In this second article in this series, we will take a further look at some tried and true methods for preparing yourself for “The Boards.”
1) Dermatology is a visual medical specialty
One of the great challenges of our specialty is that different conditions can look similar, and the same condition can look different (or “atypical”) across anatomic sites and populations. Many of the questions that appear on the Certifying Examination have associated images and knowing them can be critical to getting that question correct. Review as many images as possible from the primary dermatologic textbooks (Dermatology, Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine, Andrews’ Diseases of the Skin, etc.). Also, try to find several dermatology atlases (Color Atlas of Dermatology, Color Atlas of Pediatric Dermatology, Atlas of Clinical Dermatology, etc.) to review from your institutional library, departmental library or fellow residents.
2) I need to know WHAT?!?
Although you may choose not to specialize in tropical medicine, contact dermatitis or inherited connective tissue disorders, these are all fair game for the Certifying Examination. For dreaded topics that can be difficult to remember no matter how many times you review them, such as porphyrias, plants and bugs, genodermatoses, basic science immunology, and others, save these until the last few days prior to the actual test.
3) Relax (Easy enough for you to say!)
The format and general content of the Certifying Examination has changed over time. The current version of the exam looks very different than when many of your faculty took it several years ago. Thankfully, the pass rate has also changed – for the better! The results of the exam are reported as a single Pass/Fail score and notification of your performance will be emailed about 6-8 weeks after the final day of testing. Of particular note, the pass rate has been higher in recent years – 94.7% in 2012 and 97.5% in 2013.
4) How did your colleagues feel about the exam?
Every residency program is unique in their educational structure, environment, and curriculum, although standards are set by the American Board of Dermatology (ABD) and Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Have a sense of what the pass rate has been like for the past five years for your program and ask recent graduates their general feeling about the exam as they just completed the same program you did. DO NOT in any way use “Airplane Notes” or any other reproduction of questions or content from prior exams. I cannot stress this enough as discovery of the use of these can be the “end of your dermatology career” as stated by the American Academy of Dermatology – the career you worked so hard for.
5) Know thyself
Since 2007, the American Board of Dermatology Certifying Examination has been given in a single day over the course of eight hours. That’s a long time! The last time you had to sit for a test like that was the MCAT – which interestingly enough is changing. Build up your test-taking stamina by taking as many questions as you can in a single sitting, or take full mock examinations without checking your answers or taking too many breaks. You know better than anyone else what you need to do to successfully prepare for the Certifying Examination.