This blog post is written for physicians who are getting ready to take either their initial certification or recertification exam in internal medicine. I know it is a time of stress and apprehension for you as you prepare to take the test, which is why I will provide you with some practical strategies that will help you position yourself in the best possible way to pass. I have taken one certification and one recertification exam, and I used these strategies myself to pass on my first attempt.
- Start Early: This is the key. Internal medicine curriculum is huge. You need adequate time to prepare. You know beforehand when you will have to take the test, so do not procrastinate. I usually start 8-12 months in advance to give myself enough time to be able to cover all the topics adequately.
- Time Management: This is another important aspect of exam preparation. The American Board of Internal Medicine’s website lists what percentage of questions are devoted to each subject area. You may have a great appreciation for cardiology and would like to devote 50% of your exam preparation time to this topic, but if the exam only has 14% of questions from cardiology, this is not a smart strategy. You need to make sure your study time is proportionately divided between the various subject areas.
- Practice Questions: I cannot stress this one enough; the more practice questions you do, the better your preparation will be. Many practice questions address key concepts checked on the test. Another important point is that if you do one practice question thoroughly, which has one correct answer and four wrong answers, you now are prepared for not one, but five questions on the exam.
- Buzzwords: This is an important adjunct to your preparation. The exam is filled with questions that describe some buzzwords, which lead you to the correct diagnosis. If you know what the buzzwords are associated with, you increase your chances of arriving at the right answer. An example is “basophilic stippling” on a peripheral smear in a patient with microcytic anemia. You may not know what it looks like, but if you know its association with lead poisoning, you increase your chances of getting this one correct.
- Exam Day Etiquette: This is the final and most important aspect; you need your mind to be well rested and ready to go on exam day. Please get adequate sleep the night before. You do not want to squander months and months of preparation by going into the exam fatigued and tired. Also, make sure you are well-fed the morning of the exam and during the breaks.
These constitute my most important strategies to ace the exam. If you focus on these, you should come out ahead.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you the very best of luck.