Failed Pediatric Boards? Here’s A Study Schedule That Works!
A failed pediatric boards attempt is devastating and having failed once myself I can only imagine what is going through your head.
But before you throw yourself back into the depths of studying, here are two things I want you to understand:
- Failing the boards doesn’t make you a bad pediatrician.
- Passing the boards in 2019 has more to do with having a comprehensive strategy rather than a board review resource.
I have found that the biggest differentiating factor between failing and passing the boards is having a schedule that takes a more strategic approach to studying and keeps you accountable.
Almost 50% of the pediatricians who buy our study guides have failed the pediatric boards before. With the right plan in place, though, you can pass. We know this because we have helped multiple people pass after as many as SEVEN failed attempts.
My goal in writing this article is to outline a detailed schedule that will help you pass the boards, even if you’ve had a failed attempt. Specifically, how to do so with materials that will HELP you (not fail you) during your next pediatric board exam.
Some housekeeping items before jumping into the schedule:
- Your failure(s) on the boards may have been due to a lack of knowledge or because you have a poor handle on test-taking. For most people reading this article, failure is the result of a combination of both of those factors. Following this 16-week schedule will give you the pediatric knowledge that you need to pass the boards. For help with test-taking strategy, poor attention to detail, falling for traps, pacing, and you must also start to explore solutions through the PBR article on test-taking strategy.
- Throughout this study schedule, you’ll find references to the AAP PREP® questions you should be practicing with. Please keep in mind that PREP® questions should NOT be used to study. PREP® questions, along with other question bank queries, should be used to help you master your test-taking strategy. You can learn much more about why we recommend this and how to best use the AAP questions here.
- If you are a first-time test taker, and you:
- Consider yourself a decent test-taker,
- Have done well on past board exams, or,
- Come from a residency program with a high passing rate,
Go check out my 14-week study schedule for first-time test takers. That schedule is similar to the one below but less rigorous!
THE “ASHISH GOYAL” HIGHLIGHTER TRICK
As you go through this schedule, try this great highlighter trick that I teach my PBR members as a focused studying tool. If you can master this, you will have a more efficient board preparation experience.
For each reading of the material, you highlight (or underline) only the areas you are interested in reviewing again. If you know something well enough to recall it on the day of the exam, don’t highlight it.
First, start with your lightest color. Then, with each read through thereafter, use a slightly darker color to highlight sections that you want to review again.
Here are my suggested colors to highlight with each read:1st Pass: Pale Yellow2nd Pass: Pale Pink3rd Pass: Pale Orange4th Pass: Pale Green5th Pass: Pale Blue
For your first pass, you may end up highlighting 80% or more of the book in yellow. By the time you start your 5th pass, you should only have to read the areas you highlighted in green, which could be as little as 30% of the books. In your final weeks, you can focus on just the areas that you highlighted in blue.
This will allow you to curate your studying to focus only on items you DON’T understand, as opposed to continually spending time on topics you understand well.
Study Schedule for Repeat Board Exam Test Takers
This comprehensive study schedule includes both the PBR books (Core Study Guide and Q&A Book) and the AAP PREP ® questions. In this 16-week study guide, you’ll be studying for a total of 400 hours. By the end of it, you will have worked through over 700 practice questions (possibly more if you decide to set up 1-2 mock exams). Based on your individual needs and commitments, the study schedule can be modified to fit your life.
Here’s the schedule breakdown:
- Weeks 1-4: First round through the core content
- Weeks 5-10: Second round
- Weeks 11-14: Third and fourth rounds +/- mock exams
- Weeks 15-16: Fifth round +/- mock exams
The crux of this study schedule will be to read the PBR material FIVE times. We do this to establish familiarity, identify patterns in the material and promote strong reinforcement. The pediatric board exam is focused less on how much ‘knowledge’ you have, and more on your ability to make the correct diagnosis. By identifying the similarities and differences of diseases, you hold the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of the material and processing complex questions on the pediatric boards.
