We share the top 5 test-taking problems students and vets experience during veterinary boards — and how to fix them
After years of studying and hard work, all your efforts in vet school can be boiled down into one test. So, to say that a lot rides on your NAVLE scores sounds like an understatement. Veterinary boards are a lot of pressure, whether you’re a first-time test-taker or up for recertification. It’s not fun for anybody, but it’s even more intense if you’re a “bad test-taker.” But bad test-taking doesn’t make you a bad veterinarian. And it doesn’t need to spell the end of your career.
So, how can you tell if you’re a bad test-taker? One common sign is when you realize that you could have gotten a missed question right after reading the answer and explanation. Now, if you read the answer and don’t have that “aha” moment, it might not be your test-taking skills. You might not be studying efficiently, which is another problem altogether.
At STATMed Learning, we work with students and veterinarians to identify — and fix — bad test-taking habits and minimize those missed opportunities. If any of these five common problems sound like you, we can help.
5 Ways Students and Vets Struggle with Veterinary Boards and Other Exams
Working Memory Overload
Working Memory is a component of your short-term memory. Also considered your “mental chalkboard,” this is where we solve problems. Your working memory can “fill up” when reading a boards-style question because there’s so much information to sift through. Once the working memory is full, new data overwrites old data. Unlike when your phone storage fills up, your brain doesn’t notify you when you’re out of bandwidth. This leads to old but essential data being rewritten. This can cause the loss of crucial clues that make wrong answers feel right. We help you “install” a system that limits the burden on working memory to adjust for this.
Flawed Reading Sequence
Methodology matters, especially for a bad test-taker. Your approach to how you read and work through questions is your “interface.” There’s no single right way to work through boards-style questions, although we want to minimize the burden on your working memory. If you find yourself struggling with getting the correct answer, there may be some tweaks you can make to optimize your process. First, you need to assess your current system. Where do you start? How do you navigate from there? What do you do with the answer options?
To make the most of this process, always start by reading the prompt —the last sentence stating the precise question. Then, read the passage, keeping the prompt in mind, and identify three key clues from the passage itself. Finally, read each option one by one and compare it to the specific question asked in the prompt.
If you think you need to know everything to get the question right and are basically fine when solving less-robust, first-order questions, you have fallen into the “Binary Test-Taking Mentality.”
If this is where you struggle, our goal is to shift to a “Partial Knowledge Test-Taking Mentality.” With this shift, we learn to use what we know while avoiding the prediction trap and rule-in trap. We help you embrace using the components of what you know to rule out wrong options and choose the safest from the remaining answers.
Abusing the Prompt
We’ve already touched on the strategy of reading the prompt first, but we’ll dig a little deeper into the best ways to do that. The prompt is the most critical sentence in the question. The prompt is typically the last sentence in a vignette and explicitly states the question being asked. While you’re working through a problem, refresh your memory, and check the prompt. If you’re already doing that and still find getting the correct answer is a struggle, you may be experiencing inaccurate retention issues. This can manifest by forgetting the prompt almost immediately, reducing it to its most basic elements, or mutating it into something completely new.
Twisting Key Clues
When going through boards-style questions, you’re asked to call upon the knowledge you already have and use that information, along with the data supplied in the question, to reach the correct answer. You can — and should — infer or draw logical conclusions from the clues presented. Too often, bad test-takers twist the information instead. Twisting the information can look like drawing illogical conclusions and usually requires inserting or deleting words, ideas, or concepts.
To help fix this problem, be on the lookout for thought patterns that lead to adding information and thus twisting, like when you use phrases like “what if” or “but maybe.” These phrases indicate you are getting ready to add hypothetical information that leads to twists.
So, only draw conclusions that are universally applicable to the clues presented in the passage to avoid twisting.
If any — or all — of these problems sound familiar, we can help. Check out our STATMed Boards Workshop to learn more.