Test-Taking Strategies for Medical Board Exams
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.
While these tips can help you in practicing your test-taking strategy for the boards, sometimes we need more than some high-level advice. We need a more effective, in-depth approach to ensure we are prepared for the board exams.
When I first created the PBR materials, I noticed that while most of our members were passing the boards, some still failed.
After investigating further, I realized that PBR was sorely missing the elements that had helped ME pass; determining test pace, commitment to sharpening test-taking strategy, and learning question psychology.
While the core PBR materials are great for giving you amazing content, they are NOT the right place for you to learn test-taking TECHNIQUES.
Which is why I created a self-paced online test-taking strategy course and an interactive live test-taking strategy course with deep study lectures.
WHAT ARE THE PBR TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES AND COACHING COURSES?
Both the Full Online Test-Taking Strategies Course and the PBR Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course were designed specifically for physicians, medical students and medical professionals who are preparing for standardized board exams. As one of the most overlooked studying essentials, these courses teach you how to sharpen your skills and form positive test-taking study habits that can make the difference between failing or passing the boards.
Our courses have worked for internal medicine physicians trying to pass their ABIM board exam, orthopedic surgery physicians trying to pass their ABOS exam, medical students studying to pass the USMLE Step 1 (or COMLEX 1) exams, nurses, cardiologists, and many more.
The strategies we teach are unlike anything that you have ever learned before, but that's why they're so effective! They are designed to help enhance a medical student’s studying habits and lead to an instant increase in your practice session scores.
The ABP initial certification exam, as an example, has historically been one of the hardest medical board exams around. Yet we’ve been able to help pediatricians finally pass with these strategies even after 7 years of failed attempts.
Both our online and live test-taking strategy courses are technique-based and geared towards:
- Extracting key content from question vignettes
- Developing the skills needed to quickly and systematically process vignettes and answer choices
- Using the process of elimination to help uncover the correct answer
- Structuring an effective mock exam and test-day experience
The courses also assist with:
- Test-day diet
- Test-day routine
- Pre-test day routine
- Study schedules
- Test-day strategies
- Anxiety reduction… and much more.
PBR has two test-taking strategy courses to cater to any level of test taker: One is hosted live in Atlanta, GA; the other is a self-paced online course. Both have their advantages, take a look at the benefits below for what you walk away with.
Through these courses, you’ll learn:
- Test-taking techniques to help you evaluate and answer a higher percentage of questions correctly
- Step-by-step instructions on how to break down the different types of questions in order to eliminate the least likely answers to get to the correct one
- How to manage your anxiety and emotions about the exam as you study and during the test
- Proper exam-day diet
- How to maintain focus and attention for the very long day of testing
- Pre-test day preparation
As you learn the techniques, you’ll be able to master them through many practice questions provided. You’ll work towards creating a systematic approach that helps you tear down your old “bad habits,” and the eye-opening experience will allow you to embrace the new strategies.
Keep reading below to see more details on how each of my courses work!
|PBR Online Test-Taking Strategies Course||PBR Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course|
|WHO IT’S FOR: For those who are average test-takers looking to sharpen their test-taking strategy, and for those who plan on attending the live test-taking strategy course||WHO IT’S FOR: For those who are at moderate to high risk of failing the boards, or for those wanting a highly competitive passing score for residency or fellowship applications|
|Get a self-paced online course that you can go through on your own timeline||Attend a live course with individualized guidance and feedback on your question-answering techniques|
|Learn strategies and concepts that give you the fundamentals of test-taking strategy and will lead to immediate results after the very first video||Utilize a LIVE weekend workshop format that blends classroom learning with quick group implementation to help solidify strategies|
|Receive more advanced question psychology and shortcuts through 5 additional Processing Questions webinars||Learn from other pediatricians from around the nation on how to approach (and how NOT to approach) questions on board-style exams.|
|Learn how to prepare best for the exam day and be the best version of yourself through a roundtable discussion between me and other PBR alumni as we chat about diet, anxiety-reduction, test-taking techniques and maximizing the benefit of your mock exams.||Gain insider knowledge on how questions are constructed with two Deep Dive Lectures to structure your studying to be as high-yield as possible|
|Receive PDF downloads of PBR’s custom test-taking strategy algorithms and also the ultimate guide to maximizing your exam day experience||Work through various types of board-style questions in small groups of no more than 4 of your peers|
|Get access to over 16 HOURS of additional archived training sessions||Receive a personalized coaching & guidance session with Dr. Ashish Goyal (me) to review your current study plan, your past test performances and how to maximize your overall board preparation experience.|
WHY SHOULD I TAKE THE LIVE TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES COURSE?
There is nothing like being in a room of other students in a live setting. Even better is when you are learning techniques and systems to find correct answers with LITTLE CLINICAL KNOWLEDGE.
