Prepping for the ABIM Exam: an Internist’s Candid Perspective (Part V–The Score Is In)

The score breakdown arrived in the mail a few weeks later. The breakdown listed the number of questions in each section (cards, heme-onc, etc.) I answered correctly, followed by the percentile compared to other test-takers. Surprisingly, I did the best on oncology and rheumatology (I bet my rheumatology fellow friend I’d score higher than her on that section, but lost—she got every question right). And I definitely need to improve my nephrology and infectious diseases.


The results of the test definitely boosted my confidence as a primary care physician. There are definitely diagnoses that I’ve made because of my preparations for the ABIM exam. Moreover, being board-certified means that I’m part of a long line of physicians stretching from Sir William Osler to the present day Gregory Houses of the world who, according to Wikipedia, “specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illnesses in adults.” It is certainly a heady task, but board certification means that we are ready to tackle the challenges.


Ultimately, taking the exam is about a switch in perspectives. For most of my test-taking career, I’ve looked at each exam as a roadblock impeding my trajectory forward. I memorized and regurgitated facts and minutiae and did practice questions ad nauseum only so that I could get the highest possible score, thus ensuring my place in a prestigious and well-compensated profession.


Of course, this is the wrong way to look at things. Now that I’m older and wiser compared to the little college snot who took the MCAT a decade ago, I realize that the ABIM exam is about accumulating a body of knowledge and decision-making capabilities so that we can ultimately do right for our patients. Think about all the people you’ve helped over the past few years, and think about all the people that you will help over your decades-long career, and it will make studying for the test much easier. Indeed, any knowledge gained potentially translates into saved lives.


Well, it was nice chatting with you. I’m taking it easy for the next several years, until 2022—when it’ll be time to get re-certified.


You can find Dr.Feng’s entire series on prepping for the ABIM exam and other posts by Dr.Feng on the Knowmedge Blog. You can find also additional topics and questions directly from the Knowmedge Internal Medicine ABIM Board Exam Review Questions QVault. _______________________________________________________________________________

Charles Feng is an internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente. He will be starting an allergy / immunology fellowship at UC Davis in the summer.

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