IM Boards Survival Guide: How To Best Prepare for Internal Medicine Boards

Kelly SeagravesInternal Medicine, Personal Education

Med-Challenger, Internal Medicine Survival Guide, IM Boards

Internal Medicine Board Exam Survival Guide


It’s time to begin studying for the Internal Medicine Certification exam, and you’re wondering where to begin … Let us help you with that! This fast and dirty internal medicine study guide is full of tips, tricks, and valuable insight into the art of internal medicine board prep and the inner-workings of the exam itself. After all, this is the only thing standing between you and your new career.

While grasping the full magnitude of this implication may be overwhelming at first, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. There are many resources available to guide you towards success. You can do this!

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1. Understand the Structure of the Exam

Step one: Know what material is going to be covered in the exam. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) publishes an exam blueprint detailing what material is represented on the examination, with the percentage assigned per content category. Keep this in mind going forward to better focus and guide your study sessions.

Allergy and Immunology2%
Cardiovascular Disease14%
Dermatology3%
Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism9%
Gastroenterology9%
Geriatric Syndromes3%
Hematology6%
Infectious Disease9%
Nephrology and Urology6%
Neurology4%
Obstetrics and Gynecology3%
Medical Oncology6%
Ophthalmology1%
Otolaryngology and Dental Medicine1%
Psychiatry4%
Pulmonary Disease9%
Rheumatology and Orthopedics9%
Miscellaneous2%
TOTAL100%

The exam also addresses other critical areas in conjunction with the above medical content, known as “cross content categories”. Keep in mind that not all questions have a cross-content classification, but it would serve you well to familiarize yourself with the categories as well.

Critical Care Medicine 10%
Geriatric Medicine 10%
Prevention6%
Women’s Health 6%
Clinical Epidemiology 3%
Ethics 3%
Nutrition3%
Palliative and End‐of‐Life Care 3%
Adolescent Medicine 2%
Occupational Medicine2%
Patient Safety2%
Substance Abuse2%
Ophthalmology1%
Otolaryngology and Dental Medicine1%
Psychiatry4%
Pulmonary Disease9%
Rheumatology and Orthopedics9%
Miscellaneous2%

The exam is composed of multiple choice questions with one correct answer, most of which describe clinical scenarios. These types of case-based questions will require you to make a diagnosis, identify and issue necessary tests and interpret test results, recommended treatment, and understand the underlying pathophysiology of disease applicable to patient care.

2. Know What to Expect on Exam Day

It’ll do you good to familiarize yourself with the exam day schedule ahead of time. Knowing what to expect & when to expect it helps ease anxiety and ultimately perform better.

ActionDurationQuestion Count
RegistrationVaries
TutorialUp to 30 minutes
Instructions and Pledge of HonestyUp to 10 minutes
First SessionUp to 2 hoursMaximum of 60
BreakOptional: Up to 100 minutes
Second SessionUp to 2 hoursMaximum of 60
BreakOptional: Up to 100 minutes
Third SessionUp to 2 hoursMaximum of 60
BreakOptional: Up to 100 minutes
Fourth SessionUp to 2 hoursMaximum of 60
Optional SurveyUp to 10 minutes
TotalApprox. 10 hours

3. Plan Out a Study Strategy

Take the time to assess the content you need to cover, and portion it out into manageable increments. Once you’ve grasped the breadth of the material, schedule times throughout your day dedicated solely to the topics and sections you’ve chosen to focus on. Setting a strict schedule and mapping out a plan of attack from the get-go will not only help you manage time and stress, it also ensures that you cover all relevant material.

Starting with topics that are familiar to you will help get you started and reinforce what you know, as well as familiarize you with your study habits

Pro Tip:
10-14 hours per week of study time for three or more months is highly recommended.

In order to build a more solid knowledge base, spacing out your study sessions and going over the content multiple times is optimum. This is considered far more effective than cram sessions and crash courses.

4. Find a Study Guide

Feedback from successful examinees suggests that seminars are not very useful. Instead, we reccomend you choose a board review course that challenges you and requires your active participation.

Exposing yourself to practice exams early on will warm you up to the content you should expect to see on the exam, as well as help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure your study guide is mapped to the ABIM Blueprint and offers case-based questions that emulate the Q&A format seen on the actual exam.

Things to keep in mind when choosing an IM board review course: As far as board review questions and practice exams go, consider quality as well as the quantity. Insist upon a review that offers thorough, detailed, case-based questions that require involved study and active reading. This is the kind of quality content you’re most likely to retain long-term.

Look for lasting value. Once certified, you’ll have annual MOC and CME requirements to fulfill. The ability to earn continuing medical education credits while working through a review product is one of the main added values to pass-guaranteed board reviews.

Med-Challenger is a leader in online medical education, offering the #1 internal medicine board review. Boasting over 1,700 detailed, challenging case-based questions following the ABIM exam blueprint, built-in CME & MOC resources, and a 100% pass guarantee, you can’t go wrong.

4. Practice & Re-Practice

I start this tip off with a word of advice: As you work your way through review courses and practice exams, expect to fail. Answering incorrectly may be one of the most effective learning tools at your disposal, as it requires remediation, which in turn reinforces learned information and improves recall through active engagement.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”Henry Ford

Never expect to get by knowing only the bare minimum. Simply working your way through all content areas relevant to the ABIM Exam Blueprint will not be enough. In times of stress, you don’t rise to the occasion – you fall to your highest level of preparation. Go back – do it again. The goal is to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Identifying your knowledge gaps early in the process frees up time for the actual study and review.

5. Identify & Attack Weak Areas

Once you’ve worked your way through the entirety of your study material several times and familiarized yourself with what areas you are and are not confident in, it’s time to focus on the relevant material with which you are least comfortable and familiar.

Consider leaning on an adaptive assessment / prescriptive learning platform. With adaptive learning, not only are you assured to properly utilize all materials available, your time is spent exactly where it needs to be spent with every use, thereby producing a more effective individual review, with no wasted value, all in less time.

And remember: Always keep the ABIM Exam Blueprint in mind!

6. Treat Your Body Right

Preparing for IM boards will push you to your limits – you will be stressed, burnt out, and oftentimes exhausted. But like they say: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In the long run, it won’t do you any good to sacrifice your physical and mental well-being.

At least every 3 hours, allow yourself a break to relax and unwind. Stay hydrated throughout the day. Remember to eat and nourish your body with healthy meal options. Exercise will help maintain healthy circulation and oxygenation to your brain. Take some time to meditate. And perhaps most importantly, maintain a healthy sleep schedule, especially the week before your exam.

6. During the Exam

The ABIM board uses multiple-choice questions that have one best answer. These items have a “stem” that presents the background information necessary for answering the question, which usually comes at the end of the stem. Be sure to read the stem carefully. As you proceed, make note of information that seems especially relevant. Read every answer option carefully. First use the process of elimination to filter out what you know is incorrect, and go from there.

Focus on addressing each question individually. Take a deep breathe every now and then.

If you are completely stumped by a question or unsure you answered correctly, flag it and come back later. That having been said, also consider that the first thoughtful answer an examinee makes is usually the best answer. Second-guessing yourself is not likely to help your performance unless you fully realize that you’ve misread or misunderstood the question. This will help you maximize your time.

In Conclusion …


We understand the pressure you’re surely experiencing knowing the fate of your future career rests on a comprehensive understanding of challenging exam material and peak test performance. Here’s the bottom line: You need to ace this exam, & we at Med-Challenger can make that happen. Our Internal Medicine Board Review Course has everything you need to practice the various test scenarios you will face during your exam. Begin your full free trial today!


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