How to Fail the BCEMP Exam

The Board Certified Emergency Medicine Pharmacotherapy (BCEMP) exam, offered by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, represents a significant milestone for healthcare professionals specializing in emergency medicine pharmacotherapy. This rigorous certification process is designed to validate a practitioner’s knowledge and skills, ensuring their capability to provide optimal medication therapy in emergency situations. While aiming for success is the natural course, today, we adopt a contrarian approach by highlighting the pitfalls that could lead to failure. This reverse-psychology method aims to illuminate the path towards effective preparation by understanding the common mistakes to avoid.

1. Misunderstanding the Exam’s Scope and Requirements

Understanding the full scope and requirements of the BCEMP exam is crucial for candidates aspiring to certify their expertise in emergency medicine pharmacotherapy. The Board of Pharmacy Specialties offers a detailed overview, including eligibility criteria, content areas, and a candidate’s guide on bpsweb.org, which serves as an essential resource for aligning preparation efforts with the exam’s demands. The exam encompasses a wide range of topics, from pharmacotherapy interventions to toxicological emergencies, requiring not just memorization but the ability to apply knowledge in complex clinical scenarios. Familiarity with these details ensures a targeted and effective study plan, addressing the depth of knowledge and breadth of topics expected.

Underestimating the breadth of topics covered in the BCEMP exam can lead to significant preparation gaps, potentially impacting exam performance. A narrow focus on certain areas while neglecting others can leave candidates ill-equipped to handle the diverse and complex questions posed. The comprehensive nature of the exam, designed to reflect the real-world challenges of emergency medicine, necessitates a thorough and well-rounded approach to study. By leveraging resources like the candidate’s guide from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, candidates can avoid the pitfalls of underestimation and ensure a holistic preparation strategy that covers all necessary content areas.

2. Relying on Ineffective Study Techniques

Relying solely on ineffective study techniques such as cramming and passive reading can be a major pitfall in preparing for the BCEMP exam. These methods are particularly unsuitable for mastering the complex and detailed information required in emergency medicine pharmacotherapy. Cramming, or the intense absorption of material shortly before the exam, fails to facilitate the deep learning necessary for long-term retention of intricate concepts. Passive reading, without active engagement, doesn’t reinforce the material in a meaningful way, making it difficult to recall under exam pressure. recall under exam pressure. The “Eight Recommendations to Promote Effective Study Habits for Biology Students Enrolled in Online Courses” emphasize the value of active learning, even in online

settings, suggesting that techniques fostering active engagement lead to more effective study habits. On the other hand, the benefits of spaced repetition, a study technique that involves reviewing material over increasing intervals, cannot be overstated. This method is grounded in the psychological principle of the spacing effect, which suggests that information is more easily recalled if learning sessions are spaced out over time. The Medium article “Importance of Spaced-Repetitions” highlights that spaced repetition significantly enhances long-term retention compared to massed practice (cramming), making it a superior strategy for complex subjects like pharmacotherapy. Additionally, the concept of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, detailed in “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (Definition + Examples),” illustrates the natural decline of memory retention over time and how spaced repetition can counteract this effect. By incorporating these evidenced-based strategies into their study plan, candidates can greatly improve their grasp and retention of the extensive material covered in the BCEMP exam.

The effect of flipped learning on academic performance as an innovative method for overcoming ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve (researchgate.net)

3. Overlooking Practice Exams and Question Banks

Overlooking the value of practice exams and question banks can be a critical misstep in preparing for the BCEMP exam. These tools are essential for familiarizing oneself with the exam’s structure and the variety of questions that may be encountered. A lack of exposure to the exam format and question types can lead to difficulties in navigating the actual test, potentially impacting performance. Incorporating practice materials into one’s study routine not only aids in understanding the exam’s layout but also helps in identifying weak areas that require additional focus.

