How to Do Well on the Boards?


Some of us have scores as high as the 99th percentile, some of us not that high. It's not easy to guess who is who. Does it make you a better doctor if you have great scores? According to some studies, probably yes.

But if you have a low score not everything is lost. If you believe in learned happiness to cure depressive thoughts, this is just for you. You can learn how to score well. One of the SVCH residents was scoring at the 30th percentile until she started doing 15 MCQ (multiple choice questions for novices) every evening. Next exam - and she scored well above the average.

Practice makes perfect, doesn't it?

Check the PowerPoint presentation on How to Do Well on the Boards here.

Your best bet to score well on the MCQ exams is to do 2 things:

1. Read a small book to understand the basics, e.g. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine rather than huge volumes like Harrison's or Cecil's. Use the handbook plus a collection of medical images like the Braunwald's Atlas of Internal Medicine available after a free registration from MerckMedicus.com. Medicine is a visual science and seeing is remembering.

2. Do a lot of MCQ. Somebody said that if you want to pass USMLE you need to do 5,000 questions. If you want to do well, you need to do 10,000 MCQ, and if you do 15,000 - well, somebody will score at the 99th percentile and it might just be you...

Remember the following useful strategy when you practice MCQ:
-read the 1st line (age? background?)
-read the last line (what are they asking me?)
-read the answers

Then read the stem (if you have time) with the answers in mind. Don't waste your time reading the long stem first, you'll go over-budget (over-time, that is) and by the time you reach the end, you'll forget what the question is about. Then you have to start again but the next question is coming, and the clock never stops ticking.

Let's repeat: "firts line, last line, answers". Try this strategy and see if it works for you.

Pace yourself when you do MCQ. You need to know how long it takes you to do each of those questions.

Write down your answers on a blank sheet and after you are done with the practice session, always calculate 2 things: the percent of correct answers and the seconds you spend on each question.

For example, you did 120 MCQ and you answered correctly 75, your score is 62%. Good!
Now calculate the time. It took you 82 min to do 120 question, 82 min are 4920 sec. This means that you spent 41 sec per question. Google can calculate that for you.

Write these 2 numbers on the side of your answer sheet: "62 %, 42 s/Q". Monitor your progress over time.

For those who love mnemonics, the best website is Medical Mnemonics.com.
It is very comprehensive, organized by topic and fully searchable. It is not by chance that the above mentioned site tops the Google search for medical mnemonics. In fact, Google will soon replace physicians when patients have medical questions. Just kidding...

More Resources
Check out the advice articles below and don't forget to practice with the sample exam questions posted here.

ABIM Sample Exam Questions
If you score more than 65-70% correct - you're OK. If less than 50% correct - you should be worried - read the test taking strategies before and do more and more and more...questions.

ACP - Taking the boards? Try these strategies for success
ACP - Board Review Strategies

What Does the ABIM Examination Cover?
MKSAP can be helpful although some prefer Medstudy.
Useful ABIM exam data from prior years
ABIM Internal Medicine boards - 10 Tips

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