How to Prepare for the IM Board Exam
Your Internal Medicine Board Exam is approaching and there is a buzz growing about what to do in order to pass. Everyone is suggesting different resources to use and varying lengths of time you should spend studying. How do you cut through all of the commotion and do what is right for you?
Begin by creating a preparation plan that is personalized for you. First, gather information about the exam. Then, create a detailed study timeline including the learning modalities that suit you. Lastly, monitor your performance and adjust your timeline, as needed. Creating a personalized plan to prepare for the IM Board Exam will help you study smarter, not harder.
Familiarize Yourself With The IM Boards
The first step in preparing for the IM Exam is to know as much about it as possible. Be knowledgeable about what you can expect to see on exam day so you can then prepare effectively and feel confident going into the exam.
To start, you may want to know the number of exam items, the time constraint, the question format, and the topics covered.
The exam takes about 10 hours and is completed in one day. The 10 hours are divided into four testing sessions and three optional breaks. Each testing session lasts up to two hours and contains up to 60 questions. Your optional breaks fall between each testing session. You have up to 100 minutes to divide between the three breaks.
According to the American Board of Internal Medicine, “The exam is designed to evaluate the knowledge, diagnostic reasoning and clinical judgment skills expected of the certified internist in the broad domain of the discipline. The ability to make appropriate diagnostic and management decisions that have important consequences for patients will be assessed. The exam may require recognition of common as well as rare clinical problems for which patients may consult a certified internist.”
Each exam item consists of a brief statement, case history, graph or picture (electrocardiograms, radiographs, photomicrographs) followed by a question and a list of possible options. The question format used on the exam is called the single best answer format. This means some of the answer choices may be partially correct, but you must be able to choose the most correct answer in each question.
Most of the exam items are patient scenarios in which the questions ask about:
- Making a diagnosis
- Ordering and interpreting results of tests
- Recommending treatment or other patient care
- Assessing risk, determining prognosis and applying principles from epidemiologic studies
- Understanding the underlying pathophysiology of disease and basic science knowledge applicable to patient care
Become familiar with the exam blueprint to get a deeper understanding of what to expect on exam day and how to effectively prepare. The blueprint divides the exam content into two sections — medical content and cross content.
Medical content consists of the primary categories. Every question on the exam falls into one of the medical content categories. Cross-content consists of other important categories addressed together with the medical content categories. Not every question on the exam will include a cross-content category.
Visit the ABIM website to find more about the information above, as well as other resources.
Keep this information about the exam easily accessible for reference while preparing your study plan.
Create A Personalized Preparation Plan for the IM Board Exam
Now that you are very familiar with the exam, the next step is to create a personalized preparation plan. Take the time to create a plan that is realistic, goal-oriented and detailed. You are much more likely to hold yourself accountable and do what is needed to effectively prepare if you have a plan. Remember — success favors the prepared!
First, choose the learning modalities that suit you. This may include question banks, flashcards, textbooks, online courses, lectures, and class notes.
Keep in mind the nature of this exam is not to recall memorized information, but to apply the knowledge you have to patient scenarios and choose the most correct answer. Therefore, including a question bank, or Qbank, in your preparation plan is smart.
For example, TrueLearn’s SmartBanks follow the ABIM exam blueprint and question type format so you can practice applying your knowledge to patient scenarios and familiarize yourself with the single best answer question format.
Next, take each learning modality, starting with the one you feel is most important, and work backwards from the exam date to create a realistic schedule to complete it.
The few weeks before your exam date should be a ramp-up period of long preparation sessions to build your stamina. Also, consider incorporating simulated exams (like the ones TrueLearn offers) in a quiet, non-stimulating environment. This ramp-up period will be your final push to sharpen your preparedness, so plan accordingly.
Use the ABIM exam blueprint often! Tailor your plan to cover all of the medical and cross content categories using the learning modalities you chose. Make goals to get through parts of the blueprint in a set time to keep yourself accountable and effective.
Within each scheduled day, be sure to carve out a specific period of uninterrupted time. It may be in your best interest to shoot for as many two hour (or more) time slots as possible since the actual exam is broken into four two-hour sessions. This will help train you to stay fresh and focused for the entire exam.
Consider all facets of your life that may affect this planned exam prep time. You will want to be as focused and uninterrupted as possible for each session to be effective.
No matter how much you plan, life happens — include a “catch up day” to fall back on each week if you happened to miss a planned day. This will keep you on track and avoid falling into a last-minute “cram plan.”
After you finish your preparation plan of action, give yourself a high-five and take a break from it. Come back to your plan later and evaluate whether it’s realistic, if you have given yourself adequate preparation time and if you’re preparing effectively. Tweek your plan as needed and get ready for your start date by organizing your learning modality materials and choosing a dedicated quiet spot.
Assess your Progress and Adjust as Needed
A final key to effectively preparing for the ABIM Board Exam is to monitor yourself closely as you advance through your preparation plan timeline. It is important to recognize what your strengths and weaknesses are at any given time during preparation so you can adjust the plan to address your personal needs.
One way to accomplish this is to schedule simulated exams throughout your preparation process. Pay attention to what is tripping you up, identify the weakness and adjust your plan in an effort to improve that weakness. Then, on your next scheduled simulated exam, circle back to see if your efforts helped.
In addition to the simulated exam, insightful data is necessary to assess yourself and adjust your plan successfully. TrueLearn’s analytics make it easy to identify a number of possible weaknesses such as specific categories, changing your answers from correct to incorrect or spending too much or too little time on each question.
Learn more about how powerful data is essential to effectively preparing for an exam in our previous article Using Analytics to Boost Board Exam Performance.
Identifying weaknesses and adjusting your preparation plan may be overwhelming and hard on your morale at times. Remember you are purposefully trying to find your weaknesses so you can adjust, improve and move on. Choose to focus on what you perceive as your biggest weakness first and tackle the others one-by-one after.
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