Dear reader: please note the title of this post doesn’t specify which numbers. If you’re seeking yet another “secrets-to-success, how-to-study-for-boards” article… well, this certainly won’t be that.
I want to break down the experience of studying for boards. It combines seemingly infinite information, an ever-dwindling time crunch, pressure from the voices before us asserting this test makes or breaks our careers (and lives), and an inability to convey the challenges of this experience to anyone external to it. It is an isolating, demanding, mentally-unraveling journey.
I invite you inside my experience of studying for boards – by the numbers.
Total days of dedicated study time. On average, this consisted of 12-hour days starting with an early morning workout and finishing by closing my laptop with my eyes burning. If “motivation to study” could be plotted on a y-axis with “days studied” on the x-axis, it would be U-shaped. Starting out is energizing. Finishing up feels like the last mile of a marathon. The middle is where men and women are made.
Cumulative price, in dollars, for board review materials. This varies for everyone, and I refuse to ever write a how-to-study-for-boards article (spoiler alert: everyone does it differently)—but I didn’t vary too much from the classic resources.
Pets that studied with me. The bird is named Cracker, the dog is named Javo – some days they were the only contact I had with another live creature.
More than 5 but less than 10:
Episodes of CFUR. Oh – what’s CFUR? Glad you asked. That’s Crying For an Unidentified Reason. I thought I was going crazy, until my classmate (name omitted in case they want to keep their dignity) texted me the same thing was happening for them.
It would come out of nowhere. A little less sleep that night, wrestling with a topic that is just tricky enough – and that’s it. Head on the desk, tears coming down. Crying hard. It wasn’t the adorable movie scene where the camera zooms in on a lovely lady, her eyes glistening with tears, a single stream runs down her cheek… No, this was ugly crying. Go-through-a-couple-Kleenex crying. These episodes would last about five minutes, then they were done. I wiped my face and resumed where I had been.
There’s got to be a better name for this.
Family members that supported me like there’s no tomorrow. That’s my mom, my dad, and my sister.
My mom gifted her home office to me for 7 weeks. It has an adjustable stand-up desk, lots of light, a big white board, and a comfy chair. It’s quite the setup. She also volunteered some time to help me learn the leukemias – I came up with silly mnemonics for them, taught them to her, and she taught them back to me. The interactive learning was efficient and gave me a slice of human interaction.
My dad is the ultimate support-from-afar. He’s ready and willing to do whatever I ask for, and otherwise lets me do my thing. He trained as a neurologist, so I asked if he could cover different types of strokes with me. It was a great mini-tutor session. He also helped with some reframing: after the exam, I could recall several questions I got wrong. I couldn’t help but look them up (do not recommend). He spent several minutes breaking down why I shouldn’t beat myself up over it—helping my mental framework immensely.
My sister kept me fed throughout dedicated. She made delicious salads for everyone in the house. I would periodically receive texts from her saying she bought me a few bottles of kombucha, or to ask what I need from the grocery store, or to say I can help myself to leftovers. Also, when I would take a practice test—which takes about 5 hours—she would gather up anyone else in the house and head to a coffee shop to help make a quiet environment for me. She was an awesome teammate.
Days spent studying by myself in a hotel leading up to test day. The closest city to me with exam dates in my range was Scottsbluff, Nebraska—a town of about 14,000 and a three-hour drive through the countryside. I worked out early in the morning, grabbed two cups of black coffee from the hotel lobby, put the Do Not Disturb sign on my door, and studied.
On the “con” side, it was lonely. On the “pro” side, it was quiet and it was guilt-free. It was tricky to study around my wonderful family and feel the need to cut conversations short, perpetually request the house to be quieter, and decline offers to join in activities. I turned into a fun-sucker. Hiding away in a hotel room freed me from that self-imposed pressure. I’d recommend it, but not for too long – it really was isolating.
Minutes I spent laughing at this meme. A friend sent this about a week before I took the exam. It hit me. The massive amount of time we spend studying for this, yet it feels like taking a bucket of knowledge from an ocean of material.
Days I did not work out during dedicated period. That seemed to be the right decision— my mental health would have suffered without this. I usually ran without a phone or any music because the quiet was meditative. I lifted harder than I generally would. The endless hours in front of my computer or hunched over a textbook was making my body crave movement.
Weeks to get test results back. It’s a nerve-wracking waiting game. I remember as a kid counting down the days until Christmas: time moving impossibly slow, feeling like the big day would never arrive. Waiting for exam scores is the petrifying, sleepless version of that.