Home » Essential Tips for Excelling on the ABIM Certification Exam

Essential Tips for Excelling on the ABIM Certification Exam

9 min


Internal medicine doctor presenting multiple graphics of internal organs.


Essential Tips for Excelling on the ABIM Certification Exam 


It’s time for the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) exam! This certification (or recertification) is the last and often critical step in devising the next phase of your career. There are a wide variety of resources and study aids when it comes time for ABIM certification, but we’ve distilled this massive undertaking down into a few key concepts. Whether Elite Medical Prep is part of your process or not, we hope the following tips can guide you to success! 


Know Yourself and Your Exam Success to This Point

To get to this point, you have taken at least the SAT/ACTs, MCAT, USMLE Steps 1, 2, and 3, in addition to in-service exams during your internal medicine residency training. How did you perform on these exams? When you did well – what factors contributed to this? Was it your steady study pace, stretched out over the course of months? Or was it your focus on areas you know clinically you are weaker? Beyond the logistics, you know the exam environment (do you wear a t-shirt or a sweater?), the nerves the night before test day, and the best combination of carbohydrates and caffeine to keep you buzzing along in an 8-hour marathon. You know what’s coming and you can be prepared. 

As with other exams in your training or career thus far, question banks have the most success in preparing most individuals for success on the ABIM Board Exam. MKSAP is one of the most widely used and accepted question banks for the internal medicine board certification. In addition, MKSAP provides algorithms to approach high-yield concepts, concise yet pointed reviews of disease pathophysiology, and current literature to support evolving practice patterns in internal medicine. In addition to a robust question bank with thorough discussions of rationale for incorrect answers (another key component of a strong study companion), MKSAP also provides virtual flashcards and visual diagnostic tools for a varied studying experience. Question after question can become dry if you’re studying for weeks to months on end. Having these supplemental study tools keeps the material fresh and presented in another unique manner. Exposure to ABIM Board Exam topics through different media – questions and images – gives you an opportunity to connect the dots in new and different ways, further solidifying your mental framework for a disease process.  


Hammer Home the Basics

To be an excellent generalist, you need to have a firm understanding of basic concepts. Internal medicine board certification encompasses an intimidating scope – outpatient and inpatient medicine in general practice as well as an array of subspecialties that internists frequently encounter – rheumatology, gastroenterology, dermatology, cardiology, pulmonology and neurology amongst numerous others. Concepts we see as internists more frequently, will be more readily present on the ABIM Board Exam. It is less important to learn about every zebra diagnosis we encounter. If we can effectively rule out major disorders, then the natural answer will just as easily appear. These high-yield topics are covered well by MKSAP with specific explanations of how to think about a clinical problem. If they don’t have the typical signs and symptoms of iron deficiency with a normal hemoglobin electrophoresis, you might just be able to rule out the rest of the causes of microcytic anemia and make the diagnosis of sideroblastic anemia!


Be a Sleuth for Subtlety

Patients we see each day do not always fit into perfect illness scripts, and the ABIM Board Exam mimics this in some ways. The internal medicine board exam is created to ensure you can differentiate between similar disease processes and get your patient the appropriate follow-up and therapy. It is just as important to understand what is in the question stem as what is being purposefully left out. There is a reason they are giving you a completely normal urinalysis – the creatinine elevation is unlikely to be related to glomerulopathy or a vasculitis syndrome where you might see proteinuria or hematuria, respectively. Why do they mention that a patient was recently put on an antibiotic? They’re checking to see if you understand the interactions of their medications with that antibiotic or possible adverse effects that may have resulted. Familiarity with the style of the questions and buzzwords used with certain diagnoses is important for the ABIM Board Exam. Pattern recognition becomes evident with repeated question exposure, and doing the questions grouped by organ system or specialty can further elucidate these subtleties. 

You’re Ready!


This is not quite like the prior exams you have taken up to this point. The stakes are different and the time you have to dedicate to studying is often divided with clinical duties. Know that this is not a hindrance – every patient encounter will add something to your knowledge base for the ABIM Board Exam. If you can read a question on the exam and reflect on a patient experience, you are highly likely to be thinking along the path to the correct answer!


If you need help along the way, contact or call us! Our tutors are happy to provide guidance and aid in your studying process. 


For Search:

Title: All About the ABIM Board Certification Exam | Elite Medical Prep

Description: Ace the ABIM internal medicine board certification exam. Prepare to succeed at your certification exam. See frequently asked questions and exam basics

Need additional
help with an exam?

Elite tutors are qualified, professional, and 100% online.

Schedule a Consult

About the Author

Deepa Ramadurai, MD

Graduating from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Biomedical Sciences and a minor in the Spanish Language, Deepa Ramadurai finished her undergrad in 2012. Going…

Read More