Let’s face it; the “Board Exam” is a one-day test. However, it is so much more than a one-day experience. No matter what your specialty, preparation for your board exam begins months to years before the test day. The experience of that day will live with you for months to years even after you finish the board exam.
Here are some strategies to implement before, during, and after your exam to have your best possible testing experience:
Before the Board Exam
Yes, this means the studying part. Everyone has their own approach to studying, and you really need to hone in on what has worked for you in the past.
In my experience, I have found a few great strategies that have allowed me to score in the 99th percentile on both my Internal Medicine Boards and Nephrology Boards. They are as follows:
- Use question banks. I have found the board prep resources like MKSAP (for the internal medicine boards) and NEPHSAP (for the nephrology boards) to be invaluable. The Pass Machine also has many different board prep courses with QBanks for over 28 specialties. Try to answer the questions for yourself, but also go through and read the explanations for why they are either wrong or right. You can retain a great deal of diverse knowledge from just one question by doing this.
- Individualize your studying. While some people do great in big study groups, do not simply do this because all of your classmates are if this approach has not worked for you in the past.
- Mix it up. Try listening to some medical review podcasts while you are outside walking or even working out. This will also break up the monotony of staring at books and notes all day. Plus, you can get some much-needed sun and workout therapy!
- Take a break! And I do not just mean an hour here or there. Take a weekend off to enjoy with family and friends. You are not going to lose any knowledge you have retained. You need to give your brain a break in the same way you would give your body a rest day after a hard workout.
On Exam Day and During the Test
- Eat a good breakfast! Your body and brain need fuel for the long day ahead, and you do not want to start behind. Make sure you have a good mix of carbohydrates and protein to get you through until your lunch break.
- Read all of the guidelines specific to your test. Set out anything that you are required to bring with you the night before, such as primary and secondary identification, so there is no risk of forgetting anything.
- Don’t get hung up on questions. By this, I mean don’t worry that you might have answered a question from a previous section wrong. Sometimes our minds will wander back to previous questions and we will second guess ourselves. The fact is, you are not going to know every answer or get every question right. The writers of the board exams do not expect that. What they do expect is for you to have a minimal competency to treat patients in the real world. Focus on what you know and move forward to concentrate on the questions to come.
- Don’t rush. Read through the questions carefully so you know exactly what is being asked.
After the Exam
- Relax! The hard part is over and you survived! While it will be hard not to worry about your final score, this is out of your hands at this point.
- Celebrate! You earned it. Go out with family and friends and take advantage of a well-deserved night off.
- Continue to learn. The test is over and results will not be back for a few months. During this time you will likely be a nervous wreck waiting to hear about your score. But the truth is, there is nothing you can do now in regard to that. However, to take your mind off of it, continue to read and stay up to date with your field. You will still be practicing medicine while you wait for your board scores, so be sure you are utilizing the most up-to-date medical information and guidelines. Remember, being a doctor is not simply about a test score, but how well you integrate your medical knowledge to care for patients.
These are just a few tips and tricks that I have found useful in the past for approaching my board exams. Hopefully, by incorporating some of these strategies into your own test-taking approach, you will find yourself well-prepared for the boards.