Prepping for your medical boards can bring on a variety of emotions. Whether you’re stressed, anxious, excited, frustrated, or just ready to get this over with, your mind needs time to gather and retain important information. So, check out these 10 study tips to help prepare you for your medical board exam.
- Discover your learning style
- Create a clean workspace
- Work smarter, not harder
- Practice, practice, practice
- Be patient and kind to yourself
- Take study breaks
- Give yourself plenty of time to learn
- Start a study group
- Fuel your body (and mind)
- Plan ahead and be prepared for exam day
10 Study Tips for Your Medical Board Exam
1. Discover your learning style
Do you know what type of learner you are? Just like you’re one-of-a-kind, so is the way you learn. Back in 1984, psychologist David Kolb developed and published his idea for learning styles. Because of this fine gentleman, we now understand the different ways people learn: visually, auditory, kinesthetically, and through reading/writing. Which learner are you?
If you’re one for pictures, diagrams, doodles, and lists, you may be a visual learner. That means that you learn best when you’re able to visually see the information you need to retain. Try flashcards, presentations, or graphs and charts to help you retain the important information you need to ace your medical board exam.
While visual learners learn best by seeing, auditory learners learn best by sound. Instead of doodling, auditory learners prefer lectures to help them learn. If this sounds like you, participate in a group discussion, watch videos, or try using audiobooks to reinforce your knowledge.
Have you ever been described as a doer? Well, then you could be a kinesthetic learner. Also known as “tactile learners,” these learners must experience or do things to best retain information. Kinesthetic learners like to be involved and act out events or use their hands to touch and handle objects to understand concepts. That you? Incorporate movement into your study routine and you’ll find learning gets a lot easier.
Last, but certainly not least, are reading/writing learners. These folks express themselves through writing papers, journaling, and reading articles or books. If you’re a research buff and can absorb information through the written word, this could be you.
But here’s the best part: you could have a combination of learning styles that work together to help you know what you need to know. So, no matter what type of learning styles fit you best, use them to try out these 10 study tips and ensure you pass your medical board exam with flying colors!
2. Create a clean workspace
Some people like to study at home where it’s quiet, while others need a little bit of background noise and the constant buzz of people. Regardless of how you study, we can all agree that having a clear, physical table space is necessary to keep a clear head. Plus, research shows that a clean workspace empowers you to work 7.5 minutes longer without feeling distracted and increases persistence by 84%.
Sure, there are people who thrive on clutter, but even if that’s you, you can benefit from maintaining an organized space where you plan to study. Here are a few pro tips:
📝 Keep your materials put together, so you can efficiently work on the task at hand
📝 Eliminate distractions, like your phone, TV, and social media
📝 Get comfy, but not too comfy to where you want to doze off
📝 Treat yourself to your favorite study beverage and stay hydrated
📝 Get your headphones ready with your study music or if you prefer to study in silence, try using earplugs to further hinder any noise distractions
3. Work smarter, not harder
In addition to having your space cleared of distractions, it’s also a good idea to organize your study materials, too. For example, visual aids are very helpful when trying to learn new info — just ask the 65% of Americans who learn best that way.
Don’t just delegate your studying to books and reading. If you’re using diagrams or flashcards, keep those handy, but also test yourself on the information you already know. Try challenging yourself to remember everything you can about a topic, and then fill in the blanks with your studying. You’ll be an expert before you know it.
4. Practice, practice, practice
You know the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Well, the same is true when it comes to studying. One effective way to help you prepare for your board exam is to take a practice test or a past version of the test. That way, you’ll have the chance to get used to the testing format, style of the questions, and narrow down which areas you’re strong at and which ones you’re struggling in. Then, you can spend more time improving your weaknesses, rather than relearning the information you already know.
There are several studies that show the testing effect can help you retain 50% more learned information than by simply using the same amount of time to study. And that’s because you’ve added the information to your long-term memory, so it’s easier for your mind to retrieve and fully understand. Long-term retention is important for your medical career, not just to get through the test, but also to help people effectively in real life.
Practice tests aren’t everyone’s jam. Sometimes, others prefer question banks as an effective study method. A question bank is a collection of test questions that can be used again and again. Usually, the questions are compiled from previous test exams and randomized so you get a wide variety of study prompts thrown your way. Give it a try and create your own question bank specific to your medical department and specializations.
5. Be patient and kind to yourself
We live in a world that consistently feeds our need for instant gratification, but studying is just not one of those things. Yeah, it’d be great if we could just wave a magic wand and learn everything we needed, but unfortunately, science hasn’t figured out how to do that (yet).