Integrating practice exams and questions into the study schedule early and consistently is key to building confidence and competence. Engaging with a variety of questions, similar to those found in well-curated resources like PACUPrep’s Q-Bank, allows candidates to simulate the exam experience, enhancing their ability to manage time and approach questions effectively. This regular practice helps in cementing knowledge and honing test-taking strategies, making the actual exam environment more familiar and less intimidating. Through this disciplined approach, candidates can significantly improve their preparedness, paving the way for success in the BCEMP exam.

4. Poor Time Management

Poor time management in the context of BCEMP exam preparation can create significant barriers to success, primarily through the development of gaps in knowledge. Without a structured approach to studying, candidates risk spending too much time on certain topics while neglecting others, leading to an uneven grasp of the required material. This imbalance can be detrimental on exam day, where a comprehensive understanding across all areas is essential. Effective allocation of study time is crucial, ensuring that each topic is given due attention based on its complexity and the candidate’s familiarity with it.

To counteract this, adopting time management strategies can greatly enhance study efficiency. For instance, the Pomodoro Technique can be particularly effective in maintaining focus and preventing burnout. By dividing study sessions into 25-minute focused intervals followed by short breaks, candidates can improve retention and sustain longer periods of productive study. Additionally, the use of calendar apps to schedule study sessions and track important deadlines ensures a structured approach, covering all necessary topics systematically. During the exam, strategies such as quickly scanning all questions to allocate time effectively and keeping track of time to pace oneself can further optimize performance, ensuring that all questions are addressed within the allotted time.

5. Neglecting Mental and Physical Health

Neglecting mental and physical health during the preparation for the BCEMP exam can significantly undermine a candidate’s cognitive function and overall performance. The intense demands of studying for such a rigorous exam can lead to stress and sleep deprivation, which are known to impair memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, therefore, becomes not just a matter of personal well-being but a strategic component of exam preparation.

Adequate sleep is fundamental to cognitive processes, including the consolidation of memory, which is crucial when absorbing vast amounts of information. Similarly, effective stress management techniques such as regular exercise, mindfulness practices, or engaging in hobbies can mitigate the adverse effects of prolonged study sessions. These practices not only help in maintaining mental clarity and focus but also contribute to a more resilient and adaptable mindset, enabling candidates to tackle the challenges of the exam with greater composure and confidence. By prioritizing health and well-being, candidates can optimize their cognitive function, enhancing their ability to learn, retain, and apply knowledge effectively.

6. Studying in Isolation

Studying in isolation for the BCEMP exam can limit a candidate’s perspective and understanding, as it restricts the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and experiences that are vital for a comprehensive learning process. Engaging solely with the material without external input or discussion can lead to a narrow interpretation of complex topics and potentially overlook areas that might be crucial for the exam. The collaborative learning that occurs in group settings can expose candidates to diverse problem-solving approaches, clarify doubts through discussion, and reinforce learning through teaching others. To counteract the drawbacks of solitary study, candidates are encouraged to participate in study groups, professional forums, and seek mentorship.

7. Not Staying Updated with Current Practices

The field of emergency medicine pharmacotherapy is dynamic, with continuous advancements in treatment protocols, medication management, and clinical guidelines. Not incorporating the latest research findings, guidelines, and best practices into study materials for the BCEMP exam can lead to a knowledge base that is outdated and not reflective of current standards of care. This gap can be particularly detrimental in an exam setting that evaluates a candidate’s ability to apply contemporary, evidence-based practices in emergency medicine scenarios.

To ensure that study materials are current and comprehensive, candidates should regularly consult reputable medical journals in the field of emergency medicine and pharmacotherapy. These journals often publish the latest research, reviews, and consensus guidelines that can inform and update a candidate’s knowledge. Additionally, engaging in continuing education courses and participating in professional networks and associations can provide insights into emerging trends and consensus opinions in the field. These resources not only aid in preparing for the BCEMP exam but also contribute to a practitioner’s ongoing professional development, ensuring that their practice remains aligned with the highest standards of patient care in emergency medicine pharmacotherapy.

