ID Board Exam Tips

I spent 7:30 AM – 6:30 PM today in a Boston testing center taking the challenging infectious diseases board exam. Hopefully I passed and will become a board-certified ID doctor. I have lots of respect for every ID doctor who passed this grueling rite of passage.

A few thoughts for those who will take it next year:

  • Have fun by studying with a group. Preparing for the board exam is stressful but preparation can be enjoyable. I participated in a great study group, meeting every Monday at 7 AM at Mass General over the past few months.
  • The George Washington ID Board Review course has “high yield” materials.
  • However, there is lots of minutia on the exam that wasn’t covered in depth in the GW course. Anything about bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, pharmacology, ID-mimicks, etc. is fair game. Therefore, I suggest the following:
  • Read Mandell, CID, etc, and create your own flash cards with a program like Anki, focusing on facts that you don’t think you will remember
  • Put Anki on your IPhone and delete Facebook/Twitter. Study Anki flash cards instead of using social media, while you are in the line at the grocery store, on the train, etc.
  • Read Make it Stick. This book has lots of tips about improving your memory. Flash-cards are incredibly important.
  • Studying a little bit every day will make your life a lot easier come exam time.
  • Stop by the clinical micro lab a few times and talk with the techs. It’s important to be familiar with how the micro lab *actually* works.
  • Pace yourself and use all your break time. 240 multiple choice questions takes a lot of energy/focus, so a walk outside during lunch time can be helpful to clear your mind.
  • Use your dry-erase notebook. I like to take notes as I take the exam.
  • Read the answer stem before the question itself. The questions are all multiple choice, so if you read the 4-5 answer choices before you read the actual question stem, you will be able to zero in on what differentiates the answer choices.
  • There was a lot of non-ID internal medicine on the exam, so be prepared for that!
  • I’m left wondering if taking $2200 exam every 10 years is really the best way to prove that you are up-to-date. Wouldn’t it be better to take the exam every year for $200? And, ID doctors could have the option to make our scores public. That might help in making us feel like all the time studying was worth it. Just an idea, what do you think?
  • Comment from colleague #1: “Thanks Phil, I agree with your points. I would only add that its worth learning material not just for the exam but for life itself. That is, after all, the stated purpose of the exam. The act of studying for it, rather than the material itself, is what is the most important.”
  • Comment from colleague #2: “Congrats on being done. I found the board review course really useful both times through. Agree with many of the pieces of advice you had for broadening reading beyond that, and incorporating it into your day. Inevitably, your credibility as an advisee will go up once you have passed the boards. Which I have no doubt you’ll do. You should repost then!”
  • Vote!


4 thoughts on “ID Board Exam Tips

  1. Congrats on having survived. I totally agree w you about the Anki cards. Essential. That and the Board Review course, taught by many of the people who write questions.

    There were maybe ~6 questions that had anything to do with patients I’ve cared for in 30+ years of ID practice. I found the exam to be ridiculous and an expensive waste of time (months) and money (~$5k w course, travel, hotels, etc.). It is simply another money maker for ABIM and not reflective of good patient care.

    I always read when I am doing a consult, even if it is “bread and butter” to see what is new on that topic, and find that more productive for keeping up.

    While I love taking care of patients and would probably do it until I drop, given my druthers, I will retire before I subject myself to the needless stress (and abuse) of retaking ID Boards again.

    Agree w your other advice. Do NOT suggest an esoteric exam every year. It does not make you a better physician.


  2. Congratulations Phil. I found studying for anesthestheiology boards very stressful and I had many challenges. If I ever take the boards again, I will look into your tips.

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