Be patient with yourself and don’t try to cram the night before. Regardless of what you may have heard about adrenaline and the benefits of working under pressure, you should allow yourself time to learn. You’ve earned it!
Then, when it gets repetitive and frustrating — which it will — be kind to yourself. Although it may not feel like it, it's actually helpful for our brains to consistently go over the same information because it helps us remember it better. Studies show that spaced repetition is one of the most effective ways to learn. So, while you may get annoyed about reading or studying the same thing over and over, remember that you're doing your brain a huge favor. Learning doesn’t come in a day, and that’s okay.
6. Take study breaks
One of the reasons the learning process can feel like it takes a long time is because our brains need frequent breaks to stay productive. Not to sound like a broken record, but once again, you can’t just cram for 12 hours straight and expect your brain to be completely on point for the medical board exam.
Instead, start studying sooner rather than later, and allow yourself to take some time away between study sessions. And no, "time away" doesn't mean hopping a plane to Bermuda and having cocktails on the beach (no matter how great that sounds). It doesn't mean binge-watching 13 hours of your favorite Netflix series, either.
What it does mean is: quick breaks to go get a cup of coffee, take a walk around the block, or reply to those Snapchats you’ve been strategically avoiding. There’s even research that supports five to 60-minute breaks can refresh not only your brain but also your body. These little brain breaks help increase your energy, productivity, and ability to focus. If you start to feel guilty about your downtime, remind yourself that your brain is thanking you for the little mini vacay.
7. Give yourself plenty of time to learn
Between all this patience you’re supposed to have with yourself and taking little brain breaks, you’re going to want to start your study process as soon as possible. As we already know, cramming isn’t an effective study method. Board Vitals, a medical specialty board certification preparation firm, suggests studying for about 20 to 25 days with roughly eight to 10 hours of studying each day. According to their data, any more or less time will likely result in lower exam scores.
“You only have so much stamina in a day to sit down,” said Medical School Headquarters. “And these questions are intensive, they require a lot of thought and you only have so much to do that per day.”
Having extra time to spare also means more of those repeat study sessions we mentioned earlier, which will help you retain the info long-term. All you have to do is get time on your side, and everything else will come naturally.
8. Start a study group
Studying doesn’t always have to be a solo endeavor; teamwork really helps everyone out. You might have questions that your medical professional friends happen to have the answers for, and vice versa. When you compare notes, you’re spending less time finding the answers, and more time studying the answers, right?
Plus, working alongside others has been proven to help you learn better, and then some. It also:
👥 Eliminates procrastination with others holding you accountable
👥 Helps you learn faster because if you don’t understand something, there are others to help you understand and clear confusion
👥 Fills gaps in study notes by allowing you to compare your notes with others
👥 Sharpens your study skills by combining multiple people’s study methods
👥 Adds a social aspect and provides an outlet for discussing topics that may have previously landed you on the struggle bus
You’re not alone in this wild adventure. Lean on your fellow medical professional friends to give you a guiding hand and you can do the same for them.
9. Fuel your body (and mind)
Imagine this: you’re in the middle of a study session and you feel the rumbling of a small stampede in your stomach. What do you do? You grab yourself a snack and nibble on some brain food. But it’s not just about eating, it’s also about what you eat. What you eat, especially while studying, can have a huge effect on your energy and concentration. For example, fish, almonds, and yogurt can help you stay focused and improve your memory. Whereas quick energy, like sugar and carbs, will eventually make you crash hard.
It's important to stay hydrated, too. Water seems like a simple solution but staying hydrated will do wonders for your brain and body. Not only does it help keep your brain functioning at peak performance, but it also helps you stay alert and focused on what you’re doing.
10. Plan ahead and be prepared for exam day
Who has two thumbs and is ready to crush their medical boards? That’s you! If there are any special requirements or specific things you need to bring to the test, now’s the time to sort it out. Make sure you prepare for your medical board exam day ahead of time. Your keys aren’t lost in the depths of your couch cushions? Your alarm is set? Your car have gas? Nothing is worse than feeling rushed or unprepared, which can make you more anxious about your exam. Even worse than that, it can make you late. So, give yourself plenty of time to sleep the night before, wake up, get ready, and be on time to show that test what you've got.
You’re well on your way to the top! Now it’s just between you and your medical board exam. So, don’t let test jitters get in the way of your success. Instead, use these 10 study tips to ace your boards, and get yourself one step closer to your medical travel lifestyle.