Spring in Boston. Baseball, the Boston Marathon, running along the Charles River, Eye Ball, final exams, and BOARDS. These are the thoughts that spring in Boston brings to my mind. Every March, hundreds of third year optometry students across the country take part I of the national boards. This is a crucial part of our education. After all, if you don’t pass the national boards, you can’t become licensed to be an optometrist in any of the 50 states. This is the culmination of almost 3 full years in the classroom, with details from every single class being tested. Yes, that class that you said you would “never need to know anything from” is included in that.
Studying for boards generally starts at the beginning of Spring semester in your third year (at least, that’s when I started). It was way more rigorous than any class I had studied for before. I had a light course schedule during this time, but all of my free time was spent studying for boards and even though my course schedule was light, I still had 3 or 4 classes that I had to study for plus clinic hours. So, time management was key. But when everything was all said and done, it was definitely do-able. The exam itself consisted of 2 days, about 8 hours each day, 500 questions total. Physically taking the exam was probably close to as taxing as studying for it, given the long hours involved in it. After taking the exam, we waited about 6 or 7 weeks and finally got our scores. That is when I realized that all the studying was worth it.
Part II of the national boards followed in Fall of 4th year. This part is more clinically relevant and given in the form of cases. It focuses mainly on diagnosis, treatment, and management of ocular conditions. This test was 1 eight hour long day and, if I remember correctly, it consisted of 350 questions. Studying for this consisted of about 1 month of studying, rather than the 2.5 months that I studied for part I. Again, the waiting period to find out our scores was the hardest part, but again, the studying was well worth it.
Part III can be taken any time in your 4th year. I took mine in October of 4th year, so I actually ended up taking this exam prior to taking part II. The exams do not have to be taken in sequence. I decided to take it early for a few reasons. I was leaving for my rotation in Alaska and wanted to finish it before then or else I would have had to have waited until March. Also, I wanted to avoid traveling for the test in the Winter, since that can add more complications. The test itself is at a brand new testing center in Charlotte, NC. I flew down the day before the exam and stayed until the day after the exam, however it is definitely feasible (when traveling to/from Boston) to do it while only staying one night. The exam was very well organized and tested basic clinical skills. The setting was a little bit stressful, but if you prepared well, it was not very difficult. So there you have it, a recap of the three exams that I took in order to be licensed in the US. All 3 are slightly different from one another, but for all of them, if you adequately prepare, they are more than feasible.