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ABEM Qualifying Exam: Think SMARTer Not Harder

The ABEM Qualifying Exam is coming up: October 30 – November 4, 2023. Are you ready? Preparation requires discipline, effective study strategies, and a comprehensive understanding of the material. We compiled a list of 7 study tips for the ABEM qualifying exam:

  1. Create a SMART Study Schedule

Just like goal-setting should be SMART - so should your study schedule. 






Establish a structured study schedule that allocates time blocks for specific organ systems or disease states rather than just setting time aside to “study.” 

  • Know the Structure of the Exam

The ABEM Qualifying Exam consists of 305 single-best-answer, standard multiple-choice, paragraph-form questions. Answer sets contain 1 correct and 3 or 4 incorrect answers. The exam is split into 2 sections (books). Each section allows for 3 hours and 10 minutes. The 2 sections are divided by a 1-hour scheduled break. 

ABEM creates a blueprint based on the EM model and distributes the weight of the exam content as follows: 

Medical Knowledge, Patient Care, and Procedural Skills

  • 1.0 Signs, Symptoms and Presentations: 10%
  • 2.0 Abdominal & Gastrointestinal Disorders: 7%
  • 3.0 Cardiovascular Disorders: 10%
  • 4.0 Cutaneous Disorders: 3%
  • 5.0 Endocrine, Metabolic & Nutritional Disorders: 5%
  • 6.0 Environmental Disorders: 2%
  • 7.0 Head, Ear, Eye, Nose & Throat Disorders: 4%
  • 8.0 Hematologic Disorders: 3%
  • 9.0 Immune System Disorders: 2%
  • 10.0 Systemic Infectious Disorders: 7%
  • 11.0 Musculoskeletal Disorders (Non-traumatic): 3%
  • 12.0 Nervous System Disorders: 6%
  • 13.0 Obstetrics and Gynecology: 3%
  • 14.0 Psychobehavioral Disorders: 2%
  • 15.0 Renal and Urogenital Disorders: 3%
  • 16.0 Thoracic-Respiratory Disorders: 7%
  • 17.0 Toxicologic Disorders: 4%
  • 18.0 Traumatic Disorders: 9%
  • 19.0 Procedures & Skills: 8%
  • 20.0 Other Components: 2%
  • Total: 100%

Acuity Frames: Target (± 5%)

  • Critical: 30%
  • Emergent: 40%
  • Lower Acuity: 21%
  • None: 9%

Physician Tasks

  • Pediatrics: 8% minimum
  • Geriatrics: 6% minimum

Use this as your guide to determine how much time to devote to studying each element.

  • See one, do one, teach one 

You know the old medical school adage. It’s not only applicable to clinical training but didactic as well. Teach the material! Explaining concepts as if you were teaching them to someone else can help you grasp complex ideas more thoroughly and ensure mastery of the subject.

  • Don’t overthink it

Sometimes the most difficult part is learning how to answer the questions based on the standard of care and not real-life scenarios or novel therapeutics. We can tend to overanalyze the vignette. Read the stem carefully. The answer may lie within the question itself and is the horse, not the zebra.

  • Practice makes perfect: Use a Qbank That Slays Your Weak Points 

Ensure your Qbank is adaptive and trained to deliver true-to-test questions that drill your weaknesses with detailed answer explanations to help you lock in learning as you go. Hippo Education’s QBank has over 1925 ABEM-style questions to help prepare test-takers for the exact content they’ll see on the exam. It’s trained to account for confidence in each answer. This paints a more realistic picture of what you’ll need to work on, like having a personal trainer for the brain! Your individualized fitness study plan is then designed based on performance data.

  • Mnemonic Devices

Use mnemonics, acronyms, or memory aids to recall complex information more easily. For example ASTHMA: can be used to recall asthma treatment — Adrenergic agonists, Steroids, Theophylline, Hydration, Masked oxygen, Anticholinergics. Or since we’re EM-minded maybe the mnemonic we’re all familiar with: 


Salbutamol 2.5-5mg NEB 

Hydrocortisone 100mg IV (or 40mg prednisolone PO) 

Ipratropium bromide 500mcg NEB 

Theophylline 5 to 7 mg/kg loading --> 0.5 mg/kg/hr 

Magnesium sulfate 2g IV over 20min 

Escalate care (intubation and ventilation)

  • Treat Yo’ Self 

Make small attainable goals. Take short breaks during study sessions to recharge. Regular exercise can improve focus and memory retention, so incorporate physical activity into your study routine. Reward yourself after achieving study milestones. Prioritize sleep and rest. A well-rested mind retains information more effectively.

  • Select high-yield study material

You want quality board review material that is evidence-based, true-to-test education, engaging, and has a pass guarantee. Hippo Education’s EM Board Review fits that bill and more. Not only is a PASS guaranteed. Laughs are guaranteed too. Hippo’s lectures don’t sit around for years and years. Study guides and videos are always evolving with additional content and updates being added to the ever-expanding database.

Hopefully, you found this information helpful and/or it served as a good reminder! If you need an amazing EMBR, EM Qbank, or additional resources, please visit hippoed.com/em.

Published by Jen Swisher, PA-C and Melissa Orman, MD October 18, 2023
Jen Swisher, PA-C and Melissa Orman, MD