The ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) Certification exam is not always about the assessment of your knowledge but also about knowing the right strategies, which are keys to success. I passed the ABIM Board Certification Exam without any review course. I had to sign up to work as an attending physician on July 1st due to my financial and visa limitations.
In this article, I will discuss effective preparation methods for the exam and provide valuable tips for the exam day. I credit the following strategies for my success in passing the ABIM Certification exam.
How to prepare for the exam
Know the exam content!
Knowing the overall exam content and high-yield topics can help you prioritize your study efforts and focus on the most important areas. The exam content is determined by the ABIM-created blueprint, which is reviewed annually and updated as necessary to ensure relevance and currency. Cardiology is the most heavily tested topic, comprising 14 percent of the exam questions. Make sure you are not missing the simple, basic questions of other topics as well.
No controversial topics will be included in the ABIM Certification exam.
What a relief! Focus on guidelines recommendations 1, 2A, and 3. Do not lose your energy and hair remembering 2B and ongoing trials for ABIM. Ultimately, the ABIM Certification exam focuses on assessing your internist competence and ability to provide quality patient care.
You do not need to get 100 percent of the questions right.
Statistics show you need around 70 to 75 percent of questions correct to pass. If you want to get it 100 percent right, you are above average and go for it. My goal was to pass as the majority of ABIM examinees. I was not interested to see my score after I passed. When I saw that my score was above average, it made me happy.
Practice with sample questions.
Familiarize yourself with the exam format and style by practicing sample questions. This helps gauge your understanding of the material and enhances your ability to approach and answer exam questions effectively. During my third year of residency, I used MKSAP and UWorld question banks for practice. The choice of resource is subjective and depends on your personal preference.
Pay attention while reading the questions.
For example, geographical location may give you a clue about a particular infectious disease. The patient’s occupation may point toward occupational-related disease. Medications (e.g., Digoxin) are likely trying to draw your attention to their unique side effects.
Read at least 5 to 10 minutes every day.
Residency is hard, and nobody is superhuman. Still, plan to read one topic about one of your patients each day. Your goal should be to learn at least 1 point from each patient. Remember, if you are improving by one percent every day, you will be 37 times better at the end of the year. Do not underestimate the power of small steps every day.
The Certification exam day
Be cautious about time management.
One of my colleagues told me that he spent even 5 minutes on some questions for which he was not certain about the answers and had to leave a couple of questions unanswered at the end of multiple blocks. Be mindful of the timing of every question.
Never ever leave any questions unanswered.
Great news! No negative marking exists, so you can take a chance on your prediction when in doubt. If you find yourself uncertain, try using exclusion methods to narrow down the multiple-answer choices. This strategy will increase your chances of selecting the correct answer.
If you are not sure, always stick with your first guess for uncertain questions.
Research shows that our first guesses are usually correct in exam settings. Unless you are truly confident about the new answer option, do not change your first guess in a rush.
Utilize your break time.
Remember that you won’t be rewarded for saving it, so allow yourself moments to pause and recharge. Bring light snacks to eat, and take the opportunity to stretch your back, neck, and legs. These actions can help you refuel and relieve any tension in your body.
Do not think about your previous blocks during the break.
You cannot go back and fix your mistakes. Instead, tell yourself that the next block is your next opportunity. Medicine is vast and continuously evolving. We cannot be 100 percent satisfied with the ABIM Certification exam preparation. Everyone forgets some points and makes some mistakes in exams.
One seasoned attending physician told me that only passing the Certification exam does not make you a great doctor. The ABIM board exam is a testament to your dedication and hard work, but it is not the sole determinant of your abilities as a physician. That being said, passing the exam on your first attempt is indeed a great accomplishment. It saves you the stress, time, and resources required for retaking the exam.
I hope these strategies will be useful to PASS your upcoming ABIM Certification exam.
Best of luck in your career!
Farzana Hoque is a hospitalist.