Newletter Masthead
September 1998 · Vol. 23, No.2, pp. 8-9

Preparing for the Forensic Psychiatry Board Examination

How to create an effective study plan

Emily Keram MD, Chair, Early Career Development Committee

This article is intended to assist candidates for the Forensic Psychiatry Board examination in identifying useful review materials and in preparing a six to eight month study plan. These recommendations reflect my experience and that of several of my colleagues who have recently taken the examination.

The examination requires serious preparation. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology sends registrants a list of the topics that will be tested. I found this to be an accurate reflection of the content of the exam and recommend that you refer to this list during your course of study to make sure you have reviewed each area in some depth. The Board does not supply a list of the specific landmark cases that will be tested (see below).

In order to determine when to begin your course of study, first decide which materials you will review and make an extremely generous estimate of the time you will need to complete the task. My colleagues who had completed a fellowship in forensic psychiatry studied an average of six months. Those without fellowship training prepared for six to twelve months. I made a tactical error in deciding to prepare on weekends and evenings, outside of my full-time work. I found it difficult to maintain the stamina required for intensive study, as I did not budget enough down time. In retrospect I advise taking several days off each month to focus exclusively on your review.


AAPL Board Review Course

I strongly urge all candidates to take the AAPL Forensic Psychiatry Board Review Course, given the three days immediately prior to the annual meeting. The course provides an excellent overview of the major topics in the field as well as a brief review of approximately one hundred landmark cases. I found it helpful on a variety of levels. The eight hundred-page syllabus was useful in organizing additional study as it further delineates specific topics and provides bibliographies for many of these. In the weeks leading up to the exam the syllabus, with annotations made over the preceding months, became a manageable condensation of the material. Course participants also receive audiotapes of each session.

The course decreased my anxiety level by providing a strong introduction to the material and by helping me to formulate a study plan. Additionally, the enthusiasm and excellence of the faculty reinforced my original interest in the field. Register early as the review course was sold out last year. For those who will not be able to attend, the syllabus is available through Professional Books, Inc., (800) 210-7323. Audio Transcripts sells the tapes, (800) 338-2111.

With respect to textbooks, I found that Rosner's "Principles and Practice of Forensic Psychiatry", 1st edition, provided an adequate review of the majority of topics delineated by the ABPN. As this book is currently out of print I urge you to make arrangements now to borrow it from a colleague or library. I also recommend Gutheil and Appelbaum's, "Clinical Handbook of Psychiatry and Law", 2nd edition. AAPL's "Ethics Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry" are printed in the AAPL directory and are available through main office. The AAPL office also makes available its list of recommended readings for fellowships in forensic psychiatry. This is an invaluable resource for identifying sources in areas in which you require additional review. All textbooks are available from Professional Books, Inc., which has a non-searchable web-site with descriptions of some of their titles,


Landmark cases

The landmark cases are heavily represented on the exam. The majority of these are identified in the review course. Additional cases can be found in prior issues of both the Newsletter and the Journal . Do not neglect these sources, as it can be somewhat rattling during the examination to be presented with several unfamiliar cases. The Newsletter had an excellent article by Phil Meredith in the January 1998 issue on how to read cases. The full texts of the landmark cases identified by AAPL are available through the main office. Make flashcards of all of the cases reviewed. I found it helpful to exchange these with colleagues as I learned from their summaries as well.

Although it is not often discussed, many candidates, especially those in their early career, find the financial outlay involved in this process to be somewhat daunting. I recommend making an estimate of costs for the test registration, review course, materials and travel expenses as soon as possible, and a plan to pay for these over a several month period. This will help to reduce unnecessary sources of anxiety during your study time.

I found having a study partner to be invaluable. In addition to providing academic support to each other, we also shared what was at times a very isolating experience. If you don't live near another candidate, try to find a partner at the review course or through AAPL. My study partner lives in another state, but this did not pose a problem.

In selecting a test site avoid traveling across time zones. I recommend traveling to the test city several days before the examination to provide a place for concentrated studying and to allow you to become familiar with the exam site.

Finally, do not become discouraged during the examination if you find it to be difficult. This was certainly my experience. Remember that with all of the preparation you have done you will be successful.

Best of luck to the 1999 candidates.