Detective searching for clues and advice for board exams.

Advice for Board Exams: Don’t Get Derailed by Mystery Clues

← Back to the Blog

Photo: David LaSalle, Instructor at STATMed Learning

By David LaSalle, STATMed Learning Instructor

Let the Mystery Be

I see it all the time — a client will read the prompt and vignette for a board exam question, and as they do, they’ll notice one, two, three, or even four clues that they recognize and have associations with. It seems like everything’s going well. But then — the Mystery Clue appears!  So, here’s some of my best advice for board exams: let the mystery be.

Advice for Board Exams

Here’s why: The client will inevitably come across one piece of information that is unfamiliar. Maybe they’ve seen it before. Perhaps it means something specific, but they just can’t quite remember. And then the entire question becomes about that one Mystery Clue. They worry it like a dog with a bone, thinking, “If only I could recall what this one detail means, it would unlock this entire question!” They poke. They prod. They dig. And they scratch. But if they don’t remember what it is, there’s nothing that will change that. In the meantime, all of the work they’d done previously, like collecting good clues, has fallen by the wayside.  

Our clients then go into the answer set flustered, frustrated, and with no coherent plan in mind. Typically, chaos ensues, and more often than not, the wrong answer ends up on top.  

All of this has a simple, painful solution: if you can’t remember what it means right now (no matter how important it seems), you simply can’t use it. You have to leave it behind. Instead, my advice for board exams: focus on and use all of those other boring clues that do add up. It’s not as sexy as cracking that mystery, but it maximizes your chances of choosing the correct answer. Which is kind of what it’s all about, right?


Interested in more test-taking strategies and pitfalls? Check out STATMed’s Boards Workshop to learn more.