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How I Crushed The FM Boards By Studying Just 20 Minutes A Day

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
By The TrueLearn Team

For the Family Medicine board exams, I tried several methods of studying but arrived at one that was successful. Initially, I tried studying after my shifts in the hospital, but ended up being too tired and most of the time would fall asleep while studying.  The second plan was studying while on call in the hospital, but I was always distracted with calls, admissions, etc. The study time never materialized and I never remembered what I studied.

Finally, I arrived at a plan to wake up 10 minutes earlier and use that time to study. I know it sounds crazy but it really worked. I would typically wake up about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes before my shift (I had a very short commute) and drink a cup of coffee while reading the news on my phone. I decided that I would instead wake up a few minutes earlier and study. Keep in mind, I’ve always been a morning person.

The Plan

My typical morning would consist of me waking up, making coffee, and then I would do 10 questions over about 20 minutes before getting ready for the day. On the weekends, I would do the same thing whether I was working or not. If I wasn’t working, I might do an extra 10 questions. Over the course of 1 month with 30 days, that is at least 300 questions. Plus, the information was in small enough amounts that I found myself easily retaining it and using it during the day while seeing patients. 

I took my boards in April and started studying the previous September, totaling 9 months of study for about 20-30 minutes/day. However, that was every day…every single day.

I ended up using 2 different question banks, one for the first 4 months and then another for the second 4 months. In the remaining month before the boards, I did multiple practice tests and did put in more than just 20 minutes a day, probably around 1-2 hours/day.

Overall, I’ve always found well-written questions with great explanations to be an excellent way to study and that definitely led to success. The time constraints of residency forced me to study a little bit every day, and while it wasn’t fun some of the days, it was enjoyable most days. I was able to start my day off with a small accomplishment, and it led to success in the end. Many of my colleagues did not choose this path, and it is the first time I had ever studied for something over that long of a period of time, but it was definitely the right call. Even now, I still take those 10-20 minutes to read every morning, which has been a life-changing practice for me as a physician. 

Summary Highlights


  • Start studying early
  • 8-10 months prior to your boards, basically as soon as you start 3rd year
  • Study 20 minutes per day, every day – the time adds up
  • Study at the same time every day – make it a habit


  • Question banks are a top resource, in my opinion
  • Use 2 question banks for different perspectives
  • I don’t recommend reading magazines or articles as the information is too low yield for the test


  • Wake up 0545, make coffee 0550, study 0600-0620

Where to focus efforts:

  • Questions, questions, questions
  • Other high yield materials – notecards, etc.
  • Avoid reading journals to study: I found that it didn’t cover enough material in those 20 minutes. 

Best Practices/Tips:

  • Study daily…DO IT!
  • It is very hard to dedicate hours at a time during residency, so dedicating a little bit of time every day adds up.
  • 20 minutes per day over 30 days = 600 minutes – that’s 10 hours. 
  • You will never find those 10 hours another way during the month

Author: Michael Ferraro, DO

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