This is the second in a series of three posts on boards (check out the last one, which covered how to choose resources and set up a study plan).

In this post, we’ll discuss a strategy for how to answer the multiple choice questions you’ll encounter on boards, and in our next post we’ll take a look at some other helpful hints and comments from real students who just finished boards.

Whether you’re a “good” test-taker or not, it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll address the questions on the boards. Although we don’t have access to the most recent boards questions, we do know (from the NBME itself) a few things about the question structure. Most of the questions are in “vignette” style, which means there’s a little clinical story in the stem of the question, followed by a bunch of possible distractors.

Here is a useful strategy for answering boards questions. It may be a little different than the way you normally  approach test questions – so take a look. Kaplan studies have shown that students who don’t do well on board questions focus on the answers to a question, rather than on the stem. So our strategy involves honing in on the information in the stem, then moving to the answers:

1. Read through the stem of the question, assembling key clues into a mental “snapshot” of the patient.
2. Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked.
3. Allow yourself a few moments to think; try to anticipate what the answers might be.
4. Compare the given answers to your own anticipated answers.
5. Mark the answers that seem to be the best.
6. Rule out the answers that don’t account for all of the findings.
7. Mark the best answer.

It’s important to remember that USMLE questions are professionally written (unlike some of the questions you may have encountered in medical school!). They are not out to trick you! There will be easy questions, and very difficult questions, and everything in between. If a question seems easy, it’s easy. Accept it and move on – don’t second guess yourself. More often than not, when students go back and change an answer, it gets changed to the wrong answer. So don’t second guess or overthink things. Finally: remember to answer all questions – there’s no penalty for guessing!


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