AAP PREP®QUESTIONS – WHEN YOU SHOULD (AND SHOULD NOT) USE THEM!
A question I’m often asked is “Ashish, what makes your pediatric study guide better than prep questions?” Whether they are talking about general board prep questions or the American Academy of Pediatrics PREP®questions, my answer is always the same (read on).
THE SECRET NO ONE TALKS ABOUT WITH AAP PREP QUESTIONS
The AAP PREP questions are NOT written by the American BOARD of Pediatrics (ABP). They are written by the American ACADEMY of Pediatrics (AAP). The names of these organizations are so similar (American ______ Pediatrics), that MANY pediatricians believe that they are one and the same.
THEY ARE NOT!
Yet, the AAP's annual question series has somehow become the “go-to” Q&A resources for the pediatric boards.
Many pediatricians tend to use AAP PREP questions exclusively as their source of study for the boards. I'm baffled by this. While PREP is a great resource for anyone who is a board-certified pediatrician looking for Continuing Medical Education (CME), or for any non-board certified pediatrician trying to simulate an ABP practice session, these questions should NOT be used as a primary study resource while studying for the ABP initial certification exam.
THE MOST COMMON REASON PEDIATRICIANS FAIL THE PEDIATRIC BOARDS
Here is a note I received from a PBR alum, now a Board Certified Pediatrician, who made one of the most dangerous test-taking mistakes the year that she failed her pediatric boards:
Hello Ashish, Last year I failed my boards. I spent countless hours studying using prep questions but didn't have one good source to use to really learn from and I thought using questions would be my key to success. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I was so lost and frustrated after I received that FAIL, and I thought there is no way that I was going to pass. I had spent hours and months studying… What more could I have done?!? I googled ‘failed pediatric boards' and PBR came up. It was an answer to prayer. It was exactly what I needed. I was blown away by the help that PBR gave me. From the PBR book itself to the videos, audio and online portals – I am so incredibly thankful. I think PBR should be adopted by residency programs nationwide as it would be a great resource to have to study for in-training exams and to use alongside rotations. Just my two cents!! If there is something that I could do to help you and the PBR membership, please let me know!
Dr. Stephanie Moses, Board Certified Pediatrician
Learn from Stephanie’s experience; it takes more than questions to pass the pediatric board exam. There are three pillars I like to refer to when it comes to successfully passing the boards:
CONTENT: How well you know the material.
TECHNIQUE: How to quickly and effectively process board-style questions.
COMMITMENT: How disciplined you are to the process.
In order to succeed on the boards, you have to separate your board prep time into two buckets. Your CONTENT TIME (the time to develop your knowledge base) and your TECHNIQUE TIME (the time to develop your test-taking strategy).
Again, the AAP has put together a GREAT resource. I actually think it stands above all others in the marketplace for simulating the board exam experience. It's also wonderful for pediatric continuing medical education (CME). However, it should NEVER be used as a standalone resource for board study. I simply cannot imagine that the AAP would ever cover all of pediatrics as a comprehensive board review in a set of 200-300 questions.
STEPHANIE FOCUSED ON QUESTIONS, AND FAILED THE BOARDS
Dr. Stephanie Moses is now a board-certified pediatrician practicing emergency medicine. But, that wasn't always the case. In the video below, she talks about the advice that she received and how she focused on PREP the first time that she took the boards. Her second experience was very different. What she says is amazing. Watch the video below now, and be sure to watch until the end.
HOW MANY AAP PREP QUESTIONS SHOULD I DO?
In short, you should do at least 5 practice questions per day in addition to your studying materials. These should be from PREP as well as from other Q banks. This way, you are able to get a taste of various question flavors and have a broad understanding of how questions can be written for the boards. Read my article called “How Many AAP Prep Questions Should I Do?“and learn more about why I recommend this.
MORE THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
Here are a few additional key points about using the AAP's questions, as well as any other board prep questions:
If you insist on using questions to study, pick a company who creates study materials for the boards as well. This will (hopefully) ensure that the questions actually correlate with the content you need to know for the boards. This way, the answers/explanations tie in seamlessly with the core content necessary to pass the boards. However, finding this magical batch of questions that will give you everything you need to know for the boards typically does not exist. That’s why it's IMPERATIVE to study from a well-written and easy-to-understand study guide and to use questions for the practice of your test-taking TECHNIQUE.
The boards are not always current! PREP does a great job of staying current, but the ABP questions you'll see on the boards are not always that up to date. So BE CAREFUL.
PREP answers/explanations often go into excellent detail to explain all possible viewpoints. When you're studying for the boards, EFFICIENCY ISKEY so SKIM the answers. If you answered the question correctly, pat yourself on the back and MOVE ON! If you answered the question incorrectly, focus only on the answer that you chose and also on the answer that was the correct answer. Figure out where you went wrong. Was it a TECHNIQUE problem, or was it purely a CONTENT problem? If you felt like you had a good handle on the subject matter but still answered the question incorrectly, it was definitely a TECHNIQUE problem and you must figure out how to strengthen your test-taking strategies.
So, to answer the question posed in the title of this article, “Ashish, what makes your pediatric study guide better than prep questions?”, it’s near impossible to find ANY board prep questions that would do a good job of serving as a stand-alone STUDY resource.
