Top 5 Board Prep Tips Across the Specialties

The boards. There are multiple exams and they are all notoriously difficult. However, they are difficult for a reason, as the criteria to be a board-certified physician remains very high and the exam serves as an important certification metric.

Here are some tips to successfully mastering your board preparation. Some of them seem common sense, but others may surprise you.

1. Start early and start with real resources.

  • When I say start early, I recommend slowly starting your first year and taking your in-service training exams seriously. If you’re reading this further into your training then start now. Let your ITEs serve as the ultimate practice test. Prepare for the ITE using board preparation tools. It is best to use the current recommended board preparation materials. Many vendors offer discounted or complimentary board preparation or question bank sets during national conferences. Take them up on these offers even if you’re not taking your boards this year. Alternatively, programs can purchase resources for a more discounted rate than individual residents purchasing plans separately. Use your ITE score to gauge your shortcomings and strengths.

2. Talk to recent graduates from different programs.

  • Different specialties have different popular resources. These resources tend to change every few years and vary region by region. You can’t study every resource, but you can selectively choose the most useful and valued ones. Also, different programs have different success rates. Talk to peers in successful programs and ask them how their group prepares.

3. Structure your study time. 

  • If you’ve made it this far in your training then you’re already an avid student. But you’re probably getting tired because now you’re busy working, studying, and #adulting. I won’t tell you how to study—we all have different learning pathways—but I will tell you to be intentional about time management. You make time to eat, sleep, socialize. Make time to study. Choose a time in your day that you can actually focus. Create accountability.
  • Consider small study scrums repeatedly scheduled throughout the week, then some solid weekend study time. For each study session, reward yourself with time to rest. This may prove more useful than the hypothetical large stressful cram session a month before the boards. And in case if you didn’t notice, life tends to inconveniently happen during said cram session.

4. Quiz yourself.

  • Many people who write mock board questions have been exposed to certification questions themselves. Question banks help you get familiar with structure and pacing, help strengthen your recall when you study, and highlight your knowledge strengths and weaknesses. Then you can tailor your studying to this.

5. Apply what you’ve learned.

  • Remember that zebra diagnosis? And then you saw a patient with that diagnosis? Apply what you learned, go study and reference it. Recall the questions the board question banks ask about that topic.
  • What about the difficult case with the differential with a group of zebras? Reference in your board review book all the things you’re considering. Learn it. Apply it.

There are a lot of dos and don’ts for board preparation. If you learn about them early in your training, then you will be less overwhelmed. And remember, this certification exam is a quality measure to ensure excellence in your specialty and provide good patient care. These are things you are working on daily in practice.

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