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MET English Specialist

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How TO Study for Boards: 10 Ways to Prepare for Your Board Exam
Now that we’ve told you some mistakes to avoid when studying for the boards, here are some tips and strategies that are sure to help you conquer this milestone and hopefully ease your anxiety along the way.

1. Discover your learning style
The methods others use won’t necessarily be as effective for you — including those used by members of your study group. Are you a visual or an auditory learner? Finding out which style works best for you is something to consider in the early stages of preparing for board exams. If you are a visual learner, try videos (like NEJM Quick Take). If you are an auditory learner, record lectures and play them back. Adaptive learning works especially well for those looking for a dynamic experience that is based on learning theory and science.

2. Plan to put in the time
As we mentioned above, mastering the material you need to know for the boards will take some time — perhaps more than you bargained for. Between all of your obligations, it can be hard enough to find the time to get enough sleep, let alone put it in an hour or two of studying every night leading up to the board exam. Before registering for your exam, do your best to allocate study hours over a larger period of time. Check out this article for ways to fit studying into your schedule. It’s best to plan months, or even a year in advance. The last thing you want to do is resort to cramming.

In a study done by Nate Kornell, spaced repetition of the material you’re learning proved to be more effective than cramming by 20%. Implementing spacing allows you to retain more information than cramming with a higher recall rate.

Bonus tip: Try studying during your morning and evening commutes. All of that time adds up!

3. Start a study group
Preparing for board exams with your friends is a great way to help address each other’s weaknesses. You may have one area completely covered to the point where you can be the teacher in that group, yet struggle immensely in another area. Try to have everyone agree on a set time to meet. Your discussions will go a long way.

Speaking of discussions, be sure to check out one of the NEJM Resident 360 discussions, like How to Ace Your Next Standardized Exam. See all of the advice residents and experts gave!

4. Avoid burnout
The last thing you want is to be burned out studying. It can be extremely beneficial to take study breaks. Research suggests that doing something you enjoy the day before the exam has a more positive effect than continuing to study up to the last minute.

5. Exercise during your breaks
According to this study reviewed by Harvard Health, those who exercise with moderate intensity 30 minutes per day, every day, have improved memory and concentration. If you feel as though you’re in a fog, start exercising regularly. You may even find, like Dr. Monique Tello, that you can review your board exam materials at the gym!

6. Take advantage of mobile resources to study for boards
There are numerous apps that can give you the tools to create your own flash cards and exams. This study shows that students who use online studying tools have higher test scores than students who don’t. Reviewing board exam flash cards (or fill-in-the-blank questions like those in NEJM Knowledge+) on the bus is a lot easier than trying to search through a textbook for a specific review section.

7. Find a better study environment
Study somewhere that is free from as many distractions as possible. If you’re reviewing notes — or better yet, testing yourself — in front of a TV, chances are you won’t be very productive. Find a quiet corner in your local library that you can rely on for a focused study session.

8. Prioritize challenging subjects
As we noted above, it’s tempting to procrastinate on the harder subjects — but you don’t want to be caught without enough time to master them. Do you know what you know and what you don’t know? Knowing which subjects present the biggest challenge to you allows you to decide how much time you’ll dedicate to them versus reviewing what you’re more comfortable with.

9. Get enough sleep!
This study published in Nature shows that irregular sleep directly affects academic performance. Aim for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

10. Test yourself
Testing yourself may just be the best way to study for boards — as we’ve noted, studying by reading over your materials and not testing yourself may be the biggest mistake you can make in preparing for your exam exam. One effective method of assessing your knowledge is to use practice exams, which simulate the timed environment of the actual board exam you’re taking.

The reason taking practice tests help is that they reinforce your knowledge by asking your brain to struggle with recalling the answers and practice tests can prevent the effects of stress on memory. According to this study by Smith et al., when participants’ studied using practice tests, they experienced fewer of the typical negative effects of stress — such as forgetting the answers.

Being prepared for test day means knowing what it feels like to take the exam under pressure. For example, NEJM Knowledge+ contains two 60-question practice exams that simulate the actual timed exam. Questions in the practice exams align with the exam blueprint. Adding this layer of realism to your prep can increase your confidence and help you be more confident on exam day.


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