You’ll spend roughly 5 minutes on each of the 700 questions (75-90 sec to answer each question and 3-3.5 minutes to review). At 5 minutes per question, that’s about 60 hours (700 questions multiplied by 5 minutes). You’ll use this time to focus on test-taking strategy rather than focusing on trying to learn pediatrics by going through questions. As you get closer to the exam, decrease the time per question to 75 seconds since that’s what will be expected on the actual exam.
You will spend the remaining 340 hours going through the PBR core content. Make sure you treat both PBR books (Core Study Guide and the Q&A Book) as “core content” that you MUST KNOW!
Okay… here we go!
PEDIATRIC STUDY SCHEDULE WEEK #1 – WEEK #6
Allocate 120 hours over 6 weeks in your study schedule (roughly 20 hours each week). The goal of these first 6 weeks is to read through everything carefully and make all the notes, drawings, and mnemonics necessary to ensure complete understanding. Be sure to check out our Pediatric Mnemonic tips here if you need help!
Aim for an average of 18 minutes per page to cover approximately 400 pages of core content. Do any cross referencing of facts needed, but spend no more than 5 minutes outside of the PBR resources so you don’t get sucked into the black hole of Google Search. If you still struggle with some of the content, then post your questions in PBR’s private Facebook group!
Break up your studying with an average of 5 AAP PREP questions per day as directed by PBR. Aim for 5 min per question including the answer review. At 35 questions per week, you should be aiming for 210 questions over 6 weeks. Questions will take about 3 hours of your time each week.
PEDIATRIC STUDY SCHEDULE WEEK #7 – WEEK #10
Since you’ve already gone through the book in painstaking detail once, this round should be MUCH quicker and take you at most 80 hours over 4 weeks (weeks #7 – #10). Aim for an average of 12 minutes per page, highlighting/underlining only the areas that you think will need more review and repetition.
Like the first 4 weeks, break up your studying with an average of 5 AAP PREP ® questions per day as directed by PBR. Aim for 5 min per question, including the answer review. By the end of Week #10, you will have completed an additional 140 questions for a total of 350 questions.
PEDIATRIC STUDY SCHEDULE WEEK #11 – WEEK #14
Stick to the schedule and stay disciplined!
You should now be familiar with the PBR content but still need to review the books a few more times to develop the solid knowledge base you’ll need to pass the exam. For the next 4 weeks, read the PBR materials 2 more times. Aim for no more than 55 hours per read. You’ll need to average about 8 minutes or less per page. If the 3rd read through takes 3 weeks, that’s OKAY. Anticipate your 4th and 5th readings to be even faster. Also, there IS some built in “cushion” time within this schedule.
For these two reads, focus on refreshing your memory of familiar topics and work to cement your knowledge of the difficult ones. If you're mentally struggling or have questions about the PBR content, reach out to members of the private Pediatrics Board Review Facebook Group.
Continue working on questions with an average of 5 AAP PREP ® questions per day as directed by PBR, for a total of 35 questions per week. Aim for 5 minutes per question, including the answer review. At this point, you may want to consider batching questions and doing 15-20 questions per sitting as you aim for your 35 questions per week.
In addition, remember the boards give you approximately 75 seconds per question. This would be a good time to set up a mock exam in order to work on your pacing and your test day schedule (more details below).
PEDIATRIC STUDY SCHEDULE WEEK #15 – WEEK #16
By the 15th week, you should have made it through at least four readthroughs of the material. At this point, you should now have a solid foundation of knowledge. During your 5th reading, VERY quickly read the topics you know well to ensure your understanding is correct, and continue to focus on the more challenging topics in depth until they’re cemented in your mind.
The challenging topics should be easy to identify if you’ve been using different color highlighters for each successive reading. Since you will only be reviewing the difficult topics, it’s possible that your average pace could be as fast as 6 minutes per page. It will take you approximately 40 hours to cover the “core content” offered by PBR.
