How to Review for a Board Exam

Not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed?

These study tips for board exam preparation will help you get going and stay on track. A few may surprise you:

  1. Start with one or two topics that are relatively easy for you, to reinforce what you know and gauge your self-awareness.
  2. Then move to a topic that you have lower self-confidence in, one that forms a large component of the examination. Improving your ability in a major topic area can make a big difference in your performance.
  3. Study for shorter stints more frequently. People who learn this way generally perform better than those who have more study time overall but spaced in bigger blocks.
  4. Vary your study setting. Varying the setting appears to boost neural connections. If you find yourself studying on the train, in the kitchen, or at the soccer field, you might be doing yourself a favor!
  5. It’s okay to have fun. Find a board review study aid that you like, and you will be more likely to use it. Some newer online solutions are actually fun to use. (Shameless plug: We happen to be partial to NEJM Knowledge+.)
  6. Focus on the application of knowledge in diagnosis and treatment for typical and important conditions — which is the mainstay of both certification exams and your practice — rather than random facts.
  7. Actively engage with the material as you study. When working with a question bank, you’ll remember more if you select diagnostic and treatment strategies yourself before looking at the available answers. Review the feedback even if you answer correctly.
  8. Don’t be distracted by what others are doing or have done. Choose a reputable source that uses a learning approach that keeps you engaged.
  9. Everyone needs moral support. Find a colleague or friend from residency who is on the same exam timetable. Get in touch. Then choose the same study tool, trade board review study tips, and help keep each other on track.
  10. Shortly into your preparation and again closer to the test, challenge yourself with a practice exam that simulates the test environment and gives you a comparative score.

We know you don’t need reminding, but just in case… as your test date approaches, don’t overlook these obvious, but evergreen, tactics. 

  • Plan to arrive early at the testing center.
  • Recheck the time and check directions in advance.
  • Sleep. A full night’s sleep in the day or two before the test serves you far better than using the time for last-minute cramming. Even better, put studying aside the day before the test and do something you enjoy.