Study Strategies for General Surgery Residents Preparing for the American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination: What to Keep, Discard, and Adopt.

Alison Pletch, Maine Medical Center
Wendy Craig, Maine Medical Center
Joseph Rappold, Maine Medical Center
James Whiting, Maine Medical Center
Christopher Turner, Maine Medical Center


OBJECTIVE: Undergraduate and graduate education research has stratified study strategies from low-utility to high-utility with respect to durable learning. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of these evidence-based learning strategies among surgery residents in preparation for the American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (ABSITE).

DESIGN: A 23-item survey was administered during individual interviews. It assessed whether they had a study plan, and the average length and frequency of their independent study, both during the year and the month prior to the ABSITE. Data were also collected on their primary resources and study strategies. Residents rated their usage of those strategies based on a 5-point Likert scale.

SETTING: Maine Medical Center, an academic tertiary care center located in Portland, ME.

PARTICIPANTS: All residents in the Department of Surgery.

RESULTS: Residents (n= 23) intensified their preparation for the ABSITE in the month prior to the exam compared to the remainder of the year, adopting study plans (87% vs 61%, p = 0.53) and increasing the time spent studying (median, 420 vs 120 minutes per week, p < 0.001). Primary resources used were textbooks (65%), ABSITE review books (26%) and online question banks (9%). All residents (100%) often or always used testing, but fewer residents often or always used spacing (24%), both considered high-utility strategies. Most residents (60%) often or always used highlighting, considered a low-utility strategy. There were no relationships between study strategies and ABSITE scores.

CONCLUSIONS: All residents use self-testing as a study strategy. Most underuse spacing and overuse highlighting. Further research is needed to establish the relationship between these study strategies and ABSITE scores.