May 2017 - Kristin Barnes (The Boards)

The Student Perspective: Battle of the Boards

By Kristin Barnes May 25, 2017

Kristin Barnes is a fourth-year student at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry.

After months of preparation, I completed the first of several parts of “the boards,” and I’m happy to say that I passed! I still have a long way to go, but it’s a relief to know the hard work I’m sure many of you are all very familiar with is paying off.

The hardest part of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO), Part I, was an overwhelming process to prepare for. The material to know is seemingly limitless, including everything I’ve learned over three years of optometry school.

What might be news to those who have been there and done that is that the format of Part I of the NBEO changed significantly this year for the Class of 2018. The exam was entirely on the computer and consisted of only 370 questions instead of the usual 500, which allowed for it be taken on one day versus two.

The daunting preparation

Like most students, I started studying around January, which gave me about three months to prepare. Many students utilize different resources, like class notes, textbooks, and prep programs.  At Nova, we frontloaded some of our spring courses to start in December so that we could have a lighter load during March. Even with a relatively lighter course load though, you still have class and lab exams to study for, clinic once or twice a week, club obligations … life doesn’t stop for the boards exam. I had to find time to study for it. It’s not easy to balance everything, but I think staying positive was key in this process.

The months leading up to the exam were a rollercoaster. Sometimes I felt confident. Other times I wanted to crawl in a hole and cry. I was overwhelmed, anxious, nervous, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. When the exam date finally arrived, though, I wished I’d had more time to study. I had to tell myself that I was ready and was going to pass. This exam is supposed to be hard; it’s a national board exam that qualifies you to diagnose and treat patients in the field of optometry. But I felt capable.

Waiting on pins and needles

Finishing the exam was a bittersweet feeling. I was relieved it was over, but I didn’t necessarily feel great about my performance. I wondered what I could have done different to prepare better, if anything. It was hard to wait six weeks to receive my score, so a couple of friends and I went on vacation to the Florida Keys to unwind. It helped, but unfortunately, the stress didn’t end there.

Waiting for word I passed had me very anxious. I didn’t know exactly when scores would be posted online, so the buildup of waiting for them was stressful to say the least. When scores arrived, I remember my heart feeling like it was beating out of my chest, and a hesitation to see how I’d done, since there’s uncertainty involved.  But once I saw that “P” for Pass next to my score, I felt absolutely incredible! I cried of happiness in disbelief. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. 

I’d love to hear how some of you handled that roller coaster of emotions along the way when you were in my shoes, because it was quite the ride for me.

One down, two to go

I still have NBEO Part II in December, and Part III, the clinical exam in North Carolina, can be scheduled before or after Part II. But both of these are usually less stressful than Part I. My fourth-year rotation begins this month. I’m excited to start my “in-house” rotations at Nova’s specialty clinics the first six months, then travel to my chosen externship sites focused on ocular disease for the last six months.

Upon graduation in May 2018, I’ll be looking for an associate position at a private practice with the ultimate goal of having my own practice. That’s been my goal since 16 years old. And as I see it, after passing Part I of the boards, I feel one big step closer to making that dream come true.

What advice would you give optometry students preparing for the boards? 

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