Studying for a board exam can seem like a daunting task; the amount of knowledge required can be overwhelming. Finding time to fit studying into our busy lives is a struggle. Our natural inclination may be to just power through all of the topics as best as we can. How do you start the process and where do you focus?
Taking the time to assess our knowledge gaps and approach to questions is a critical first step. It prioritizes our focus to get the most out of our study plan.
Assessment tools can include prior board exams, residency in-training exams, or The Pass Machine question banks. Take a set of 100-200 questions, either at one sitting or over time, and assess your performance. For questions that you get wrong, you can classify them into three categories. Once you have identified the categories, you can use a different approach for each group.
1. You do not know the knowledge base on the topic for the question.
This is straightforward. You need to cover the material on this topic using your best board review resource.
2. You know the knowledge base, but the question addresses an aspect where your knowledge is incomplete.
Board questions do focus on core concepts and key knowledge in each specialty. However, they often like to challenge that knowledge by picking out lesser known details for common issues. Revisit the topic but look for new information or an area that you are not familiar with. Look beyond diagnosis and treatment, as this could include atypical cases, patient education, and care coordination. Look also for second or third-line treatment options.
3. You know the knowledge base but do not know how to apply it in the question.
Reevaluate the question and what knowledge they are asking about the topic. See if you can write or verbalize an explanation. You can do additional focused practice questions on the same topic. This is also a good opportunity to break down your approach to answering a test question. You may want to incorporate techniques like identifying the stem of the question and looking at answer choices before launching into the vignette.
Once you have these categories mapped out, you will have a prioritized study plan. Topics in category 1 need the most attention. Categories 2 and 3 need less time but a more focused approach to address deficiencies.
By following these steps, you will maximize your limited study time and give yourself the best chance for success on your board exam.