How to Study for Internal Medicine Boards
The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Internal Medicine Certification exam is a high-stakes standardized exam testing clinical reasoning, use of diagnostic tools, and treatment decisions. The exam tests your knowledge on common and rare diagnoses expected from a board-certified internist according to ABIM standards.
To set yourself up for success on the ABIM board exam, it is important to start early and practice often. In this post, we will discuss how best to study for your internal medicine board certification exam.
Set a schedule.
The ABIM certification exam dates are in August every year. Since it’s the start of the year, why not get started with making a timeline? UWorld and MKSAP, two commonly used question banks, each contain over 1200 questions. You want to have time to do all the questions at least once.
Start early! Many residents go on to fellowship or start working immediately after finishing residency in July, which undoubtedly is a busy time with moving and learning a new job. I recommend starting your studying in the January-February time frame. For the first three months, it is important to go through at least half your questions bank so if you’re not getting the scores you need, you will still have time to look into other resources (tutors, online or live courses, alternate question banks, etc)
Below are some tips to building and sticking to a schedule:
- Block off time in your calendar for studying. This can be as little as 1 hour every evening starting February 1st to go through board study questions.
- Set weekly deadlines for yourself for questions and content. If you start your study plan in February, for example, a reasonable goal is to do 60 questions per week. At the end of the month, check in with your progress and see where you are, and set aside time to catch up if you are behind.
Familiarize yourself with the ABIM website.
The ABIM Internal Medicine exam website has great resources that are important to look at before you start studying so you can get an idea of what the exam will look like and content the exam focuses on. This is publicly available information. For example, you can find the Internal Medicine Certification Exam Blueprint here, which outlines approximate content percentages along with specific topics within each disease category. There are also questions on the ABIM website where you can familiarize yourself with the question interface and shortcuts, which can be found here.
What study tools should I be using?
The most commonly used question banks are MKSAP and UWorld. They have different styles of questions and explanations but both hit on the content you need for the ABIM board certification exam. MKSAP has books along with the question bank; your local residency office or library may have a copy of the books, which have the questions in the back, if you’d like to preview that format. You can preview practice UWorld questions on their website to review the question format, which is similar to the Step 1 style of questions. Ultimately, either resource will get you the information you need for the ABIM board certification exam.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your question bank:
- Use questions as a study tool. Each question has explanations as to why all answer choices are correct or incorrect. Read these even for the questions you get right! Do these question sessions in the untimed/tutor mode so you can learn from them.
- Go through questions by subject area (e.g., go through ALL the infectious disease questions, then ALL the cardiology questions, etc). This helps you master each subject area.
- When you’re using practice questions, use test-taking strategies to help narrow down your answer choices. Take a quick, <5 second glance at the answer choices before reading the question. If you feel that looking at the answer choices first throws you off, an alternate strategy is to read through the question stem and answer it in your mind, and look for that answer in the choices. It is important to read the question in its entirety for a hidden “not” or “unlikely” in the stem.
- When you get a question wrong, use your resources (UpToDate, MKSAP books, PubMed, etc) to read more about the issue. This will not only broaden your knowledge for your internal medicine board certification exam, but also keep you up to date on information you can use in your clinical practice.
- Know your study style. If you like reading content material to supplement your question bank, MKSAP books are a good resource. Plan to read 1 book every 2 weeks if you want to get through all content. If reading through textbook-like material is not your style, at minimum you should review the Board Basics book which provides a concise outline of MKSAP content.
- Create timed “practice exams” through your question bank using questions from all content areas. You can do this at minimum every 3 weeks to simulate a timed environment and pace yourself. There are not practice tests for ABIM internal medicine boards like there are from NBME for Step 1, so this is a great substitute. Always reach out for help if you aren’t seeing the scores you need.
Studying for the internal medicine board certification exam can be a nerve-wracking time, but if you start early and stick to a timeline, you’ll identify your weaker areas and be able to prepare better for them. If you need any help along the way to define a study strategy for your ABIM certification exam, contact or call us! Our ABIM tutors are happy to help your studying process.