Tips for Preparing for the Certifying Examination (Part 1 of 2)

When preparing yourself for “The Boards,” there are many things to take into consideration. Read on in to learn tried and true tips that will help you on your road to passing the exam. And embarking on your career as a certified dermatologist.

1) This is a marathon, not a race – start preparing early

The accumulation of knowledge for the Certifying Examination is meant to take place over the three years of your dermatology residency. This is not an exam you want to cram for. The In-Training Examination (ITE) (aka “Mock Boards” or “In-Service Exam”) is a good gauge of your strengths and weaknesses, and just as importantly, how you compare to your peers. If you struggle with Basic Science and Dermatopathology, spend extra time on these subjects and less on other topics.

Make a study plan and stay focused, especially during the time between completing your residency program and taking the examination. Set daily content review goals, get up early, study in blocks, take breaks, and end at a specified time so that you are not worn out for the next day. By the time your examination date comes along, you will feel tired of studying and will be more than ready to take this test.

2) Know what you’re up against

A wealth of information can be found on the American Board of Dermatology website. The American Board of Dermatology has produced a content outline of what they consider relevant topics which can be found here. This is a good starting point for what you’ll need to know for the Certifying Examination. In addition, the general flow of the entire day including the timing and breakdown of sections can be found here. Arrive at the hotel the day before the exam and settle into your surroundings. Know where the testing site is, arrive early to the testing room on the day of your exam, and plan where you want to have your lunch for the day of the exam.

3) Get comfortable using a microscope

Often dermatopathology is taught with the dermatopathologist “driving” a multi-headed microscope and residents are asked to describe what they see and what they believe the diagnosis is. In addition, you may study dermatopathology virtually online. During the examination, you will have a small cubicle with a computer and individual microscope. You will be questioned on 36 glass histopathologic slides, so you should feel comfortable using a microscope efficiently. Often, a diagnosis can be made on low power, so ‘don’t lose the forest for the trees.’ Recently, there has been the incorporation of virtual dermatopathology. So be prepared for these questions as well.

4) Do as many questions as you can get your hands on

All residents use the excellent Derm In-Review educational materials (study binder, online questions, Kodachrome application) developed by ETAS. By the time you’re ready to start preparing for the Certifying Examination, you have probably completed most of the questions in the system (often multiple times!). Look for other resources that have board relevant questions written in the style of the Certifying Examination. Free resources are offered through The Dermatologist’s Board Review and Fast Facts for Board Review. Nowadays, there are several annual board review courses and several are offered online for those unable to travel.