Utilizing a model that blends workshop style and mentorship, the live test-taking model has been refined to help you perfect your test-taking strategy.
The biggest factor we utilize is the Peer-Assisted Learning System (PALS).
Along with class-wide training on test-taking strategy, the Live course focuses on group-based mentorship, allowing you to be both the student and the teacher in small peer groups of 3-4.
What makes this so great is that you not only get to learn the latest in test-taking strategies to help you pass the boards, but you also build camaraderie among fellow pediatricians to help you see test-taking mistakes you are making, and create better, more effective test-taking habits.
Some additional features of the live course include:
- 2 DEEP STUDY LECTURES: These 2 hours of lectures focus on getting to the root of what it takes to have high-quality studying. You were likely a MUCH better studier in the past, but much of that has been lost over time. There are specific strategies that can be implemented to maximize the quality of time that you are investing in order to increase efficiency and retention. For many attendees, these lectures have been described as “life-changing.”
- PRIVATE LIVE STUDY GROUPS: Receive access to a private study group that will be created just for the live participants attending your session so that you can continue practicing your test-taking skills!
- LIFE-LONG COMMUNITY: Meet others on the same path as you and build incredible friendships while strengthening your study strategy!
The test-taking strategies taught have helped physicians finally pass their boards after they had failed MULTIPLE times.
A great example of this is with Dave, whose scores he shared with us BEFORE and AFTER taking the Online Test-Taking Course speaks for itself:
|YOU ARE THE BOMB!!!!!!! Please see attached!!!! Thanks so much!!! You, your course and resources are the reason behind my success, which I was sure would be impossible!|
|Dr. Dave, Board Certified Pediatrician|
David failed his general pediatrics initial certification exam by 14 points and then used our test-taking strategy course to increase his score by 33 points the following year! This is how powerful understanding these test-taking strategies can be!
|Ashish, I did it. I can't thank you enough for creating an amazing system to keep me on track with my studying. And… the live weekend test taking course was well worth it. Doing the technique during the test kept me focused and allowed me to eliminate wrong answers. Thank you for all the great advice, sticking to the material, memorize, memorize, memorize then practice practice practice. After 4 failed attempts it was exhilarating to finally read the words, “we are PLEASED to announce you PASSED!”… I also wanted to let you know that since passing boards, I began looking for new jobs and in June I will be a pediatric hospitalist at University of Chicago, which means more pay, benefits, an exciting new field of medicine and more time at home with my girls. Thank you soooo much!|
|Dr. Yessenia Castro-Caballero, Board Certified Pediatrician, Passed After 4 Prior Failed Attempts|
The test-taking strategies covered in this course are so universal, they can lead to some massive results when integrated into study habits for medical students. Read how pivotal the Live Test-taking course was for Dr. Patel!
|The experience was wonderful! I enjoyed meeting people from different specialties including medical students. The tips and strategies given exceed anything I’ve learned on how to answer board-style questions. I truly believe that it’s not about only knowing the information but also on how to become a strategic test-taker to give oneself the best chances possible at passing any board exam the first time. The setup of the weekend was wonderful! Thank you once again Dr. Goyal for providing lunch and snacks throughout the sessions. I truly enjoyed this experience. It has surely made an impact on my abilities to take board exams. I was on the fence… I’m glad I went through with this course! I was super anxious and nervous about my upcoming board exams, but after taking the weekend course, I am more at ease knowing that I am capable of passing the exams.|
|Dr. Setu Patel, Medical Student|
|I found myself stuck many times, failing to pick the best answer even though the correct answer was always between my best 2 options. Everything was more clear when Ashish recommended to always pick the answer that addresses the “most important clinical issue” of the question. I started to use this technique this past week, and my test scores have improved remarkably. Thanks so much!! I am ready for the next webinar!!|
The Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course is usually in Atlanta, GA. The live course is a must-have for anyone who is at moderate to high risk of having a failed pediatric board experience.
WHY SHOULD I TAKE THE ONLINE TEST-TAKING COURSE?
The Online Test-Taking Strategies Course is a comprehensive program built to teach advanced study strategies to medical students and professionals in easy to follow videos and lectures. The course is equipped with a library of videos, PDFs, and trainings that cover everything from question breakdowns to the optimal test-taking conditions.
- THE CORE CONCEPTS IN TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES LECTURE: Learn the fundamentals of test-taking strategy and start putting your newfound knowledge into practice. Members usually see an immediate increase in their practice scores after this one, single video.
- 5 QUESTION PROCESSING VIDEOS: Once you have learned the fundamentals and the basic PBR test-taking strategy algorithms, you will start to process more challenging questions and learn more advanced test-taking techniques. Each question processing video gives you time to process the question on your own before you are shown the PBR way of processing the question.
