By Neelam Mistry, MD
Each year, as thousands of physicians begin studying for the internal medicine boards, an age-old question comes up: Which question bank (Qbank) should they choose? This is a good question because no two Qbanks are exactly alike, no matter which exam you are studying for.
This post will go over the UWorld American Board of Internal Medicine Qbank. We’ll be taking a close look at the pros and cons of the UWorld QBank by examining its user interface, question style and format, links to resources, and other features you’ll want to be aware of when making an informed decision on which resource to use.
Likeness to the ABIM Exam
On the ABIM website, you can find a test simulator function, which will give you a good idea of how the real ABIM exam will look. Based on this tool, you can feel confident that UWorld’s user interface mirrors the ABIM exam. In addition, the UWorld interface allows you to cross out answers, highlight text, take notes, and access a calculator, just like the real exam.
The ABIM Exam Blueprint, published by the ABIM and available to the public, displays the approximate percentages for the different subject areas covered on the exam (see below). Although there may be slight variations on your specific exam, this guide is accepted as the most accurate indicator of what to expect on exam day.
The distribution of UWorld’s questions closely approximates the ABIM percentages, typically falling within 3% of the percentages outlined in the ABIM Blueprint. The exceptions to this are the Hematology/Oncology questions (7% of the total questions on UWorld vs ~12% on ABIM’s Blueprint) and Nervous System questions (~8% on UWorld vs 4% on ABIM’s Blueprint).
Question Style and Format
Now let’s get into the UWorld ABIM QBank’s question difficulty, question length, and quality of explanations:
UWorld’s questions are slightly more difficult than those on the boards, but that’s certainly better than having them be too easy. On the boards, the information you need is generally given to you in the question, so there isn’t much filling in the blanks like in clinical practice. In contrast, some of UWorld’s questions are vague, so you may need to read between the lines to get to the correct answer. This has its pros and cons. On the plus side, UWorld QBank makes you notice details and master your content so you can answer the vaguer questions. However, the downside is that, sometimes, it seems “unfair” to have to read between the lines, which is not how it will be on the actual boards.
In addition, many of the UWorld paragraphs that precede the question are longer than those on the boards. This will force you to become more efficient in your question reading. But, if it takes you slightly longer to get through a UWorld question block than the time allotted on the ABIM exam, don’t worry too much.
Where UWorld excels is in the explanations for the answer choices. UWorld provides in-depth explanations with helpful charts and diagrams for each question in the ABIM QBank. For example, if you do multiple GI questions in a row, the same charts and graphs will come up in similar questions so that you can thoroughly review the content and consolidate the information. Also, colorful illustrations demonstrate the concepts you are reviewing, making good memorization aids.
Moreover, the explanations nail down the “why” aspect for each question, which is great for gaining a deeper understanding of important concepts. You can also find a summary statement at the end of each explanation and links to references for supplemental reading. Even though UWorld doesn’t come with accompanying books, the explanation paragraphs with illustrations, charts, and graphs are comprehensive enough to provide an equivalent.
On that note, we want to touch on one disadvantage of UWorld compared to other ABIM QBanks: no accompanying books. If you are someone who absorbs content through reading and enjoys the MKSAP books, you might be a bit disappointed to know that, currently, no books accompany the UWorld ABIM QBank. However, reading book content doesn’t fit everyone’s learning style, and many of us find it challenging to read chapters in a book after spending 12+ hours at work. If you prefer a more active learning style, be assured that UWorld’s QBank does provide great explanations for both the right and wrong answers.
Another thing that sets UWorld’s QBank apart is its valuable individual performance data. It’s straightforward to see how many questions you have left, what percentage you got correct, and more. There are currently over 1,200 questions in the UWorld QBank, and the main Performance page acts as a dashboard to monitor your progress. It also features a bell curve that illustrates how your scores rank compared to others using the ABIM UWorld QBank.
Within the Reports section of the Performance tab, you can see scores for specific practice areas. For example, although many residency programs are inpatient-heavy when it comes to clinical time, a large portion of the ABIM exam is focused on outpatient medicine and emergency room care. As such, you can see the breakdown of how you do on questions within different practice settings; this breakdown can help you identify areas that deserve more of your attention when studying.
You can also see your performance sorted by Systems. There, you can sort by the headers: % Correct, % Incorrect, and p-rank (percentile rank, or where you fall compared to others). Once you have answered at least half of the QBank, this section becomes very helpful because you will start seeing patterns/trends based on your own correct/incorrect percentages and your p-rank. This can also help you focus on areas where you’d like to improve.
How Does UWorld Stack up to MKSAP, Another Popular ABIM QBank?
The American College of Physicians’ MKSAP is another popular choice for ABIM board studying. MKSAP questions are slightly easier, with little to no reading between the lines. However, there are fewer ways to look at metrics, and MKSAP’s website is less user-friendly than UWorld’s. In addition, the diagrams/charts are not as helpful as they mainly consist of lists.
As mentioned previously, the benefit of MKSAP is that you receive books to learn content that isn’t familiar, in addition to the questions. This is something to keep in mind if reading is essential to you.
The UWorld QBank is a well-curated and easy-to-use resource for studying and provides good coverage of tested subject area content. Although UWorld does not have supplemental books, it does provide thorough explanations and summary statements, as well as links to resources at the end of each question.
If you used UWorld for your USMLE studying and found it helpful, you will likely love the UWorld ABIM QBank too. To succeed on ABIM boards, you will need to put in the necessary time and effort, and it is our view that UWorld can help you achieve that success.
If you would like expert help integrating the UWorld ABIM QBank into your ABIM study schedule or need further assistance studying for your exam, you can contact an Elite Medical Prep ABIM tutor, who would be happy to help.