You MUST KNOW the PBR Core Study Guide and the Q&A book inside and out. If you have extra time after your five readings of the PBR, go over your “trouble topics” again and again. I can’t stress this enough if you have previously failed the pediatric boards. It will be the key to your success, so do not take your foot off of the accelerator once you’ve finished round number 5.
If you’re still having trouble with certain topics, lean on the PBR Facebook Group of your pediatric peers. It’s a MUCH more efficient and FUN way to learn rather than doing a ton of scattered research yourself!
Are you comfortable with your knowledge of “core pediatrics” at this point? If you’re not, stop memorizing ANY pediatric content that has changed over the past 10 years. Instead, focus specifically on “core pediatrics” that has not changed in over a decade.
For PREP ® questions, you should have done about 490 questions by now (35 per week x 14 weeks). That leaves about 210 questions remaining. The difference for these remaining questions will be that you must INCREASE your speed and you must BATCH your questions.
You have to make sure that you can answer questions within the time given to you on the exam. So consider setting up another mock exam during this 2-week period.
If you’re still having trouble with certain topics at this point in your board preparation, please lean on the PBR Facebook Group of your pediatric peers. It’s a MUCH more efficient and FUN way to learn than doing a ton of scattered research yourself!
Setting Up Your Pediatric Board Mock Exams
While studying is a crucial part of passing the boards, getting familiar with the test environment is just as important. That’s why I recommend that you take at least two pediatric mock exams before the actual exam. This will allow you to not only test your knowledge thus far but also give you a good understanding of how the very long day of testing will go.
Here are a few key tips to keep in mind when setting up your mock exam:
- Use multiple question banks. Several people write questions for the boards, meaning every question has a different personality to it (I would know, as I have written some for the ABP). Getting familiar with the many different ways questions can be written ensures that you will not get blind-sided on test day!
- Recognize that taking a mock exam is about much more than your score. It’s about understanding the challenges and barriers that come with a very long day, and then optimizing your behaviors to ensure that you are the best version of yourself from the beginning to the end. Start working on your test day habits now, and replicate them on test day!
- If you need help setting up a mock exam, be sure to read our article on the exam structure of the ABP Initial Certification exam!
CONGRATS! YOU’RE DONE!
If you’ve gone through over 700 practice questions and 5 readings of the PBR as I’ve recommended, you’ve put yourself in an AMAZING position to pass after previously failing the pediatric boards.
There are many things you can do the day before the test and the day of to make sure it’s a success. Personally, I like to “get in the mood” for the boards to get my mind ready for a test. I would wake up early and do a small block of TIMED questions prior to the exam. DO NOT worry about the answers. It’s just meant to “prime your brain” and remind you of the pace you’ll need to maintain. Just go to the Pediatrics Board Review Test Day Tips area and get some of my personal recommendations.
Last Minute Tips Before You Retake The Pediatric Board Exam
We often “know” what we did wrong the last time we failed. For example, I often blame the study materials that I used (which is why I ended up creating my own)! However, I know there were also other things under MY CONTROL that I would definitely have changed the first time I studied.
TIP 1: Determine Your Pace Early On
If you are worried about keeping up with the study schedule, here’s how you can MAKE SURE that you do!
For your first round of reading, time yourself as you go through 50 pages in painstaking detail. This will mimic your first and second read through of the PBR.
Use those times to work out roughly how long it will take you to get through the core content twice, and then adjust your schedule accordingly.
TIP 2: Take Time Off From Work!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to take time off to study. For pediatricians who are at a higher risk of failing, I recommend taking four weeks off to study intensely before the boards. At a minimum, you must take the final two weeks off before the exam to review the most challenging material again and again.
TIP 3: Make Your Weaknesses Your Strengths
As you work through the PBR, pay attention to the content that you are consistently struggling with. PLEASE don’t make the mistake of repeatedly skipping over difficult areas, or spending tons of time on the “fun and easy” topics. If you find a topic that’s difficult, set aside some extra time to make sure you’ve answered all of your own questions and that you understand it WELL. Get HELP from your PBR peers!