- GROUP CHAT VIDEO: Hear from past members on how to approach the boards, how to use the last week before your exam, and how to maximize your actual exam day.
- (BONUS) ARCHIVED TRAININGS: PBR’s test-taking strategy course has been around since 2014. Get over 16 hours of archived training material!
- (BONUS PDF) THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MAXIMIZING YOUR EXAM DAY EXPERIENCE: Learn the true importance of mock exams, how to structure your mock exams, how to maintain your energy throughout an 8-hour test day, how to reduce test-taking anxiety, what to eat on your exam day, how to structure your breaks and much more!
- (BONUS PDF) PBR’S CUSTOM ALGORITHMS: Get a PDF download for the most current PBR algorithms to use as a reference as you practice your board style questions daily.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH COURSE WOULD BE BEST FOR ME?
While the PBR Certification System works best when these courses are used together, we recognize that not everyone will need (or be able) to sign up for both! So you can see below my recommendations of which course works best for you!
The Online Test-Taking Strategies Course is best for those who are:
- At low-risk of failing the boards
- Average to good test-takers
- Looking for a little extra confidence with board-style questions
- Doing well with self-paced online courses
- Already attending the LIVE course and are looking to maintain their higher skillset (see below)
For those of you who suffer from test anxiety or consider yourself a poor test-taker, going to the Live Test-Taking course would be beneficial. Attending the live course will help you solidify the strategies taught in the Online Test-Taking Strategies course and develop new capabilities and skills that are not available in an online format.
The Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course is best for:
- Anyone who is at moderate to high risk of failing the boards;
- Has failed any board exam previously,
- Has been deemed to be “at-risk” of failing the boards,
- Scored less than a 222 on the USMLE Step 1, or,
- Is an international medical graduate (IMG)
- Anyone who naturally is a good test-taker but needs high scores in order to be more competitive for residency or fellowship applications
FOR THOSE CONSIDERING THE LIVE COURSE: While going through the Online Test-Taking Strategies Course is not a prerequisite to attend the Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course, it is an excellent way to prime you for the weekend. Here are some reasons why:
- You will walk into the live course with a solid understanding of what strategies to focus on during the live course.
- After mastering the foundational techniques at home, you will arrive with bandwidth available to focus on newer and more advanced techniques.
While your independent work at home will lead to higher scores, your skills will eventually plateau as a result. This can only be combatted with a collaborative effort. The work you do at the live course will help you maintain your skills well beyond the exam.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE THE TEST-TAKING STRATEGIES & COACHING COURSE?
The simple answer is RIGHT NOW!
These courses are not based on content, but on skill. So give yourself plenty of time to master these techniques before exam day.
If you have plenty of time before your exam: You are in a GREAT position! Practice your technique now and then work on your knowledge base later. If you happen to be testing for the ABP initial certification, I have a study schedule for high-risk test takers and also one for low-risk test takers that you can follow.
While both content and technique are important to master before the exam, sharpening your test-taking strategy makes it easier to study!
If you have very LITTLE time before your exam: Investing in a test-taking strategy course can prepare you to identify and answer practice questions more effectively!
|I used the full strategy and course materials. I followed Ashish’s method exactly along with a personalized study schedule. This was attempt 4 and I was not going to be credentialed this year in my current position if I did not pass. My family were cheerleaders and often also reminded me of Ashish’s words. What felt impossible and depressing was made possible by following the PBR plan. The test taking strategy course completely changed how I approached the questions and immediately made a difference in my confidence and performance. It became a system I could understand rather than some unknown test writer always tricking my knowledge. The personalized schedule was also a huge help during the first half of my studies, and then I ended up doing my own schedule for the 2nd half and made it through 6 passes for most of the curriculum. I hope no one has to go through a failure but anyone who has should not give up, and should absolutely believe in Ashish and PBR! I couldn’t have done it without Ashish and team PBR.|
|Dr. Callie Barnwell, Board Certified Pediatrician, 30-Point Score Increase (159 to 189)|
There is no other training or education that can affect your scores THIS much in just a few hours.
IS THERE A GUARANTEE?
Yes! For our online courses, we have a money-back first-time pass guarantee, and we also have a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. You can request a full refund after attending the first webinar for the full Test-Taking Strategies Course. Just email us immediately after the webinar and we'll take care of the rest!
For the Live Test-Taking Strategies & Deep Study Course, you have up to 72 hours after purchase to get a full refund. After that, it moves into a tiered refund policy located within your Welcome Packet or can be requested by contacting us.
Whichever course you choose, mastering test-taking strategy is critical to passing any medical exam.
Are you ready to take your test-taking skills to the next level? What are you waiting for? Click the course that’s right for you and sign up now!