As University undergraduates adjust the margins for their final papers and hunt down their dust-collecting textbooks in preparation for next week’s final exams, second-year medical students have already been buried under a stack of books for more than a month now.
Although the University Medical School’s year ended almost a month ago, most second-year students have made studying their summer job. Many students say they spend between eight and 10 hours a day studying for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, more commonly called the “boards.”
A requisite to continue their medical education, all students must pass their boards before they begin their third year.
The test covers two years’ worth of material, and 97 percent of the students pass.
Despite the overwhelming success rate, students maintain there is still quite a bit of anxiety surrounding the exam because of the amount of material.
“It’s a bit of fear of the unknown,” explained Jim Suel, president of the second-year class. “There is an enormous amount of information, which they can potentially draw on. There’s a concern that the test the computer generates for you on that day may or may not score out with your strengths.”
Not just passing the test, but passing the test with a good score can be one of several important factors for getting into a desired residency program, Suel said.
Along with letters of recommendation from the dean, clinical rotation grades and student involvement, board scores can be an important component for acceptance into a residency program. Many medical schools do not give grades, operating on a pass/fail system.
If students fail or perform poorly, they have the option to take the exam again, said Marilyn Becker, the Medical School’s student academic support coordinator.
This year, the test format is adding an extra dose of anxiety. For the first year, the board exam is being administered on computers.
“You spend your whole life taking pencil-and-paper tests,” said Erin O’Fallon, a second-year student. She explained that students are a little more nervous because the format is so unfamiliar.
O’Fallon, who takes her boards on Friday, said a number of new rules will add a greater amount of stress. During the eight-hour exam, students cannot bring wristwatches, pencils, paper, food or drink into the testing room. Test takers will also be video taped for “irregular behavior,” O’Fallon added.