Last updated on August 8th, 2023
We’ve had tens of thousands of physicians take our board prep courses and this is what I learned about the weeks waiting for exam results: there is a weak relationship between how you think you did on the exam and whether you passed. Hundreds of times, exam-takers have emailed me feeling terrible about how “horribly” they did, only to find out that they passed.
It’s normal to leave an exam feeling uncertain or discouraged. This occurs because:
- Often the biggest category of exam questions are the ones you feel unsure about; you think you know the right answer but you’re not 100% certain. This can leave you feeling the entire exam is a gray zone of possibly right / possibly wrong answers. You will get most of these questions right, of course, but you can’t know how many that will be.
- Exams are designed to have some proportion of questions whose answers are virtually impossible to know. I have never heard of anyone getting a 100% score. That’s not a “bug,” it’s a feature of exam construction.
- Exams include about 10% of questions that don’t count towards your score. They are questions being assessed by the boards for possible inclusion in future exams. These questions are often of lower quality, being unclear or confusing, and, thus, will not make the final cut. In the meantime, you are faced with answering them and they are not identified as “under assessment” questions on your exam.
- It’s easy to forget that you can get a lot, a lot, a lot of questions wrong and still pass, certainly 25% and up to 30% wrong. And, of course, you don’t get a “gold star” for having a high score. You just need to squeak by.
While waiting for your board results, know that you’re not alone in your feelings of uncertainty. Nearly all exam-takers feel the same. It’s a big club.
If, by chance, your results are not what they need to be, here’s what to do if you fail your board exam.
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