Well, friends, results of the 2021 pediatrics board exam have been announced! This is always an emotional time for pediatricians. For us here at PBR HQ, it's also overwhelming because we get flooded with emails from the members who have worked so hard over the past year, and have now FINALLY passed the boards! The stories from our 2021 members have been wonderful. To have members say that we have changed their lives has been nothing less than humbling. Our members are also providing feedback on making the resources we have even better so that the PBR system continues to be the best pediatric board review available. While we are known for being the premier resource for anyone at moderate to high risk of failing the pediatric boards, the results below will help you see that if we can help pediatricians pass after SIX failed attempts, then helping you pass the pediatric board exam should be easy.
In this article, I’ll be covering:
The pass rate for PBR members and first-time test takers
Feedback from our board-certified alumni on how to pass the pediatric board exams
Next Steps if you FAILED the boards (and common mistakes to avoid to make sure you pass next year)
Free upcoming webinar on how to ensure you pass the 2022 pediatric boards
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.
When it comes to how many questions you should do before taking your boards, the answer is “it depends.” At the end of the day, answering board-style questions is a skill. You can only answer so many questions before you reach a plateau. Once you do that, the rest of your time should be spent on maintaining your newly developed test-taking skill. For most physicians, though, having “skill” at taking a board exam is a foreign concept. However, through PBR's test-taking strategy courses, we've proven that investing a fraction of your time in learning the technique behind processing and answering board-style questions can produce unbelievable results.
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 that 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!
To get the most out of our catalog of study materials, we created the No Brainer package. The No Brainer package is the most common bundle used by our members to prepare for, and pass, the Initial Certification Exam. It provides you with a comprehensive and multimodal approach to studying. It also includes three 90-Day Personalized Schedules created by Team PBR and our Full Online Test-Taking Strategies Course.
Passing the the pediatric boards is challenging, but it's far from magic. In this article I'm going to introduce you to the 3 main areas you must focus on to pass the boards. If you don't, then even as a good pediatrician you will be at high risk for failing the boards.
By the end, you will have a much better handle on the general framework within which you will need to focus your energy. I predict that it's going to be quite liberating for you!
Let's start with a few stories…
Each year after the pediatric board results are released, I ask PBR members for feedback. “How was it for you?” The replies vary considerably, but there are specific overwhelming emotions which come through time and time again;
“a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I feel lighter and free.”
– “Dr. Wiseman”
“My family and I celebrated all day long. We cried tears of happiness knowing the endless hours of studying are over AND payed off!”
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 pediatrics 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.
Why You DO Need A Study Schedule for the Pediatric Boards
I often get asked questions along the lines of…
“Can you give me a general pediatric board study schedule?”
“I'm in practice and very busy. Can you provide me with a pediatric board study plan that's going to work for me?”
“Can you provide a pediatric board study schedule for those of us with an erratic schedule because we're in fellowship?”
The answer to all of these questions is "yes." But, when you’re preparing for your pediatric board exam, the most essential first step is to map out a dedicated amount of time for your studying based on your personal availability and the recommendations in this article. If you are a first-time test taker, and you:
Have done well on your most recent In-Training Exam
Then you are likely at low risk for failing the pediatric boards, and this is the study plan for you! For low-risk test-takers, I recommend finding a MINIMUM of 300 hours to block out in your schedule, with plans to go through your Pediatrics Board Review material at least THREE times.
Please remember, though, a schedule is only as valuable as your DETERMINATION to follow it. In this article, I break down those 300 hours into a manageable, concrete schedule that you can use to guide your studies and PASS the pediatric boards.
Since it’s impossible for me to know exactly what your commitments are, what I’ve tried to do below is map out 14 weeks of study time based on the goal of studying approximately 300 hours.
Even if you do not agree with everything I recommend, keep reading to get some ideas that you can incorporate into your own board preparation plan. At the end of this article, I also share some pearls of wisdom towards to help you manage all of the study time that will be needed to pass your boards!
What If I'm at "Moderate to High Risk" of Failing the Pediatric Boards?
If the risk calculator helped you realize that you are at moderate or high-risk for failing the boards, don’t worry! I've created a 16-week study schedule to help you succeed on the boards! The recommendations in the other article are tailored towards graduates who were told that they were "at risk" of failing the boards based on their in-training exam scores, and those who have already failed the boards at least once.
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,
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.