How to Study for the Psychiatry Board Exams in 2024 -

How to Create a Study Plan for the 2024 ABPN Psychiatry Board Exams

December 13, 2023
So you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and you’re ready to become a general or child & adolescent psychiatrist. All you have to do now is take steps toward the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) initial certification. Although that may sound like a challenging process, thousands of psychiatrists have been down this road before, so there are clear guideposts on your path to ABPN certification! 
Follow along in this blog for strategies and resources to reduce the anxiety you may feel approaching exam day. Here’s your personalized approach and dedicated study plan to help you pass your specific psychiatry board exam.

A Six-Point Study Plan for Your 2024 Psychiatry Board Exams

1. Become familiar with the ABPN board exam formats. 

The unknown is a major trigger for increasing a sense of anxiety or foreboding. Therefore, one of the most important steps you can take on the path to certification is getting to know the format of the exam ahead of time.

Given the significance of knowing the psychiatry board exam formats, we have a separate post devoted to the topic. It’s a great resource to have as you prepare for your exam!

2. Take a mock exam. 

If your study plan is going to be beneficial, it needs to be based on a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to discover what those are is to take a full mock exam with the same number of questions and breakdown of topics you’ll encounter on the real exam. When taking a mock exam, don’t pause to read the explanations of correct and incorrect answers. Keep going like it’s exam day. That way, you can assess your strengths and weaknesses, and note how long it takes you to complete the exam. 

3. Compare your stats with the ABPN content blueprint.

After tabulating statistics by topic (e.g., depressive disorders, neurological disorders), you’ll be able to determine how many areas require improvement and compare this to the degree of emphasis the ABPN places on these topics in the actual exam.

For example, if you do poorly on a topic that makes up a major portion of the actual exam, you’ll need to allot more time for a focused review of that topic. On the other hand, if you do poorly in an area that only makes up a minor portion of the actual exam, you can generally stress less about devoting a lot of time to this particular topic.

Use the ABPN’s content blueprints for both the General Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry initial certification exams to guide these decisions.

Remember, for certification exams taken in 2024 and beyond, the ABPN will adhere to the DSM-5-TR (published in 2022) rather than the DSM-5 (published in 2013). Although a nine year span between publications might give you cause for concern, the vast majority of changes were minor. For a nice review, check out this summary of DSM-5 to DSM-5-TR changes.

4. Focus on areas of weakness first.

Start earlier with your areas of weakness as you don’t want to deal with them as the exam approaches. After improving your knowledge base in these areas, make sure to review all areas at some point closer to the exam so that you don’t miss the opportunity to refresh your memory about concepts that are more familiar.

About two weeks or so before the exam, review your areas of weakness again. I’d recommend planning in such a way that you’ve become fully confident in your areas of weakness, and that you feel like it’s just a bonus to be able to have a free week or so to become even smarter, but you’re already smart enough!

5. Match resources with your learning preferences.

There are many kinds of resources you can use to prepare for the psychiatry board exams. The trick is in figuring out what works best for your own learning preferences.

For example, do you learn better through attending lectures, reading texts, or both? Do you do better studying alone or with a group? Are you a multitasker, someone who just appreciates some background music while studying, or someone who needs a quiet environment to absorb the content? Arrange an environment that will most enhance your retention of reviewed content.

Review books and Qbanks both have questions similar to those on the actual exams and they include answer explanations. Review courses tend to be lecture-based and, if only available in-person, can make it more difficult to schedule study days (unless taped versions are also available). They can also be more expensive due to travel costs. If you retain information more easily through auditory input as opposed to visual input, they could be a valuable addition to your study plan. 

Online Question Banks as the Gold Standard 

The content and format of Qbanks gives learners an experience that’s as close as possible to that of the actual exam. They have many other advantages as well.

For instance, Rosh Review psychiatry Qbanks have the following features: 

  • Create-your-own practice exams that allow you to filter by topic and the number of questions to review. 
  • Enhanced learning and reinforcement of major concepts with beautiful medical images, Rapid Reviews, and One Step Further questions to extend your knowledge on each question’s topic. 
  • Performance analytics that identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Accessibility on desktop or mobile with the free, highly-rated mobile app (which makes it easy to study during slow times while on-call!).
6. Remember the importance of self-care!

Finally, practicing what we preach is vital to being at our very best, both on the day of the exam and beyond!

Optimize your own mental and physical health by getting adequate sleep, having an active lifestyle, making sure to eat healthy snacks as often as possible, using proven relaxation techniques, and maintaining social connections.

Include built-in study breaks by setting a timer, reward yourself for staying on schedule and for improvements in your stats, and remember passing, not perfection, is the ultimate goal!

My Personal Study Plan Journey 

Before we wrap up, I’d like to share a bit of my personal journey with you, since I think it could help ease any anxiety you might have about the road ahead. 

After completing my general psychiatry residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship, I was in no hurry to pursue board certification as it wasn’t required for state medical licensing, clinical privileges, or insurance credentialing at the time. It wasn’t until about six years later when I was incentivized with a salary increase by a new employer if I became board certified that I decided to take the boards!

I used a board exam review book to study for both the general and child & adolescent psychiatry certification exams. I answered all the questions in my review book (I hadn’t heard of Qbanks yet!), calculated the statistics by topic, and started my study plan by tackling my weakest areas first. I’d review the explanations for each wrong question first, then review additional texts if I felt like I needed a better understanding.

I started reviewing the summer before the autumn testing date. The schedule I created gave me enough time to review everything one last time well ahead of the actual exam (by 1-2 weeks!).

As a result, I felt well-prepared to take the written exams and they went smoothly, without any undue anxiety. (Of course, the oral exams were another conversation altogether, but those have been phased out and replaced with linked sets—so no worries for you!)

Your Turn!

As I discussed at the beginning of this blog, the path you will travel to ABPN certification in psychiatry is well-trodden. Many have gone before you, and we can help you navigate the road ahead. If you’re still worried, take heart in this stat: approximately 90% of test takers pass the psychiatry board exam on their first attempt! 

Odds are, you’ll be one of them. Just make sure you prepare! Follow this six-point plan, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an ABPN board-certified psychiatrist!

Looking for more (free!) content to help you pass your psychiatry board exam? Check out these other posts on the Rosh Review blog:

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 choiceno credit card required! Gain access to board-style practice questions, detailed explanations, beautiful medical images, and more.

By Cindy Huntimer, MD, MPH

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