Tips on passing the written radiology boards part II

Earlier this week, I interviewed three residents who successfully navigated the written radiology boards to find out their strategy. Here are the rest of the comments and advice they had for others studying for the exam.

AZ:What subject took the most time?


As far as objectives, Physics. For literature, probably the ultrasound lit


Alternate imaging for sure, because of all the literature.


Physics–it’s a lot to digest and it isn’t something we actively use daily. Actually UNDERSTANDING physics rather than just recognizing the diagrams and reciting the theories takes a bit of time.

AZ:What was the hardest subject to study?


From a tactical perspective, I think Special Procedures, since there was no definitive text or resource other than the previous years residents notes. Physics was a difficult topic, and was the most time-consuming, but at least you knew it was all there in Bushberg or Christensen.


Pathophysio… SO HUGE… and difficult to know what to study from… I think ideally Ettinger + Guyton but impossible to read everything!


Physics (see above) and Physiology (as the objectives are very broad and can be overwhelming)

AZ:What were some of your favorite resources (books, websites, etc)?


Bushberg: physics and RadBio
Blackwell-synergy: pdf’s of VetRad, JSAP, VetSurg
Bojrab: Pathophysiology of small animal surgical disease

There’s a good website from Penn on vascular ring anomalies:
UCDavis Cardio cases:

And when all else fails, or even before you look anywhere eles, use It’s
amazing what’s on that website and how in-depth it can get. Physics, medicine, anatomy,
physio, radbio…


Bushberg! (My favorite, because I love physics although I know it sounds nerdy…) Dyce for the anatomy. Parts of Ettinger for pathophysio. All the literature on line (so cool to have access to all Vet Rad on the computer from home, thank you Dr Biery and the ACVR!, I don’t know how people have been able to do before, having to look for the different issues… 😉 ) The edited ACVR objectives, VERY VERY useful (thank you very much Allison Z and Silke H for all the work put into that).


Ettinger–e-edition (a good source for downloading images into a study format)

Bushberg Physics–not my favorite, but very useful and it does get easier to understand after reading the same paragraph 6 times!

GE Medcyclopedia website — a great source for concise definitions and images to download

Other residents — Made practice quizzes for each other, good support as well–knowing I wasn’t the only one taking it for a second time was helpful!

A just published book: Pathologic basis of Veterinary Disease (formerly Thomson’s special veterinary pathology)–concise, excellent images

By about 3 months prior to the exam I had put together my own study notebook with “cut and pasted images” (jpegs downloaded from websites, scanned images, and images taken from pdfs) along with my own notes written on the same page in eye-catching colors–this really helped me organize the info in a way that fit my learning style (I combined a lot of anatomy / special procedures / physiology stuff together–this gave me a way to remember some of the little facts easier as they were “in context”) For example–I had a section on the kidney that included diagrams of the microscopic structure of the kidney along with the information for special renal imaging studies and what the imaging study would look like in certain diseases and why. I had information about normal bone growth along with the metabolic diseases of bone, I included calcium homeostasis (parathyroid stuff) in this section as well. For me, this system allowed me to synthesize the information without feeling like I was just trying to memorize data.

I’m a very visual learner so I made 3 large posters showing diagrams of how a radiograph is formed–from x-ray tube to film and all the steps in-between–I also did this for a fluoroscopic image formation. These 3 images had most of the basic physics info and was a great way to see the inter-relationships. I hung these posters near my study space and ended up looking at them daily. I have heard posting study sheets on the bathroom wall is helpful as well… one of my friend’s school-age kid can recite the scientific names of most common reptiles because of this! Every minute counts!

AZ:What are your top 3 tips for studying for the written exam?


1. Make a schedule and try to stick to it, planning out your goals for each day or week.
Try to stick to these deadlines. You can revise it as you go, but it’s more important to
cover everything at least once than it is to learn everything there is to know about a
specific topic. So keep up a pace of moving on to the next thing instead of getting
bogged down with MR physics or something like that.

2. When it starts getting really intense, like a few weeks beforehand, take scheduled
breaks. I would exercise late in the afternoon, when I was starting to lose focus at my
desk. Then I would cook a slightly elaborate dinner or watch TV for an hour. Following
this, I could focus for another hour or so before bed. And, it kind of gives you
something to look forward to, and a way to diffuse stress.

3. Most important: the forest. Don’t sweat the small stuff. By remaining focused on
the big picture, you will attain a good overall understanding of the basics, and will be
able to answer most of the questions or at least narrow the answer down. You can do this
by reading different references for the same topic, if it feels like a weak point for you.
Remember, it’s multiple choice, so the answer’s going to be there in front of you. You
don’t need to memorize the all the types of trees in the forest, you just need to know
enough about the forest as a whole to identify the answers that don’t make sense or the
ones that seem the most correct.

Lastly, something that everyone told me which I didn’t believe, and I don’t expect anyone
to believe me, is that as a resident you already know most of the stuff before studying.
Physics and RadBio require knowledge of the basic principles and thus some reading, but
just being a resident will allow most people to answer most questions. I still recommend
spending a few days on the anatomy and physiology objectives, but this is to review weak
points and solidify prior knowledge. The weak points are those things that you learned
once in vet school and haven’t really thought about as much since then, like the names of
the portal branches and the developmental stuff like types of vascular ring anomalies and
the mesonephric duct.


1./ Follow the objectives and don’t go crazy into too many details.
2./ Focus on the recent literature.
3./ Don’t stress and don’t panic, it is not that bad!


1. Know how YOU study best, now is one of the few times being selfish is important ! (notes, images, group, highlighting, study space).

2. Start early to avoid becoming overwhelmed, find a way to consolidate important information in a reviewable format that you can review easily as the test draws near (Trust me–you don’t want to contemplate rereading Bushberg the week before the exam!)

3. Schedule time AWAY from the books–I knew my limit was 5 hours / day of studying, and my best study time was mid-morning and later evenings–by planning breaks and my usual activities around this, I found that the time I did study was much more productive and I didn’t get frustrated thinking studying was taking over my life.

Thanks to Mathieu, Sandy and Lisa for all their helpful advice! Feel free to add to the discussion by posting comments.

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