After your initial application has been approved, you are formally released to take the written exam. Keep in mind, though, the written exam is likely to be the most time-intensive stage in terms of preparation, so it’s never too early to start preparing.
- The exam is computer-administered during specific windows of time at multiple sites across the country. The ABCN web site lists upcoming exam windows. It also provides contact information should you have any questions about the process.
- The AACN study guide outlines the general topic areas covered by the test and provides good study tips.
- The ABCN Candidates’ Manual gives the official word on the ABCN process, and even lets you see the exact forms that are used by evaluators so that you know what they are looking for.
- The BRAIN website is likely to be the single best free source of study-ready material. The BRAIN materials include sample study schedules, dozens of topic area outlines, thousands of flashcards and hundreds of mock exam questions.
- A book published in late 2013 provides study materials specifically geared towards the ABCN written examination. It’s not free, but it is written and edited by the experts: KJ Stucky, MW Kirkwood, J Donders (Eds, 2013) Clinical Neuropsychology Study Guide and Board Review. New York: Oxford University Press. In full disclosure, a portion of the proceeds from that book are directed to the authors and to the AACN.
- A few BRAIN folks also published a book with a chapter devoted to this step: Armstrong, K., Beebe, D.W., Hilsabeck, R., & Kirkwood, M. (2008). A Step-by-Step Guide to ABPP/ABCN Certification in Clinical Neuropsychology: How to Become Board Certified Without Sacrificing Your Sanity. New York: Oxford University Press. In full disclosure, a portion of the proceeds from that book are directed to the authors and to the AACN.
- Working with a study group is another great opportunity for studying, and the BRAIN coordinators can help you get started: Join a Written Exam Study Group
Your Task and Tips for Success
Format and Content of the Test
The written exam is a multiple-choice test comprised of 100 questions with a 2.5-hour time limit, plus 25 additional “pre-test” items with additional seat time. There are 25 added exam questions that comprise a block of “pre-test” items and these items will not be considered for the passing/non-passing score. The pre-test items will be considered for psychometric calibration of the test items. The exam is either passed or failed; 300 and above is a pass; 299 or below is a fail.
The exam is designed to tap a broad spectrum of knowledge relevant to neuropsychologists, rather than to cover any particular area in depth. The ABCN Written Examination consists of questions in content areas defined by the core knowledge base domains described in the Houston Conference guidelines for education and training in neuropsychology. These include Generic Psychology and Clinical Core domains (e.g., methodology, statistics, lifespan development, psychopathology, professional ethics, etc) as well as the foundations for the study and practice of clinical neuropsychology (e.g., functional neuroanatomy, conditions affecting CNS functioning, specialized neuropsychological assessment techniques, professional issues, etc). The exam includes questions across the developmental spectrum, from childhood through the adult years. A few of the exam questions will have more salience for adult-focused practitioners (e.g., some of the classic brain-behavior relationships are likely to be seen more frequently in adults than kids). However, other questions will have more salience for pediatric-oriented practitioners, and the bulk of the exam content is drawn from general neuropsychological or neuroscientific topics relevant to all practitioners.
What You Should Be Studying
Most people supplement the materials on this site with some textbook reading, although exclusively utilizing texts is unlikely to be the most efficient means to prepare for the exam. Which texts will be most useful for you will depend in large part on your background knowledge. Many BRAIN members have found Blumenfeld’s book Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases particularly useful as a guide for neuroanatomical concepts. Keep in mind that Blumenfeld’s book covers material in more detail than you will need to know for the exam, especially with regard to some of the chapters that don’t really address cognition (e.g., chapter 6 – motor pathways). The first chapter of A Compendium of Neuropsychological Tests by Strauss, Sherman, and Spreen has been highlighted by many BRAIN members as an excellent overview of relevant statistical concepts. Others have lauded the first section of Lezak and colleagues’ Neuropsychological Assessment for its broad coverage, while still others have their personal favorites. It is important to note that you do not have to read a dozen books. Many successful candidates have used one or two “core” books, the BRAIN study notes, and bits and pieces of other references as needed. Also consider a new book specifically geared towards the ABCN written examination: KJ Stucky, MW Kirkwood, J Donders (Eds, 2013) Clinical Neuropsychology Study Guide and Board Review. New York: Oxford University Press.
In addition to studying available notes and texts, we strongly suggest completing the 30-item practice exam provided as part of the AACN study guide. BRAIN members also have constructed three full-length mock exams that roughly parallel the real thing in content coverage to give you a sense of what to expect. We recommend using the questions to guide your studying, but don’t panic if you struggle on them — they are not subjected to the same design process as the real exam and are not meant to precisely predict how you will do. In addition to utilizing the available mock exams, we also recommend that you create your own sample questions, which can serve as an excellent preparation exercise in and of itself.
Most BRAIN members find that a crucial step to preparing for the written exam is joining and participating in a study group. We recommend joining a small group (i.e., 3-5 people) that “meets” weekly, either in person if it’s a local group or via telephone if it’s made up of non-centrally located members. To join a group, all you need to do is contact the BRAIN’s written exam study group coordinator, Janine Tiago (JTiago37@aol.com). Experience suggests that a mix of pediatric and adult-focused members is preferred at the written exam stage to ensure exposure to expertise covering the age spectrum. We suggest meeting for a total of 14-16 weeks prior to the exam date. Sample study schedules, including specific topics covered each week, are available on this website. During weekly conference calls, group members should discuss the assigned reading materials (e.g., Chapter 1-3 of Blumenfeld), asking each other to clarify difficult concepts and/or reviewing some element in more detail to help encode the information. Along with clarifying concepts, these calls make each member accountable for completing the weekly reading assignments. Given the multiple demands most psychologists deal with on a daily basis, it’s too easy to put additional studying on the back burner. Publicly committing to the process appears to increase the success rate – no surprise!
One additional advantage to forming these study groups is that you will know other people when you are actually taking the exam. You will be surprised how much more relaxed you can feel if you are able to talk to friends before the exam, rather than sitting there nervously awaiting the test. Additionally, you will have an opportunity to debrief with your study buddies after the exam. These colleagues might also be useful in maintaining a little peer pressure to help you submit your work samples when it’s time to begin the next step of the process.
AACN Mentorship Program
Historically, the AACN had developed a mentorship program for applicants who have had their credentials accepted by ABPP/ABCN. This process is now merged with the mentorship provided through BRAIN. For more information, please fill out this AACN form.
After The Test
Look over the materials about Practice Samples so you can give yourself plenty of time to complete all the tasks from case selection to allowing your mentors time to review your work.