Yes, you will undoubtedly learn some information about pediatrics by going through board prep questions. But your primary goal should be to use prep questions for PRACTICE and refinement of your test-taking TECHNIQUE rather than a STUDY resource.
THEN, HOW DO I STUDY FOR THE PEDIATRIC BOARD EXAM?
Set time aside to specifically grow your knowledge base and work on your test-taking technique. If you aren’t sure how to create such a schedule, I have two articles with step-by-step directions on how to set up your study schedule. Regardless of how much time you have left before the boards, these articles are great resources!
If you consider yourself to be a great test-taker, or if you are taking the boards for the first time, follow this schedule.
For those who are wanting to take that next step to pass the boards, the go-to resource is Pediatrics Board Review. As a PBR member, you’ll have access to high-yield board review questions and our test-taking strategy resources!
NO! Pediatric board questions are NOT like mini-patients.
Don’t believe me? Well, by the end of this article you’re going to:
Learn the difference between real life patients and test patients
Learn 3 strategies towards correctly answering board-style questions that you can put into practice IMMEDIATELY to increase your board score
Become familiar with free and paid resources at your disposal to help you work on your test-taking techniques
Feel inspired to approach board-style questions as 75-second puzzles rather than stressful patient encounters
A SAMPLE PEDIATRIC BOARD REVIEW QUESTION
How would you proceed with the little girl below? It’s a short question, so please set your timer to 60 seconds, read the question below and commit to ONE answer choice.
A 3-year-old female toddler presents for a routine well child visit. You note an abdominal mass on exam. You suspect the child may have a Wilms tumor. There have not been any urinary symptoms, but urine dipstick shows evidence of blood. There’s a history of breast cancer in the family.
Which of the following is the most appropriate diagnostic test to determine the cause of the patient’s abdominal mass?
A child presents with a PAINFUL lower extremity. The pediatric board question states that he also has “decreased exercise tolerance.” You’re asked to identify the disorder. His cardiac and pulmonary exam are unremarkable but an x-ray of a LONG BONE is shown with various findings. Of the multiple findings in the images below, the white arrow points to the “classic” finding associated with this disorder.
1. Can you name the disorder?
2. Can you name the classic findings shown in the images?
I love the American Academy of Pediatrics' PREP series of questions for PRACTICING test-taking skills, but NOT as a substitution for studying for the boards form a board-focused study guide.
The difference can be confusing! That is why it's IMPERATIVE that you understand my thoughts on why PREP questions are NOT the best study questions before you read the rest of this article. The gist is that it's almost impossible for any question bank out there to give you a comprehensive, board-focused review of what you need to know for the pediatric boards. Therefore, you should focus on one, primary study resource for the CONTENT, and then use question banks for PRACTICE of board-style questions.
THE REAL VALUE OF AAP PREP QUESTIONS – PRACTICE
Where does the real value lie in PREP questions as they relate to your preparation for the American Board of Pediatrics initial certification exam or MOC exam? Or perhaps a better would aim to address that misperception that you “must” go through PREP questions in order to pass the boards.
While I do feel that they are the BEST pediatric board review questions to simulate the boards, I also believe that ANY pediatric board review question bank will help you PRACTICE your test-taking techniques.
I also believe that you SHOULD use other question banks to practice your skills as a test-taker so that you can gain exposure to a VARIETY of question styles and question-writers. The ABP's questions were not developed by one person. They have been slowly created over decades by MANY questions-writers, including myself.
Dr. Robin Scott, a PBR Alum, summed it up VERY WELL in her message below.
“I did not look at PREP at all. I passed the 2013 exam after multiple prior attempts by reading PBR, taking the [Test-Taking Strategies] course and practicing hundreds of questions (from Board Vitals). I used questions just for practice, not for content. I asked Ashish about using other sources outside of PBR; I wanted to study/memorize all of MedStudy pediatrics. He dissuaded me. I was skeptical, but I had nothing to lose so I did what he recommended. That's my story, and I'm here to say it worked!”
– Dr. Robin Scott
Again, PRACTICE is the absolute best reason to use any board-style prep questions. You must NOT confuse practicing test questions with building knowledge, but since we all have a desire to review the answers (discussed more in detail below), this particular series of questions is probably the BEST pediatric question bank you could use. The AAP's questions have likely been vetted to the nth degree, and you can usually be sure that the correct answer is in fact correct. They also seem to be a good mix of short and long questions.
PRACTICE TIMING: Since the questions are often LONG, they are perfect for allowing you to work on your TIMING. Give yourself the same same amount of time you'll give yourself on the exam. About 1 minute and 15 seconds per question. Once you have broken down and “processed the question” to the best of your abilities, if you still can't narrow down your search to a single answer then GUESS, MARK IT, an GO on to the next question!
PRACTICE DISCIPLINE: It takes a great deal of discipline to move through questions at a regular pace. The more often you do it, the more likely this will become a habit for you. You must get comfortable with the idea of processing questions in a systematic manner so that you always have an endpoint to the question in front of you. Getting to that realization is CRITICAL in allowing you calmly move on to the next question without frustration and anxiety.