Prepping for the BOC Exam: How Soon is Too Soon?

We get tons of questions from athletic training about when to start preparing for the Board of Certification (BOC) exam). In most years, we advise students to hold off on any test prep until their first year in the program is in the books. Why? Well, in your first year you should be soaking in everything that you are learning in your classes, clinical experiences, and time spent with your teams. This is your primary job -to learn. So, is now the right time to get started preparing for the BOC exam?

It very well could be right now, but that remains an individual decision. You won’t find any easy answers here, but you will find the questions and competing factors you should be considering as you navigate the best times for you to prepare and take the BOC exam

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When is your brain ready for the BOC Exam?

Succeeding on the BOC depends not only on knowing your anatomy and special tests, but also on staying focused, keeping your cool, and making good decisions over the course of a four-hour exam. One view of when to take the test is when you’ve acquired both the academic skills and the maturity to make the test easier and less stressful.

At this point, you’re not likely to be learning much new anatomy, but you are learning new clinical skills and specific athletic training-related knowledge almost every day. You might recall taking your first course and seeing some questions about topics that you really couldn’t answer at the time. But you could totally answer them now since you’re likely finishing up your final few classes. Or maybe you’re taking your courses after completing undergraduate classes that prepared you for your post-graduate work and were familiar with most of the material on the test. That’s an important difference! You’ll want to be sure to learn what material is on the BOC exam so you can be prepared and less stressed when you do eventually take the test.

This spring or early summer, you might be planning to take the BOC exam. Passing the BOC exam and starting your career as an athletic trainer is a major milestone you’re likely looking forward to. Let’s consider when you first learned to drive. You were probably excited to go to the DMV after you turned 16 and take the driving test. So why is it that 16-year-olds are allowed to drive but 15-year-olds are not? Well, 16-year-olds simply make better decisions. That’s relevant for the BOC exam as well. These tests can be really stressful for many students, who feel that the whole rest of their lives are riding on the results. (Spoiler alert: They really aren’t.) 

In my experience, how happy students are with their BOC exam experience usually has less to do with whether they knew the material they needed to know and more to do with whether they handled that stress well, made good decisions using all the information they did know, and didn’t worry about what they didn’t know. You should honestly ask yourself: how do you perform under stress? Do you have any relevant experience that could translate to test-taking? Are you a good pressure player on the tennis court? Nerves of steel when you perform in public? Or do you think another few months might help you handle the test better? A few months may not seem like a long time to you, but your prefrontal cortex is rapidly developing at this point in your life, and all those executive functioning skills like staying focused, regulating your emotions, and self-monitoring are improving every day.

When is your schedule ready for the BOC Exam?

If you’re reading this, that means you’re already planning on doing some preparation for the BOC exam. That’s great. So you should ask yourself – when do you have the time to both prepare for the test and prepare yourself to be your best self when you take the test.

Most students we work with tend to spend somewhere around three months preparing for the test. Often, that entails weekly meetings, homework, and semi-regular practice tests. That all adds up to a couple of extra hours in your week. Do you have the time to spare? Is all of your time spoken for during the school year with classes, a part-time job, or other responsibilities? Taking advantage of the summer months might be your best bet. 

In addition to finding time to do all the BOC test prep, you should also think about when you’ll be able to prepare yourself for test day. What’s the difference? Test prep is about acquiring skills and strategies that’ll help you on test day. Preparing yourself is all about putting yourself in the position to best use those skills and strategies. Doing your best on the BOC exam requires you to be incredibly well-rested and as relaxed as possible. Sure, you want to be able to budget time to take practice tests and do your homework, but you’ll also want to be getting lots of sleep. And, in a perfect world, you won’t be stressed about other things going on. 

Good test prep for the BOC exam is essential to feeling confident heading into the test, but also preparing yourself can make all the difference.

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