If you’re studying for an ABPN board exam that you previously took and did not pass, the question you confront is how you should prepare this time around. Here’s the first important thing to do:
Review your last board exam’s “Performance Profile,” that is, the list of exam scoring categories. Review your scores on the big categories (listed below). Any category which you failed or which you passed but not by much, should become your study priority.
The thinking goes like this: the topic on which you did not do well (irrespective of whether or not you passed it) includes many questions that you can get right if you focus on preparing for it more deeply. For example, depressive disorders comprise 8-12% of the psychiatry certification exam. So, with 480 questions on the exam, the number of depression questions averages 48. You can pass this exam category by getting as few as 25 questions correct. If this was what happened in your case the first time around, that would mean you can potentially get an additional 23 depression questions correct this time around. This may be all you need to pass the exam.
Contrast this with the average number of questions on the psychiatry certification exam in the following categories: sexual dysfunctions (9 questions), elimination disorders (7 questions), gender dysphoria (7 questions), disruptive and conduct disorders (9 questions), and dissociative disorders (7 questions). Note that on the MOC exam, the number of questions would be slightly less than half as many.
So, in terms of time efficiency and study effectiveness, focusing on mastering the big topics, such as depression in this example, may be your better bet. Otherwise you will have to study (more or less) three smaller topics to give you the same opportunity to add correctly answered questions to your exam score.
I’m not suggesting you ignore the smaller topics but rather prioritize by focusing on areas that provide the largest potential bump to your score. I’m pointing out the potential conceptual error of not focusing on big exam topics that you passed previously. In reality they often provide large additional opportunities to improve your exam score.
These are the larger exam diagnostic categories on the ABPN psychiatry certification exam, listed in descending order of percentage of exam questions:
- Psychotic disorders (8-12%)
- Depressive disorders (8-12%)
- Substance use disorders (7-11%)
- Anxiety disorders (7-9%)
- Neurocognitive disorders (6-8%)
- Personality disorders (5-7%)
- Bipolar disorders (4-6%)
- Trauma-related disorders (4-6%)
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