What happens on the day of boards?

At PathDojo, we focus mainly on preparation for major pathology tests such as the American Board of Pathology Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Exams. However, having taken and passed the Board exams, we also understand that knowing what to expect in the test environment can go a long way to making you feel at ease and ready to climb and conquer the Everest of pathology exams.

Below we have some great insider knowledge of the non-content parts of the testing experience:

The American Board of Pathology exam is taken over one or two days: one if you are taking just anatomic or clinical pathology, or two days if you are taking both. The testing site is in a nice office suite. It’s a single room with several proctors. Each person gets their own cubicle and there is plenty of space so you don’t feel cramped.

The room is quiet, except perhaps from an occasional sigh of frustration (or relief) from one of your neighbors. Earplugs are available if you want them. Those sighs of frustration will help you know you're not alone, and many people don't know the answers to the more esoteric and detailed questions you will get. Rules such as no food, drink, gum etc. are strictly enforced; restroom breaks are allowed. Fist fighting and cell phones are prohibited. Anxious crying/rocking is discouraged.

The test itself is on a computer, but not all questions are entirely digital. You will be provided with a microscope, scrap paper and a writing utensil, and may you may have additional testing materials such as papers with preprinted blood bank panels to do your cross-outs on. All the answers you give will be on the computer. All questions are multiple choice (just like the PathDojo pathology question bank).

The anatomic pathology section starts at 7:30, and has about 50 glass slides and about 25 virtual slides on the computer. These slides are (usually) not rare diagnoses. Lunch break is one hour. If you are at the Tampa center, there is a mall across the street and several restaurants where you can eat lunch and celebrate after the exam. There was a Panera right across the street in Tampa. it got a little busy, but there was enough time to go there, eat lunch, and return in more than enough time to settle in again before resuming testing.

After lunch you start the one to two line factoid, quiz your brain off, 150 or so multiple choice questions, without pictures. If you’ve been preparing with question bank software (like PathDojo), it should not be too bad. It will be tough but won’t be too excruciating. After another break, there is a another set of about 120 questions. The test lasts until about 5 pm.

The clinical pathology section starts at 7:30 AM the next day. The first section consists of about 100 practical CP questions, with test result interpretations, blood bank panels etc. Then you get a break, and then a section of about 130 one to two line factoid type questions. The third session has pictures. The test is over around 4 pm.

It's a truly tough exam. Unless you are a complete genius with a photographic memory you will feel like you failed. Everybody feels that way. This author certainly did, but ended up passing. And, if you do fail, it’s not a big deal.