Neurology Board Prep and Study Plan
Dr. Nikesh Bajaj Shares Insight Into How He Prepared For The RITE And Neurology Board Exams
A 2013 study found, “a significant correlation between performance on the RITE and performance on the ABPN Certification” for 2 consecutive years. Simply put, science says the better your RITE score, the higher your ABPN score and chance of being a board-certified neurologist. That term sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Becoming a board-certified neurologist? That is the goal and we all will get there.
Neurology Board Pass Rates
The ABPN reported a 77% neurology board exam pass rate (711/926) in 2018 and an even higher pass-rate for first-time takers (635/722 [88%]). Over the last 5-years, the cumulative first-time pass-rate is stable at 88% (3042/3454). This means that with some effort, organization, and dedication, there is a high probability you will pass this exam on your first attempt.
As you navigate this world of residency, RITE exams, and eventually ABPN Neurology board exams my advice is to have a plan in place and stick to it. This will ultimately create less stress when exams approach.
If you feel like you don’t know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place. Upon conversations with many colleagues who passed boards on their first attempt, there are a few key patterns to success:
- Know yourself.
- Make an organized plan and stick to it.
- Stay confident.
- Avoid study burn-out.
When I say ‘know yourself’, I mean exactly that. At this point, if you’re prepping for RITE and Neurology Boards, you’ve already completed all of your COMLEX or USMLE examinations, and you know what study strategies worked and what didn’t.
Neurology Board Prep Tips
Regardless, there are some common study tools that board-certified neurologists will always say worked for them:
1. Having a comprehensive review guide that covers Neurology broadly.
Many recommend a book like “Laughing Your Way Through the Neurology Boards” or “Comprehensive Review in Clinical Neurology: A Multiple Choice Question Book for the Wards and Boards” by Cheng-Ching. I’ve heard primarily negative feedback for First-Aid for the Neurology Boards.
2. Having a neurology board-specific question bank.
TrueLearn’s SmartBanks for the RITE and for Neurology Board Certification are a great starting point. The questions align to the blueprints of the actual exams so you know you are focusing the right amount of time on each category. Give their free RITE trial a try.
3. Pacing yourself.
You know what strategies worked or didn’t work for you, but remembering that it’s a marathon not a sprint is going to be key. Neurology is a broad topic with a large breadth of information, and saving studying for the last minute won’t be effective.
Neurology Board Exam Breakdown
When creating an organized plan, the best place to start is with the test-makers outline. Each year, the ABPN releases a breakdown of what will be tested. Here is the 2019 version.
|Number of questions: 400|
|Neurologic Disorders and Topics|
|1) Headache and pain disorders||4-6%|
|2) Epilepsy and episodic disorders||8-12%|
|3) Sleep disorders||3-5%|
|4) Genetic and developmental disorders||6-8%|
|5) Vascular neurology||8-12%|
|6) Neuromuscular diseases||9-13%|
|7) Movement disorders||8-12%|
|8) Demyelinating diseases||7-11%|
|9) Neuroinfectious diseases||2-4%|
|10) Brain and spinal trauma||2-4%|
|11) Neuro-ophthalmologic and neuro-otologic disorders||2-4%|
|12) Metabolic diseases, nutritional deficiency states, and disorders due to toxins, drugs, and physical agents||3-5%|
|13) Neuro-oncologic disorders||1-3%|
|14) Behavioral neurology and neurocognitive disorders||7-9%|
|15) Psychiatric disorders||5-7%|
|16) Autonomic nervous system disorders||1-2%|
|17) Normal structure, process, mechanisms, and development through the life cycle||1-3%|
|18) Neuroimmunologic and paraneoplastic CNS disorders||1-3%|
|Number of questions: 400|
|Physician Competencies and Mechanisms|
|A) Neuroscience and mechanism of disease||22-28%|
|B) Clinical aspects of neurologic disease||17-23%|
|C) Diagnostic procedures||17-23%|
|E) Interpersonal and communication skills||2-3%|
|G) Practice-baed learning and improvment||2-3%|
|H) Systems-based practice||2-3%|
You should already know the major topics that will be covered. It should be noted that Histopathology is not obviously stated above, and while RITE examination usually requires histopathology review, the ABPN board examination does not. In general, those who have taken both RITE and ABPN Boards feel that the RITE exam is harder and more trivial, and studying for the RITE means studying for the RITE, whereas studying for ABPN Neurology boards feels more like studying to be a good neurologist.
The third major rule falls back to knowing yourself and taking care of yourself. Make a schedule and try your best to stick to it. Although, if you’re trying to study after a long rough day in clinic, or while the family is around, you’re generally going to be better off relaxing so you don’t feel burnt out. In general, if paced well, for every 7 days, at least 1-2 days should be spent away from your study materials.
Take that time to catch up on life, spend time with loved ones, and get outdoors. Science says time in nature is good for your problem-solving skills: a 2012 study in PLoS One found that “four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers.”
- Juul D, Flynn FG, Gutmann L, et al. Association between performance on Neurology In-Training and Certification Examinations. Neurology 2013;80:206–209.
- ABPN 2018 Annual Report
- ABPN Pass Rates
- Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P (2012) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
Written By: Nikesh Bajaj, DO
Barrow Neurological Institute – Sports Neurology and Traumatic Brain Injury Fellow