Studying for the board qualification exam is no easy task. Like any other comprehensive exam, the massive amount of material combined with the implications of having to pass the exam make for a very stressful situation. There is never any “specific” correct way to study for the exam, but there are definitely things you can do to help increase your chance of passing.
Below is a list of helpful tips in preparing for the examination.
This is probably the most important tip. When I say start early, it does not necessarily mean start reading and memorizing material 6-12 months prior to the exam. One should start early by gathering material to study from. All of the information on the exam can be found in the numerous podiatry text books and manuals that are found circulating through various podiatry residencies and schools. And most of the books/manuals all have the same material just presented in a different manner. It is your job to start early and find the manual/book you find the easiest to read and study from. Throughout residency I found that I had about 5 different books/manuals that I used for various topics both forefoot and rearfoot. The earlier you put together your study material the earlier you can begin casually reading it in order to familiarize yourself with the chapters and the way the information is presented. By knowing where the information is located, it provides you the framework to become organized prior to actually doing the hard core studying. When crunch time comes 1 week before the exam, it is a lot easier to reference a chapter where you know the information is located as opposed to frantically searching through something to study.
Make a calendar:
Once you gather all of your information and familiarize yourself with the material, go to the ABFAS website and print out the table of contents and descriptions of what is going to be tested on. Once you have a full overview of things you know you have to study, make a calendar or timeline and plan out what you are going to study each day or each week.
When I would study I would use the “rule of 3” as a guide. The rule of 3 implies that it takes studying a subject matter 3 times over in order to memorize the information.
Time 1: Casual read through of the material to be studied in order to familiarize yourself with the information.
Time 2: Reading through the material for a second time in order to more deeply understand the topic. This read through should incorporate active note taking.
Time 3: Final read through in which you are committing the information to memory. The “memorization” stage.
I understand that it is almost impossible to read through all of the material 3 times over. I can also assure you that there is plenty material on the exam that you have already committed to memory as a byproduct of learning it in podiatry school and in residency. For the material that you feel the need to study harder and longer, the “rule of 3”’ is a great way to boost your memory bank.
Going back to making a calendar. Once you have familiarized yourself with what is going to be on the test, create a study calendar based on what you need to study once, twice or three times over in order to ensure that you study and memorize material you do not know and re-learn material you already know. By planning it out before hand and staying organized you avoid the last minute cram session that ultimately takes place days before the exam.
Take Practice Tests
The board qualification exam is different than most exams in that it is actually 4 separate exams. The two didactic portions are very different than the two computer based simulation portions. It is imperative that you familiarize yourself with how the exams are written and how the information is presented. This is most important for the timed computer based simulation section that tests you on your ability to perform a physical exam and come up with a differential diagnosis and treatment plan while navigating through a computer system. If you haven’t seen or practiced navigating through the system you will be at a disadvantage when sitting for the exam that day.
There are many board review websites that, for a fee, will provide you with study guides and practice questions. There are even websites that have created a mock computer system designed to mimic the actual ABFAS computer based system used on exam day. Although many of these sites are pricey, I can tell you from experience they are worth it and will help get you comfortable for the test day scenario. If purchasing added material just isn’t your thing, there are free practice questions and one mock computer based question model on the ABFAS website to help get you familiar with material and how it will be presented.
The whole process of becoming board qualified and eventually board certified is a daunting task. Don’t let the test day sneak up on you. By starting early, getting organized and utilizing outside added material you can increase your chances of passing. Good luck!
Nick Alianello, DPM
Associate, Weil Foot and Ankle Institute
Chief Podiatry Resident, Rush University Medical Center, 2016
Valedictorian, Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, 2013