ASA Member
10+ Year Member
Feb 4, 2009
Attending Physician
I read past threads with interest in determining how to prepare for oral boards, so now that the Spring exam is over I thought people could provide their own strategy. I know the advice from year to year is consistent for the most part, but I figure the benefit of a thread like this outweighs the annoyance of any repetition.

Practice is important, but knowledge is the foundation. I started off not knowing the answers to 50% of the questions and the other answers unable to express verbally despite the knowledge. Once I had improved knowledge on some significantly weak areas(Pediatrics/Pain) the ability to answer the questions was improved. So I disagree with people who say it isn't a 'knowledge test' because I think some people preparing for oral boards might interpret this in the wrong way.

Despite the lack of knowledge starting to practice early is important. It is difficult looking stupid in front of people when doing mock exams, similar to having a friend proofread a english paper(personal fear). However, better friends critique and point out flaws than the examiners. You can spend weeks reading, delaying practice exams, and the first time you speak it will still sound awkward, so don't delay starting mock exams. For me, the inability to answer questions early on helped burn the information in my head.


Ho - The question/answer format is something I enjoy. The chapters have a lot of repetition in terms of the information which helped it burn into my brain. I utilized an old one purchased from a friend that was more than adequate.

Yao - A book I wish I had spent more time reviewing in residency. The book is dense, and I had to read many chapters multiple times to start retaining, but the case based scenario and question answer format was fantastic for me. If you read the information and can't answer the question, it isn't stuck in the noggin yet, read it again. I'd often read a section from Ho and reinforce the information with Yao. The link is for the latest edition, I used the prior(red book).

Board Stiff III - Some of the book is silly and the DVD is awkward to watch. The book is simple, but that is the beauty of the book since a lot of the exam consists of simple concepts. Going thru the book helped me recognize a deficiency in knowledge/ability to verbalize answers to fundamental concepts.

Word File - Similar to pgg I created a word file that had responses to common issues(BP, Oxygenation, Renal Failure, Transfusion, Swan, TEE, etc). I would add to it day after day and I'd try to review it multiple times per week before going to bed.

Reference Textbooks - Utilized for subjects that I had significant deficiency in and the above references were inadequate.

ASA Practice Guidelines - Easy to skim, high yield. Fasting guidelines, swan placement, ION, nerve injury,etc


Old ABA Exams - Priceless.
Ho Exams - Not the value of the ABA exams, but force you to discuss some fundamental issues.


Friend - My friend from residency and I started doing mock exams over FaceTime/Skype starting in mid January. We probably averaged around four times a week(8 exams between the two of us), sometimes more and sometimes less. It would take around 80-90 minutes to do a session(2 exams and input). If knowledge was inadequate for us on a issue, one of us would read on the subject and create a short word file summarizing the information. By April we had a giant collection of word files summarizing a variety of issues.

ABA Examiners - I did 7 examinations with current ABA examiners at my current and former training programs. It is as close to the real thing you can get to the actual day. I think everyone is nervous during the exam, but by doing these practice exams it helped minimize that anxiety. Their input and suggestions had a significant impact on the way I handled the actual exam.

Hope this helps.


15+ Year Member
Jan 11, 2002
Maybe I was just fortunate in the particular scenarios that I was tested on but it struck me that they were all scenarios of cases that I had done in residency (and many of them multiple times over). I spent a lot of time reading on what I think were outlier topics; in retrospect if I were to have to study for the exam again, I'd just work on fine tuning the expression of my rationale for assessing/managing patients.

At its roots, the exam seems to cover basic knowledge. It's the need to express yourself clearly and be logical under pressure that flusters most, it seems. If you're doing well on written exams, you have the knowledge...now just form the habit of giving a good defense for your decision-making and learning how to avoid common pitfalls of the exam (e.g. not knowing when to say "I don't know" and not answering the question asked).


5+ Year Member
May 9, 2010
Attending Physician
A lot of people I know who failed multiple times with good backgrounds like cardiac fellowships eventually used the site "just oral boards". What they do is mock orals over skype and go over your deficiencies. They also have live mock orals around the country which is part of different packages you may order from them. Not only do you need knowledge, you need to quickly answer a question logically and appear to be competent in front of your examiners.

What they teach you is to know what questions will be asked so you can automatically give an answer and specifically explain how you approach a problem such as hypoxemia, hypotension, failure to wean from bypass, ...

Ho was excellent also which focused more on knowledge. I think putting the two courses together would be helpful.

Not sure about Jension or the guys from Miami that wrote Board Stiff.
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Aug 19, 2012
Resident [Any Field]
Great thread..I did the exactly same. Just want to emphasize one thing again and add other.

Some people say it's not a knowledge based exam. Don't agree with that. You need great deal of practical knowledge to pass this exam.

Second, read through some good topics of ASA refresher course (May be for past 3 years) .

Gern Blansten

Account on Hold
10+ Year Member
Jun 21, 2006
Attending Physician
Great thread..I did the exactly same. Just want to emphasize one thing again and add other.

Some people say it's not a knowledge based exam. Don't agree with that. You need great deal of practical knowledge to pass this exam.

Second, read through some good topics of ASA refresher course (May be for past 3 years) .
A friend of mine swore by the ASA Refresher course lecture books for both written and orals. I never used them, but it makes sense. The lectures are usually up to date (definitely as up to date as the test questions) and many of the examiners are also the ones who give the refresher courses. So, if you follow the thinking presented in the refresher courses, you will probably rarely be off track.
I like that the OP mentioned the Yao and Artusio book. I think it is under-rated as a review for the oral boards. It is very well written and lends itself to that exam with very pertinent case scenarios.
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