How to Create a Personalized Study Plan for Medical Boards

August 11, 2023
Reaching the point in your medical training when you are ready to take your licensing exams or so-called “boards,” is the culmination of a long but fulfilling journey. These tests are intended to be thorough assessments of new physicians to make sure they are ready to independently care for patients.
Preparing for your licensing exam can feel daunting, but like other standardized tests you have taken, the first step is creating an efficient study plan. This involves thinking about how much time you need to study, which resources are important, and what your timeline will be. Every licensing exam is different, but regardless of the type you will be taking, read on to learn about the four steps to creating a study plan that will enable you to succeed on test day.

4 Steps to Creating Your Medical Boards Study Plan

1. Become familiar with the exam

As you begin your preparation, you should first become familiar with the exam itself. Most licensing boards will publish information online about the exam structure like the number of questions and sections, the types of questions, and the amount of time you will have to finish each section. You may also be given a content outline detailing how much of the exam will pull from specific subjects. All this information will be critical for how you construct your study plan and gear up for the exam day.

A few links to websites for common licensing exams are provided below, though this list is not comprehensive of all specialties!

2. Determine how much time you need to prepare 

The next step in constructing your personalized study plan is calculating how much time you will have to prepare. Most licensing exams have narrow date ranges or sometimes just specific days when you will be able to sit for the test, so you should research when the exam is offered and register as soon as you are able to commit to an exam date.

You may also want to factor in any other demands on your time like upcoming travel or life events when you may not be able to devote as much attention to studying. Most importantly, building flexibility into the study plan is crucial. Scheduling in breaks and time buffers will help you catch up if you fall behind and avoid burnout.

Prioritize consistency: it’s far more effective to study a little bit every day over a longer period than it is to overdo it in the final days before the test.

For more tips on how to create a study plan, check out this clip from the Rosh Peak Performance course:

3. Select study resources

You need to be judicious about which resources you will prioritize. Your study time will inevitably be limited, so you want to make sure you’re optimizing efficiency. Focus on reliable and high-yield materials upfront to make sure you’re able to work through as much of them as possible before exam day. It can be hard to know which resources are the best for the given exam you’re going to take, so you may want to research online and talk to colleagues and friends about what to focus on.

Regardless of which licensing exam you’re studying for, you should incorporate practice questions into your approach. While questions can be a helpful tool to gauge how much you know, you should view them more as a method for active learning. Reviewing vignettes, selecting answers, and getting real-time feedback with explanations about whether you’re right or wrong will help you solidify the material and expand your fund of knowledge. You should make sure to research different question banks before you get started. Specifically, a good question bank should be large, feature quality explanations, and strive to be as comprehensive as possible.

If you’re looking for a place to start, consider the Rosh Review question banks which are available for most board exams. Questions are formatted similarly to how they will be on the actual exam, and the accompanying explanations are easy to follow and regularly updated. Specific advantages of the Rosh Review question banks are their sizes (some banks have thousands of questions), “One Step Further” questions to solidify the information you’re learning, and review flashcards that succinctly synthesize information.

For more information about what’s included in your Rosh Review board review Qbank, check out this demo video:

The general framework for how to layer resources is that questions should form the backbone of your approach. This is what you will be spending the majority of your time on. Beyond that, you may consider online video platforms and flashcard applications that you like. You can use textbooks as needed, but you should avoid trying to study from large online reference databases, which are generally written more for clinical practice than for board exams.

This pyramid illustrates the relative degree to which each resource should be utilized: 

4. Sticking with your study plan

Finally, the most important step of your study plan: sticking with it. Once you’ve created a scaffold for how you will devote the time you’re going to spend preparing, you need to follow through to hit your goals. These exams cover far more material than you could feasibly cram.

As a result, you should plan to divide up your work over a longer period and do less studying over many days than more studying over only a few. An added advantage of this approach is that it builds in spaced repetition. You’re far more likely to retain content for a longer period of time if you’re able to return to it at regular intervals.

Remember: While your immediate goal may be to pass the exam, what you’re studying will be important in future patient care and your practice of medicine. It’s information you’ll want to remember even after the exam.

If you find you’re falling behind on your study plan, don’t stress. Instead, consider the factors behind why you may not be keeping up. First, ask yourself if you have unexpected demands on your time that are preventing you from studying. Furthermore, think about whether your study plan is realistic. If you find yourself trying to dedicate ten or twelve hours a day to studying without any breaks built in, you will inevitably burn out and fall behind. Finally, make sure you’re really committing to the plan. It’s fine to take off a day or two at a time to recharge, but if you’re going many days or even weeks at a time without studying, it may be hard to make up for that lost time.

What to Keep in Mind as You Prepare for Your Boards

You’re not alone as you prepare for these tests. Talk to others who will also be taking or have already taken the exam. If you have connected with a mentor or advisor over the course of your training, consider asking how that person would recommend getting ready. Similarly, discussing your study plan and even studying with friends can be a helpful and rewarding experience. You’re encouraged to lean on those around you if you need guidance or support as you prepare for your licensing exam.

Above all else, you should prioritize having a healthy lifestyle while you’re studying. With respect to your physical health, this includes sleeping well, maintaining a balanced diet, and regularly exercising. However, you shouldn’t forget about your mental well-being and, to that end, set aside time on your calendar to spend with family and friends. Also, be sure to pursue hobbies you enjoy. Foregoing these things may free up more time to study, but in the long term, it will come at the expense of efficiency and ultimately slow you down.

Here’s a summary of the recipe for success on exam day:

Further Reading 

Licensing board exams can be a formidable culmination of your long journey through medical training, but you can do well on them with the right approach and commitment to a quality study plan.

To create a good plan, you should:

  1. Spend time researching your exam, including its structure and content.
  2. Schedule an exam date and determine how much time you need to prepare.
  3. Commit to an organized study plan that incorporates quality high-yield resources, and space out how you review content with regular repetition.
  4. Follow through on the plan! If you’re having trouble doing so, understand why, make adjustments, and get back on track.
  5. Pay attention to your physical and mental health.

You’ve worked hard to get to where you are. With perseverance and determination, you’ll be ready to succeed on exam day and accomplish this final step on your path toward becoming a licensed physician!

If you’re interested in more (free!) content for your boards, check out these other articles:

Rosh Review is a board review company providing Qbanks that boost your confidence for your boards and beyond. Get started with a Rosh Review free trial to the Qbank of your choice (no credit card required!) and gain access to board-style practice questions, detailed explanations, beautiful medical images, and more.

By Michael Stephens, MD

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