Conclusion: Embracing a Proactive and Balanced Approach to Exam Preparation

In preparing for the BCEMP exam, it’s crucial to avoid common pitfalls that can hinder success. Understanding the exam’s scope, avoiding ineffective study techniques, utilizing practice exams, managing time effectively, maintaining health, engaging with peers and mentors, and staying updated with current practices are all key to a well-rounded preparation strategy. Neglecting any of these areas can lead to gaps in knowledge, unnecessary stress, and ultimately, underperformance in the exam.

Embracing a proactive and balanced approach to studying is essential. This means not only covering all the necessary material but doing so in a way that promotes deep understanding and long-term retention. Active learning, effective time management, collaboration, and continuous learning are all part of a holistic study plan. The goal is not just to pass the BCEMP exam but to excel in the field of emergency medicine pharmacotherapy, ensuring that you are well-equipped to provide the highest level of care to patients in critical situations. By avoiding these common pitfalls and adopting a disciplined approach to preparation, candidates can position themselves for success, both in the exam and in their professional practice.


  • American Board of Pharmacy Specialties. Pharmacotherapy: Specialty Certification Examination Content Outline. https://www.bpsweb.org/wp-content/uploads/bps-specialties/pharmacotherapy/PT_contentoutline.pdf. Accessed September 28, 2021.
  • Dunlosky J, Rawson KA, Marsh EJ, Nathan MJ, Willingham DT. Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2013;14(1):4-58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266
  • Brown PC, Roediger HL 3rd, McDaniel MA. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 2014.
  • Johnson M, Taubenheim A, Samar H, et al. Examining the impact of practice testing on learning and retention of medical information. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2020;12(9):1037-1045. doi:10.1016/j.cptl.2020.06.005
  • Hartwig MK, Dunlosky J. Study strategies of college students: are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement? Psychon Bull Rev. 2012;19(1):126-134. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0181-y
  • McDaniel MA, Agarwal PK, Huelser BJ, McDermott KB, Roediger HL 3rd. Test-enhanced learning in a middle school science classroom: the effects of quiz frequency and placement. J Educ Psychol. 2011;103(2):399-414. doi:10.1037/a0021782
  • Kornell N, Bjork RA. The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychon Bull Rev. 2007;14(2):219-224. doi:10.3758/bf03194055
  • Chew SL. How to Get the Most Out of Studying Video Series. http://www.samford.edu/how-to-study/. Published 2011. Accessed September 28, 2021.
  • Tuckman BW, Rapport MD. A 16-session time management intervention for college students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Behav Modif. 2019;43(4):527-559. doi:10.1177/0145445518777735
  • Dyrbye LN, Shanafelt TD, Sinsky CA, et al. Burnout among health care professionals: a call to explore and address this underrecognized threat to safe, high-quality care. NAM Perspectives. 2017;7(7). doi:10.31478/201707b
  • Pagnini F, Bercovitz KE, Phillips D. Calm education: meta-analysis of mindfulness and emotion regulation strategies for teachers and students. Int J Stress Manag. 2018;25(4):364-376. doi>10.1037/str0000104
  • Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Miller GE. Psychological stress and disease. JAMA. 2007;298(14):1685-1687. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1685
  • Krupat E, Richards JB, Sullivan AM, Fleenor TJ Jr, Schwartzstein RM. Assessing the effectiveness of case-based collaborative learning via randomized controlled trial. Acad Med. 2016;91(5):723-729. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000001044
  • Karpicke JD, Blunt JR. Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science. 2011;331(6018):772-775. doi:10.1126/science.1199327
  • Singh N. Habituation, Memory, Spaced-Repetitions, Massed-Repetition. LeMe’24 Blog Post 4. March 7, 2024. Available from: https://medium.com/@nishchay.singh.23510074/habituation-memory-spaced-repetitions-massed-repetition-7640d4595429
  • Ewell SN, Cotner S, Drake AG, Fagbodun S, Google A, Robinson L, Soneral P, Ballen CJ. 2022. Eight Recommendations to Promote Effective Study Habits for Biology Students Enrolled in Online Courses. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 23:e00260-21.

Related Articles


Leave a Reply