Weeks leading up to the exam:
In my opinion, studying for the boards is really much harder than the actual test itself. It is very important to pace yourself during the months leading up to the boards so that you don’t burn out closer to exam time. I divided my study materials into topics based upon the sections of the Derm In-Review study guide. I began by reviewing topics with which I was the most comfortable. By doing that, I could devote extra study time to the harder topics without feeling rushed to get through a huge number of subjects. I spent many hours of time studying almost every day after graduating from residency, but then I made sure to leave time for exercise, meals with family and friends, and other activities that would make me feel like a whole, healthy, and sane person during the process. I spent most days studying with a close friend with whom I felt completely comfortable. We studied side by side without interacting much most of the time, but if one of us needed to discuss a concept out loud, we would do that together in a non-judgemental way. We had several different study spots including various libraries, coffee shops, a friend’s apartment, and our own apartments. I found it very important to change study locations because otherwise the long study days become tedious. When I tired of reading and reviewing study materials, I switched to question banks with thoughtful reviews of all answer choices as a way to make studying a little more varied and engaging.
Week before the exam:
During the week before the exam, I made sure to get lots of sleep. I woke up each morning at the time I would need to awaken on exam day to prepare myself. By the week before the exam, I had already completed review of all topics. I spent the last few days going back to the concepts that I felt needed a little refreshing. Since most people taking the exam must fly to the testing center, the travel day actually serves as a nice distraction from the monotony of studying. I did not study in the hotel prior to the exam; however, I did bring my study materials with me in case I wanted to look something up last minute. Instead, I enjoyed nice meals out and felt more relieved than anything that the endless days of studying were almost behind me. On the day before the exam, you might want to head to the pharmacy across the street from the hotel to stock up on snacks and drinks for exam day breaks. Do everything that you can to relax and ensure a good night’s sleep the night before the exam. If you are a light sleeper, ask for a room far from the elevators in the hotel where the test is administered as they can be a bit noisy.
Day of the exam:
Eat a good breakfast on the day of the exam. When you wake up, feel comforted by the fact that this whole ordeal will be over soon.
The testing center itself is very comfortable. Everyone gets their own L-shaped, very private desk with a wide area to spread out. The microscopes are not the best quality, but they are adequate for reading the limited number of slides given during the test.
You spent a huge amount of time conditioning yourself for the exam—recalling information is your only job and one that you have prepared for with numerous tests in the past. The board exam really is just another test. Don’t rush through the exam sections as you are given plenty of time. Read each question and the answer choices thoroughly and then trust your gut instinct. Just remember that you don’t have to know every question, just most (which you will).
After the test:
Take a deep breath, celebrate, and feel proud of yourself. Go back to living your life and be excited about the next stage of your career. It only gets better!