Chronicles of a Med Student: The View From the Other Side of Boards

Finally on the other side!
This morning I soaked in the luxury of not having to be up at the crack of dawn, only to stare at the same brachial plexus diagram for what felt like the fifteenth time. Instead I took my sweet time in rolling out of bed at 9am and made myself a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast, and a steaming cup of coffee while watching Gilmore Girls all because. . . .I’m finally done with boards!! The minute I hit submit on my final question, I felt a giant weight lift off my shoulders. On the drive back from my testing center, I was exhausted but still couldn’t contain my excitement at not having to ration out my weekends anymore and to stop planning my life around my study schedule (at least for a little while). No more penciling in time for simple things like grabbing ice cream with a friend, or seeing my family through a crack in the door as I tried to focus on reviewing the coagulation cascade. I’m still in the middle of experiencing the “re-emergence” phenomenon, but while this is all still fresh in my mind, I’d love to impart some wisdom on preparing for and taking those dreaded board examinations.
First of all, it is perfectly normal to be scared, intimidated, overwhelmed and everything in between. At least acknowledging that you have those feelings is a step in the right direction. Pretending like it’s “no big deal” or underestimating this monster of an exam might be the worst mistake anyone can make. Now to channel those negative feelings into a constructing a plan is the next part of the battle. What helped ease my anxieties (at least when I was first starting to study), was to make a solid study plan. For example, my goal was to go through each of my chosen resources 3 times at a minimum. I simply distributed all the content over the amount of time that I allotted myself to study. A super helpful tool I used to do this was Cramfighter (this is not a paid advertisement—I just found it to be incredibly useful). This tool walked me through making my schedule and the distributed the work for me. It’s very intuitive and user-friendly but best of all, it kept me on track! Another tip is to pick 3 (or 4 at the most) strong resources and stick to them. It might be tempting to try and study everything that your classmates are using but I found it more helpful stay with what worked for me and not jump around.
I also had to decide when to buckle down and begin studying. I started off slowly in January doing a few USMLE World questions a day along with reviewing some pages of First Aid for the USMLE. Then I gradually increased my load and added in resources as needed. By mid-March, I was in full study mode and had shifted much of my attention to board review and eased up on my schoolwork. However, take into account that each school is different and some programs save the heavy hitting subjects like cardiology or neurology for last, and this could affect your study plan.
Another thing to consider is that pushing through months of nonstop studying can lead to serious burnout. The way I prevented this was to schedule days off (gasp, I know). This might be a foreign concept to a lot of medical students, but I know that I start dragging my feet when I don’t take any time for myself. I used this time to indulge. My “day off” usually ended up being my cheat day in terms of eating junk food, but I also hung out with friends, went on day trips to go hiking, baked cookies, etc.
It can be tough to remember that medical school is a marathon and not a sprint. I cannot stress how important this is for school but it also goes for studying for board exams! By the time I made it to the end of this marathon, I was beyond exhausted, and I still am a little. Luckily I have a month off before my 3rd year rotations begin so I’ll be more than ready to tackle a whole new chapter of this crazy journey. For now, it’s back to breakfast and binging Netflix!

Adelle is a 4th year medical student who loves to hike, bake chocolate chip cookies, and doodle on the corners of papers.