Test-taking strategy is often overlooked when you are preparing for your board exams, yet it can be the difference between passing or failing. Since there is no question that physicians are extremely bright, why is it that even great physicians often fail their board exams?
Answer: A good clinician is not the same thing as a good test-taker.
When I failed the boards the first time, I was confused. I felt like I had a good handle on the material, but I quickly realized that how you treat a board style question is very different than how you should treat a patient. But it was too late. I had the “standard” top to bottom approach to answering board-style questions, and I ultimately failed the board exam.
I simply did not know how to approach the questions on the test effectively.
And this isn’t uncommon.
However, during my 2nd attempt at the pediatric board exam, I had a strong focus on pacing and a strategic approach to questions. That led to me not only passing my boards, but I increased my score by 160 points! I scored above the national average, and after failing the previous year, the American Board of Pediatrics asked me to write questions for them.
The skill set needed to be a master clinician is completely different than the skill set needed to be a master test-taker and win this “board-game”. Developing this strategy requires training and education like any other skill that you have had to practice. But with practice, you can have dramatic increases in your score like this member of our test-taking strategy course.
HOW CAN I WORK ON MY TEST-TAKING STRATEGY?
While having a strong knowledge base is important to pass the boards, it will mean nothing if you are unable to apply what you know to the test.
If you consider yourself to be a test-taker with average (or below average) scores on standardized tests, then learning test-taking strategies can QUICKLY give you an advantage to increase your score, and pass the boards.
Plus, unlike studying for a single chapter that may be applicable to 5% of your exam, test-taking skills can be leveraged throughout 100% of this exam (and every future board exam that you ever take).
Study a ton, remember none. Sound familiar?
If you've previously done well on standardized exams, just follow the PBR “Roadmap to Success” and you will do great.
BUT, if you:
- Struggle with standardized tests,
- Get test anxiety,
- Find yourself running out of time on exams,
- Were told that you were “at-risk” of failing the boards based on IN-Training Exam scores,
- Have taken a year off from studying for the exam, or
- Scored less than a 222 on the USMLE Step 1
… then improving your test-taking technique is just as, if not MORE, important for you to study than the actual material.
Below you’ll find some of my top strategies I teach our PBR students to sharpen their test-taking skills before the board exam.
TOP TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES FOR MEDICAL EXAMS
- NEVER process a question in a top to bottom manner. Processing the information in a different order will give you much more control and clarity over the question
- Do not try to predict the question or answer. When you try to guess what will be asked, or what the answer will be, you waste time and energy as you think through hundreds of possibilities.
- Start by reading the question being asked of you, and then reading the vignette. This narrows your focus and gives you tremendous insight into what information from the vignette will be crucial to extract in order to answer the question correctly.
- Find your answer through the process of elimination. It’s easier, less stressful and more appropriate to eliminate weaker answer choices rather than choosing the first answer that seems to be correct.
- Skip “data blocks” and come back to them if needed. Most vignette-style questions can be answered by just using the text, so try that before reviewing tables of data, x-rays or images.
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