Linda L. Carr, Ph.D., Founder/Principal at Coaching for Medical Specialty Boards, is a medical educator and learning specialist who coaches physicians preparing for specialty boards through virtual, one-on-one coaching. Visit www.DrLindaCarr.org to learn more about her program and download her FREE Study Guide.
Preparing for medical specialty boards can be overwhelming to say the least. It becomes a juggling act to add board review to an already jam-packed schedule. Staying energized and calm in the face of an impending critical deadline–such as a medical board exam–isn’t easy, however, there are steps you can take to minimize the feeling of being overwhelmed.
The 10 steps below can bring order to the chaos and help you better manage the board prep experience:
1. Begin with the date you want to take the exam and work backward to create a timeline for your board preparation.
2. Develop a study plan with a schedule. Use the content blueprint of the board exam to identify and prioritize topics to study. Prepare a monthly calendar of topics to study, and aim to put in at least 2 hrs per night on 3 nights of the week.
3. Assess your readiness for passing the exam by taking a recent In-Service Training Exam that your program might make available or that is online (check board review sites). Identify your areas of weakness and strength, and focus your attention on your areas of need.
4. Decide how much time you need to devote to preparation–three to four months is quite normal, but it depends on your readiness, length of time since completing residency, and the amount of time you have available to prepare.
5. Schedule a regular time to study. This is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to do to prepare for boards! Add these time blocks (e.g., 1 to 2 hours) to your daily schedule, and set an alert as a reminder. The more specific your calendar entries, the more likely you will actually follow through. Studying is more effective spread out over a longer period of time. Be realistic—don’t schedule more than you can actually accomplish. Be flexible—build in flexibility (i.e., one day of no study per week and extra “float” days for emergencies).
6. Use a structured review process with repetitive cycles. Each day review key ‘weak’ topics from the day before. On weekends, spend 3 to 4 hours connecting and consolidating learning points from the past week. Take a comprehensive practice test (200-300 questions) every month to assess your progress.
7. Overcome procrastination by organizing your study area so you can stay focused. Put all of your resources in one place to create a distraction-free environment. Work on bite-sized tasks. Set a timer. Use a reward system. Don’t multitask (“switch task”) because it diverts your attention, and can result in processing inaccuracies and retrieval errors.
8. Track your progress daily by recording the topics you’ve reviewed, resources used, and the percentage of correct multiple choice questions. Organize a 3-ring binder with tabs for each primary category)to record your results and monitor your progress.
9. Stay energized by maintaining a balanced regimen. Schedule pleasurable activities as well as obligations (color code your schedule) to maintain balance and variety in your work-study program.
10. Keep fit and healthy. Break up your study by spending a few minutes every hour stretching or exercising to increase circulation and get revitalized. Eat healthy food, not calorie-laden snacks.
DON’T WAIT any longer. Start NOW. Follow steps 1 – 5 to launch your board review. Then, integrate steps 6 – 10 into your daily study regimen–make this a habit. These simple strategies can reduce overwhelm and keep you on track during this critical time.