What Happens If You Fail A Medical Board Exam?

August 19, 2022
The board/licensing exam is one of the most stressful hurdles you face in your medical career. The preparation is tedious and exam day is intense. After all the effort and time you’ve invested, receiving a failing score can be devastating. So, what happens if you fail a board exam? Here are a few next steps to take.

Remind yourself you’re capable

If you fail a board exam, the first thing to do is take a deep breath. You’ve made it this far and can make it through this hurdle as well.

Remind yourself how much you’ve accomplished to get to this point. You’ve conquered an intensive premedical curriculum, successfully matriculated into medical school, then completed a rigorous preclinical and clinical curriculum involving dozens of nationally standardized exams to match into residency. Remember that you’re capable and have shown that for many years prior to this particular test.

Schedule a meeting

Consider meeting with your program director if you’re still in residency, or a mentor if you’ve already graduated residency. You’re not the first resident to fail a board exam, and you will not be the last. Talking with someone who has experience can help you figure out the next steps, including review protocol and the resting process.

During this meeting, be honest and don’t be afraid to talk about failure. Your program director is your advocate and will be pivotal in adjusting your residency schedule to accommodate this setback.

Think about when you’ll retake the exam

Timing your retake is an important part of the plan. Do you retake the test immediately, or do you wait? This will really depend on where you are in your career.

While you’re in residency, you may need to take a dedicated study period either through elective time or time away from residency. Passing your licensing exam is critical for the next step of your career, so take the time now to complete it properly. Discuss time off with your program director. Again, you’re not the first resident to fail an exam and your program director will work with you to schedule easy electives or block off your schedule entirely for exam preparation. Remember, they want you to pass too! 

For some residents, the board exam is scheduled after graduation. If this is the case and you’ve failed the exam after graduation, schedule your retake as soon as possible to ensure your knowledge is still fresh. This may involve setting aside some time to dive into your studies prior to starting your new attending job. You’ll want to focus and have minimal distractions to make sure you can ace the boards and continue on your career path as planned.

Identify what you can do differently

Next, it’s time to come up with a plan for what you can do differently when preparing for your retake. Consider your previous study approach—were you focused on memorizing the material or applying it in a scenario? When you learn a new concept, try thinking about it in various contexts to solidify your knowledge.

Hear more from Adam Rosh, MD, about the #1 reason for failing an exam:

To pinpoint your knowledge gaps, obtain the detailed score report of your failed exam. Identify your weak points and then ask yourself: what did your study plan involve? Which sections and topics did you feel like you understood well? Which sections and topics did you struggle with? What could you have spent more time doing? Did your practice tests align with these results? By answering these questions, you can formulate a new study plan for your retake.

Create your study schedule

Make your new study plan. There are many guides for designing a study schedule available online—see an example below for how to create a study schedule from the Rosh Peak Performance course:

No matter how you structure your new plan, you should focus on addressing the weaknesses in your previous study plan. Be realistic and incorporate practice questions and timed tests. If you know which topics you struggled with, see if this aligns with what you already know about your medical knowledge.

Brainstorm new ways to study the topics that you find most challenging. Maybe watching a YouTube series, spending more time reading from a textbook, or doing more board review questions specifically on that topic is helpful. You may even consider getting a board review tutor if you’re looking for a guide and additional accountability to stay on track.

Choose your resources

Your study resources are the building blocks for a good study plan. Stick to one or two resources to avoid being overwhelmed by the amount of review material. You may even consider studying with a resource that comes with a Pass Guarantee to boost your confidence on your retake.

Another way to boost your confidence is by taking a mock exam. While a Qbank is a great way to create custom practice exams and learn with answer explanations, mock exams are pre-created assessments that replicate the board exam as closely as possible. Try simulating your test conditions while taking the mock exam for the most accurate projected score.

Learn more about the power of simulating your test conditions before exam day:

Keep going

Remember, failing an exam is not the end of your career. It is a setback that you’re likely not expecting, but you’ve already shown that you are capable of hard work and dedication. With that same effort you’ve put into the rest of your career, you will succeed!

Rosh Review is a board review company with Qbanks and mock exams for your medical board exam and beyond. Get started with a free trial today!

By Mike Ren, MD

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