How I Prepared for and Passed the ABEM Qualifying Exam
How I Prepared for the ABEM Qualifying Exam
In residency, I consistently failed my ITE. Every. Single. Time. And by a lot! Like, I was in the 15th percentile every year. But I was a strong resident who was strong clinically. I am also a chronic procrastinator and multitasker and took the exam while studying for MBA finals, Fellowship, and working part time as an attending in the ED.
I had about 3-4 weeks to study and had done nothing prior. I focused on knowledge base weaknesses primarily.
Finding Your Weaknesses
From my ITE, I had clear areas of weaknesses, which were high yield for the test so the best bang for my buck was studying those areas which would yield the highest reward. I was able to use my residency stipend to purchase a quality self-study EM Review course. The course helped me to get a full picture of the exam and how each topic was weighted. "Structured" ABEM review courses give you a big picture overview that helps to manage how much you should study each topic - not spend too much time on niche areas - and otherwise find topics that you don't know as well as you should. Receiving instant remediation after taking assessments showed me exactly where I needed to dig in deeper.
Take Notes for the Retention Benefit
While my course had great answer explanations, I took notes while I went through the course and that helped with my retention of the information. There's something about re-writing things out for yourself, in your way. I also made a one-sided quick guide for each subject based on the most challenging topic to study a few days before the exam. Being a chronic procrastinator and crammer, I know that a small “cheat sheet” of high yield information helps to bring knowledge forward for me.
I ended with about 10 hand written pages (heh) of highest yield information that I studied exclusively the days leading up to the exam and while doing questions. I also brought these questions with me to the testing center. Following the “structured” self-guided course, I focused on understanding and only targeting my weakest spots. For instance, I completed all the big guns: cardiology, pulmonology, GI, Trauma, and Signs/Symptoms. Together, these routinely comprised about 50% of the exam! So, for me it worked out.
Surprise! Not surprised. Diligence.
It turns out my biggest weaknesses were actually the most tested topics on the exam. I was happy my course helped me find and address those weaknesses efficiently. I also viewed studying as part of my job. I was a new grad and was nervous about independent practice. Studying for boards actually made me more comfortable at work. That thought process pushed me to study for the exam with added purpose. Doing those things, I was able to pass my boards exam with a decent score that was consistent with my peers. In fact, I scored better than most, which is the complete opposite of my ITE experience. While procrastinating isn’t the solution for many, for chronic procrastinators who are worried about your score, it is possible.
Don't Make Things More Complicated
Focus on 1-2 quality ABEM Qualifying exam study materials, focus on your weaknesses (target them like the weak links in the chain), and at least be strong in the sections that are consistently making up 10%+ of the exam (ABEM has that breakdown on their website). I attribute that to my success on boards.
Band Together. Mix it Up.
Other factors that played a role in my success? Having colleagues who hold me accountable with “deadlines” of when to finish studying a topic. This left me with flexibility based on my ever-changing schedule, but it still allowed me to finish what I needed to do. I also mixed topics I liked with topics I hated, in order to break up the monotony.
Just Get to Work.
And lastly, just sitting down and getting started was my biggest hurdle. So, I scheduled studying into my schedule like my work schedule. I may not have wanted to study, but I did not allow myself to double book for my study time. Even if I ended up not studying during that time, I gave myself no excuse because I didn’t schedule work, fitness, MBA, or leisure during that time. Often, being “bored” during that time allowed me the opportunity to at least get started.
I was routinely accustomed to spending days at a time cramming, but consistency over time helped. I wildly underestimated how much 30 minutes a day can add up. Leading up to test day, I limited my working days and obligations to just simmer down and get mentally prepared. The panic came rushing in as soon as I sat down, but I soon realized I knew the information and boom, I passed.
- Jasmine Hopkins, MD
Jasmine Hopkins, MD
It turns out my biggest weaknesses were actually the most tested topics on the exam. I was happy my course helped me find and address those weaknesses efficiently. I also viewed studying as part of my job. I was a new grad and was nervous about independent practice. Studying for boards actually made me more comfortable at work. That thought process pushed me to study for the exam with added purpose.
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