The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) exam can seem like one more stressor in your already busy life, but taking 30 minutes to review the ABIM tutorial and taking a practice exam in advance may greatly improve your efficiency and will probably decrease your overall stress on the day of the actual exam. The ABIM tutorial includes an overview of the functional features in the actual exam and a short practice exam with an answer key.
Why Review the ABIM Tutorial?
The reason that reviewing the ABIM tutorial and taking the ABIM practice exam can result in improved efficiency when taking the actual exam lies in the brain’s innate capacity to learn and remember patterns. The more you practice a new activity or process, the more efficient you become at doing that task. Think of the initial brain overload that you felt when you first attempted to drive a car, ride a bike, or type without looking at the keyboard. With practice, what initially was a slow, stressful task quickly became a fluid process. The same can be said for the specifics involved in taking the ABIM exam. The multiple features and tools in this exam may be unfamiliar to some test takers. By viewing the tutorial and taking practice exams before exam day, you will be familiarizing your brain with the functional features and layout of the exam and freeing yourself up to focus on the material covered in the exam.
While there are three exam tutorials available on the ABIM website, we will focus on the internal medicine tutorial (the other two cover adolescent medicine and sports medicine and each of the three function differently).
Navigation: the Basics and Beyond
The tutorial navigates through an overview of the functions found in the exam itself. For those who are unfamiliar with using the web, the tutorial explains how to handle the basics, such as the “previous” and “next” buttons to move between questions, the scroll bar, and so on. The tutorial notes that if you try to move to the next page before reviewing everything on the page, a helpful “Unseen Content” prompt will pop up, and you will not be able to move on until you have reviewed the page in its entirety.
While some of the functions may be more familiar and intuitive, several are more specific to the exam and are worth familiarizing yourself with before taking the exam. The “Navigator” feature, with the button at the bottom right of the page, functions in a similar manner to a table of contents, allowing you to jump freely to different parts of the exam.
Clicking on the button will bring up a window (below) showing you which items you have viewed or not viewed, have marked for review, or to which you have added your own notes. This is a good way to get a quick view of the status of all the exam questions in the current session. From here, you can click on any item to go directly to it.
Within a question, on the left side of the screen is a “Notes” button. Clicking this will open a window where you can enter your notes or thoughts for that particular item. Any notes you enter will not affect your exam score. You will also receive an erasable note board to use during the test if you prefer to write things down.
There are additional features within a question that may help you as you work through the question. You can highlight or strike through text, or use the calculator if needed.
Also included is a Resources button at the bottom left corner of the screen. Clicking on this brings up a window with additional resources.
Each section of the ABIM exam is timed, and there is an on-screen timer in the upper right corner of the screen, which displays the remaining time. Be sure to read the instructions carefully when beginning the exam so that you will know when you are beginning a timed session and when and if you will be given any breaks. Be sure to also carefully read the information given in each “item screen” containing the exam questions. The time remaining will appear in yellow when your time is about to expire.
Along with the timer, there is a progress indicator that displays the current question number and total number of questions in the session, which may help you budget your time as you move through the exam questions.
The “Mark for Review” tool allows you to flag any item that you may want to return to later for further review, whether you have answered the item or not.
Note that you only have until the end of a given session to review marked items from that session.
ABIM exam questions may also include links to images or figures that will be helpful to review in order to answer a given question. These links can be found in a blue box above the answer options reading “click here for figures.” If there are multiple figures, those are organized on separate tabs that you open one by one.
Some items on the exam contain single or multiple videos for viewing. It is important to remember that these videos must be viewed in their entirety. Unlike the scroll bar warning, you will not be warned if you navigate away from the question without viewing the entire video, so be careful! You will also be prompted to put on the supplied headphones if audio is available. As with images, you will see links to videos by clicking the “Click here for video” link.
Other items may contain audio only, with controls that are similar to those for the videos.
To Sum Up…
Once you’ve navigated through the ABIM tutorial and practice exam, your brain will have incorporated the experience, recording it as a pattern that it will later recognize. You will easily and quickly increase the chances that you’ll be at your most efficient using the screens and functionality of the ABIM exam when you arrive on exam day for the real thing.
Of course, there are many ways to prepare for exams and many different styles of learning, and the same methods are not equally effective for everyone. Among the many ways to prepare, however, the ABIM tutorial and practice exam are the closest to an “inside look” you will find, so it’s well worth your time to explore both offerings. More extensive practice exams, such as those found in NEJM Knowledge+ Internal Medicine Board Review, Family Medicine Board Review, and in other products, are also available to help prepare you for your big day.
More from NEJM Knowledge+ and the Learning+ Blog:
Taking an ABIM Practice Exam Will Help You Feel Better About Taking Those Boards
Taking the Internal Medicine Board Exam
Strategies for Working Through ABIM Board Questions
Survival Guide for ABIM Recertification Exam Day