We’ve heard about optometry’s National Board exams throughout our time at NECO, but always in terms of the future; as a first and second year, Boards were something that I didn’t think I would be facing for quite some time. But now, in November of my third year, Boards suddenly feel imminent. We take Part I of the National Board exams, Applied Basic Science, in late March of our third year, and parts II and III, Patient Assessment and Management and Clinical Skills, during our fourth year. Part I, however, is the section that requires the most commitment in terms of direct studying and preparation, which is why even though it is still months away, I am already feeling the pressure to begin reviewing. This first section includes questions on anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, immunology, microbiology, pathology, optics, and pharmacology, and to succeed on the exam we will need to review what we have learned in class in all of these areas.
Luckily, we students we are not alone in preparing for the Board exams. In addition to our individual studies, we have the option of taking a Part I Boards preparation course that runs for three weekends during fall semester of third year. During the live course, instructors come to NECO and give a comprehensive overview of the major sections of the exam. They also give us an outline of a study plan that they recommend we adhere to, and two review books that summarize and explain key information for the test. In addition, their website provides hundreds of review flashcards and quiz questions to better prepare us for the two-day exam.
After completing two out of three live review sessions and beginning to review flashcards for different Part I topics, I’m starting to realize that reviewing for Boards is a long-term commitment. It’s very different from studying for exams, or even from studying for the SATs or OATs. It’s a long-term investment; as we’ve been told several times, studying for Boards is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, glancing at the Boards review book or thinking about the immense amount of material covered by Part I of Boards. Instead of sliding into worry, however, it’s important to instead approach Boards like a problem that needs solving by combining a definitive study timeline with knowledge of how we as individuals prefer to study. The good news is that we have technically already learned all of the material that will be covered on the test for our school courses; the important thing to do now is to review the concepts and reinforce what we have already been introduced to. It’s crucial that I begin studying now, but it’s even more crucial that I lay out a long-term study strategy for myself immediately. I need to study and continue to learn and review concepts whenever possible; even current course material or concepts I am introduced to in clinic may be elements that could be included on the Board exam.