WORDS FROM FORMER REPEAT PEDIATRIC BOARD TEST TAKERS
Passing this exam is very much possible, but only if you commit the time to study for it. I proved that by increasing my score by 160 points. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are just a few of the messages sent to me from members who previously failed the boards and FINALLY passed after following this schedule!
“Ashish, this is Russ Zwiener. I got your number on the live test-taking strategies course guide and I know you said to only use in emergencies but I just couldn't help myself. The weight of the world has been lifted! I have PASSED the 2018 ABP certifying exam. I improved my score by 42 points and passed by 35. Tears of joy are wonderful. No Thank you could ever be sufficient for all the support and guidance over the past couple of years. Thank you again and please let me know if I could ever help with PBR in any way!!”
Russ Zweiner, Board Certified Pediatrician (2018)All Access Pass MemberPersonalized Study Schedule UserLive Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course Member“Deep Dive” call with Ashish42-Point Increase3 Prior failed attempts
Ashish, I wanted my first e-mail of the day to go to you and the PBR team. I passed! 5 attempts, but my score went up 15 points. I knew that I put everything I could into studying for this exam, but I couldn’t have done it without you and your techniques. I am a true believer – I was even before I took the exam. Through working with PBR, I learned how to calm myself, to believe in myself, to know that although this exam is important, it does not define who I am as a person. Once I realized those things I could concentrate on studying, and I did it in a way that I have never done before. I approached questions in a way that I never did before. And on the 5th try, I passed!
Dr. Geoffrey KannanBoard Certified Pediatrician (2018)All Access Pass MemberPersonalized Study Schedule UserLive Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course Member4 Prior failed attempts
I've had to put off my fertility because of these exams, and I am so extremely resentful about that. After failing pediatrics boards twice and internal medicine boards three times, I've spent the past four years feeling like there was something wrong with me, that I wasn't as smart or qualified to do my job as my colleagues.
In all my past studying, I felt like I had not direction, no path, that I was studying kind randomly and blindly. PBR helped me to create a framework to follow exactly and kept me true and accountable to a study schedule. Not only was the live test-taking strategy course crucial to my learning a new way to tackle these exams, but it was also so helpful to have specific material that I knew I needed to know. Also, before PBR, I NEVER would have thought it possible to wake up at 4 am to study, but that was so extremely helpful.
I think PBR helped me to do so much more studying than I had ever done before and helped to show me it was possible, even with a busy clinic schedule and family. Passing has given me back to my family, has made all those countless Saturdays and Sundays that my husband took my daughter alone to activities worth it. I still have to pass Medicine next year, but finally having this first pass has been so meaningful to me, and it’s an amazing step toward my knowing how to tackle my studying for Internal Medicine next year.
Thanks for creating direction in my life.
Dr. Sarah GottfriedBoard Certified Pediatrician (2018)All Access Pass MemberPersonalized Study Schedule UserLive Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course Member“Deep Dive” call with Ashish40-Point increase from the previous year.2 Prior failed attempts
And here are some videos that I LOVED being present for.
LEARN how Pediatrics Board Review helped Dr. Stephanie Moses PASS her exam after she made a VERY COMMON MISTAKE that led to FAILURE!
LEARN HOW FAILING FIVE TIMES LED TO A $20,000 RAISE! WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW FOR A GREAT STORY!
LEARN HOW KERRI PASSED THE BOARDS AFTER THREE FAILED ATTEMPTS!
I don’t know if you will pass this year. What I can say with certainty is that if you follow the study schedule outlined above, and if you include a strong focus on test-taking strategy, then you are going to put yourself in an excellent position to finally pass the pediatric board exam.
If you are truly at higher risk for failing the boards, then please learn about our Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course. I’ll also be happy to work with you individually through a 60-minute Deep Dive video conference to ensure your board success.
Not a PBR member yet? What are you waiting for? Click HERE now and get ready to pass the pediatric boards!