It turns out, there are several different types of “sweet spots” you should know about when you are picking what to study for your board exams. Some of them have to do with the types of material that the board focuses on, and some that the board avoids. Others have to do with the timeliness of the material, both in terms out how recent it is and how relevant it is to current practice.
Brand new material tends to be avoided by the board. There’s a certain period of time where things work their way into practice, and also when they become the standard of care that is routinely described in medical literature. When something is brand new, the board tends to avoid it both because the process of incorporating new material into practice and incorporating new material into the board exam takes a while.
On the other hand, one of the things that the board exams do like to include is material that is new and different from what you might have learned in residency 20 years ago. I’ve seen many questions that have to do with things that were right 20 years ago, but they are wrong now. That’s one of the ways that the board makes sure that people are staying up-to-date on their medical knowledge.
Controversy is something that the board does not like to use. Controversial subjects, like abortion and stem cells, rarely find their way on to the board exam. This is not because they are not scientific, it’s because there are so many other good things to choose from to write board questions about, that walking into a firestorm does not really serve the purpose of testing general medical knowledge. It’s a distraction, and for that reason, you often will not find questions about controversial topics.
Journals are often too recent. A review article might be relevant, but things that are recently published in the last 6 to 12 months frequently are not the type of things that are best to study for the boards. Textbooks, on the other hand, especially ones that are updated yearly or recently revised, may be a good way to study material. I especially like Conn’s and Rakel’s Family Medicine tests that provide crisp summaries instead of lengthy discussions. However, many of you may find that you already have some additional resources; The Pass Machine practice tests are a great tool for studying. These sets of tests are already included in your course package, so be sure to take advantage of them.
Taking all these things in into account can help you to focus and target your studying on the types of material that are most likely to be included on the board exam.