harvest a positive learning outcome.

Your learning time must be put to good use. You must know how to study any given drug topic and understand how to relate it to other drugs / drug systems. Ask yourself the question: am I the type of student who learns about drugs and medicines in an almost haphazard, random manner? If your answer to that question is yes, it’s time you took a second look at where you might be going wrong.

One of the gravest errors that students of pharmacology make is that they learn without any strategic method. Learning to grab an understanding of pharmacology or clinical pharmacy by mass learning is a often a waste of time. Amid that blizzard of facts, you only catch a small minority of meaningful data. You need to broaden your study approach and deepen the knowledge – both theoretical and practical – that this profession demands. Otherwise, you will always fall behind.

When challenged on how to put those facts to good use – in a practical, constructive and clinically-relevant manner– you invariably fail, time and time again.

It’s time to change that, here and now.

How to Answer Pharmacology Questions

To successfully answer pharmacology questions, you must adopt the following five study strategies.

Of course, it takes practice – often lots of it. But that’s the nature of learning; adapting and eliminating bad habits that have obstructed your study for too long – replacing those bad habits with long-term, results-oriented solutions.

Here is what you must focus on.

  • Structure your learning. Don’t try to learn every conceivable side effect and drug interaction. That broad focus only dilutes both your knowledge and understanding. The more you try, the less the return. Instead, try to learn serious side effects and/or the most common side effects associated with each drug / drug class. Try not to become too obsessed with side effects that apply to most medicines, such as nausea and vomiting (except where vomiting is a serious consequence that requires pre-treatment, as in the case of many highly emetogenic chemotherapy drugs). We’ve already put together a neat summary of side effects that you need to know. Use this as a basis to build your knowledge of side effects. Do the same with drug interactions – narrowing your initial focus – and build upon that understanding to broaden your knowledge further.
  • Know your mechanisms and metabolism. Many pharmacy students struggle to learn how to answer pharmacology questions because they don’t have a thorough knowledge of mechanisms of action. We cannot underestimate the value that these mechanisms can bring. First, knowing mechanisms of action can save you a lot of time when it comes to drug interactions and adverse effects. Once you have an intimate knowledge of mechanisms, you can begin to work out drug interactions for yourself. For example – a patient may be taking two drugs that directly interact courtesy of their mechanism. If you know that allopurinol inhibits the xanthine oxidase enzyme and if you know that mercaptopurine is also metabolized by the same enzyme, you can intuit that taking both drugs together increases mercaptopurine toxicity risk. Rather than learning mechanisms from a narrow perspective, always think about how that mechanism impacts the mechanism and/or metabolism of another drug – as well as how that mechanism impacts the body / body system on a broader level. Start small and build slowly. We’ve already put together a head-start in our top 100 mechanisms of action. You will, at some point, reach a critical mass of understanding where picking up drug and medicine data becomes second nature. That’s where you want to be.
  • Eliminate risk. Many pharmacy students have MCQ pharmacology exams. In these cases, there is almost always an “outlier” drug / answer – an answer that, with an elementary understanding of the topic, you should be able to identify as clearly wrong. You just need to spend time to find it. If you approach a question at the outset in the belief that you “know nothing” about the topic and so give a random guess, you are making a grave mistake. Whether you know it or not, you probably have more knowledge of the topic than you believe you do. Often, pharmacology questions are phrased in an overly complicated, verbose and technical manner – even though the question / solution is much easier than you first thought. Many questions contain irrelevant data or data that doesn’t add much value. By clearing away these risks, you substantially increase the probability of selecting the correct answer.
  • Become familiar with prefixes and suffixes. Whether you’re just starting out in your learning of drugs and medicines, or whether you are at an advanced stage of the process, you should always think about prefixes and suffixes and how they are likely to impact how a drug works. For example, if you know that a drug ends in ‘-lol’ – such as sotalol – you should be aware that the drug at least has beta blocker potential. In the case of sotalol, it also works as a class III antiarrhythmic drug. We should all know the common examples – from the suffix ‘-pril’ of ACE inhibitors to ‘-afil’ of PDE5 inhibitors to ‘-inib’ of Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitors, like imatinib. The more prefixes and suffixes you become accustomed to, the better. It means that the moment you see a drug that you hitherto hadn’t seen before, you have the capability to work out how that drug works and, based on similar drugs, how its side effect, drug interaction and ADME profiles are likely to play out.
  • Organize your study. There is no replacement for long-term study. It’s the bedrock upon which you build both knowledge and, more importantly, understanding. Structure your study in a manner that is progressive and consistent. Create notes in your own words. Connect the dots between one drug class and another. Think through why two drug classes interact in the way that they do – rather than memorizing meaningless lists for the sake of it. Don’t fool yourself into believing that the amount of time studied will reflect the mark received. If your study is disorganized and based on empty, meaningless memorization, that’s poorly organized study. It also counts against your practical understanding of the topic. Don’t forget to revise topics consistently. Use clever means of learning – such as flashcards or mnemonics or graphic images – for added, augmented effect. The more bizarre the learning association, the more memorable that association will be.

Of course, there is no replacement to practicing pharmacology quiz questions and answers. The more questions you practice, the more you are exposed to the detail that matters. More importantly, explanatory answers give you the opportunity to learn more about the topic and to read beyond the data in a constructive and productive manner.

To answer the question of how to answer pharmacology questions, we need to take a step back and see where our study is going wrong and how best we can remedy, correct and replace bad habits with habits that work. Every pharmacy student has their own learning methods.

Find yours and use them to your advantage.

By incorporating the above strategies into your long-term study, there is no reason why you cannot answer pharmacology questions to the very best of your ability.


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