How Can I Pass the ABIM Hematology Board Exam?

Always look at the multiple-choice options.  Always ! Always!  

Please !

This is the “question of the year” for all 3rd-year hematology and oncology fellows across the country.  The vast majority feel relatively confident about passing the medical oncology exam while people feel less confident with the hematology exam.  The concern is valid, for good reason.  Predominantly driven by some of the more obscure diagnoses / treatments and related facts with benign and less so, malignant hematology compared to solid tumor oncology.

In the first of a series of posts, I will review the general approach.  Let us begin…

Always begin by looking at the multiple-choice options first. 

Always !  What is the reason you ask?  Because the majority of questions will have either a red herring, a distractor, or get you to think on a tangent and lose the general gist of the question. 

Remember, time is your commodity on the exam ( and perhaps cortisol levels on longevity, which is itself a commodity, but that is a different topic ). Let us think about the time involved with the 2 approaches.  The first approach being reading the question first and thinking along the way and reviewing each of the options. The second approach involves reading the options first, reflecting for about 5 seconds, and then analyzing the question.

You are far better suited looking at the multiple-choice options first and making a much more judicious use of your time. Ruminate on where the question may be headed for 5 seconds, and then read the question. There is a very slim chance you will need to re-read the same question twice with this method. By that point, you know what disease you are likely dealing with, or at least a differential diagnosis of diseases, or what corner of the therapeutic realm you are asked to think about i.e. neoadjuvant, visceral crisis, adjuvant, first-line systemic, refractory / relapsed, palliative etc. 

As always, I will recommend preparing for each section rather than blindly attempting questions.  There are only 2 scenarios in which I would recommend blindly practicing questions:

1-If you really have an itch to do so, and it will not cause stress or anxiety. If you think you will feel upset from not performing well, then do not bother with this. Just get started with studying.
2- Near the end of your preparation, essentially the last few weeks before the exam. You can fine tune some of your weak points. 

Any other time in between, you should focus on reading review articles / guidelines, and then attempting practice questions.  This will minimize your stress and anxiety level and produce high yield learning.

That’s it for now comrades.  Stay tuned…