How to prepare for the anesthesiology residency BASIC Exam

Anesthesiology residents take the American Board of Anesthesiology BASIC Exam at the end of their first clinical year (CA-1) in June. It is the first of three staged examinations required for certification (the others are the Advanced and Applied).

How We Prepare Our Residents

woman studying on bed

Residents experience a steep learning curve during the CA-1 year. Our department makes every effort to ensure our residents are well prepared, beginning with the Basic Skills Boot Camp in early June. After this week, residents enter a paired period. They are also given reading assignments to help introduce them to clinical anesthesia. Residents usually become unpaired in July/August and spend their first few months with a weekly curriculum and learning physiology and pharmacology as they prepare to fly solo in the operating room. Then they begin preparing for the In-Training Exam in February. Shortly after they receive the results for their ITE, they take their BASIC Examination in early June.

Throughout the CA-1 year, residents participate in Tuesday morning didactics in a flipped-classroom setting. Five residents are assigned a keyword from the BASIC Exam to present to their classmates. A faculty moderator reviews their slides before they present and offers tidbits and additional facts during the morning conference. Different subspecialties in anesthesia are covered throughout the academic year; one month might be focused on pediatrics while another is focused on cardiac anesthesia.

Our department often has residents who score in the top 10% nationally on the BASIC Exam, and we are above the national pass rate.

Outside Resources

Residents have a range of options for preparing for the exam. The American Board of Anesthesiology’s website offers a blueprint of the exam and sample questions. Review courses are available, and many residents purchase question banks to help prepare. The Anesthesia Toolbox offers collaborative peer-reviewed lectures, podcasts, problem-based learning discussions (PBLDs), and videos. Access Anesthesiology is another resource with a wealth of books, procedural videos, and study tools.

Of course, everyone develops their own tips and tricks when it comes to studying. We asked our faculty and residents for their personal tips for success.

Advice from Members of Our Department

Tips from Basma Mohamed, MCBhb, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Assistant Program Director for Resident Wellness

Basma Mohamed


Stick to one review book and review it frequently using spaced repetition and active recall.

  • Spaced repetition: Ensure you frequently review different concepts to consolidate what you learned in long-term memory. You can use flash cards or a notebook (whichever you prefer).
  • Active recall: Discuss the concepts and keywords with your colleagues and attendings. This step will give you the most confidence that you are learning the materials. Teaching is learning. 

Questions Banks

Use these to stimulate the active learning process, not as the sole source of learning. Take notes on the important concepts and transfer them to the one review book you chose in tip #1.


Support your learning and review process using your preferred textbook (Barash or Miller). 

  • I recommend taking a summary of the keywords and attaching it to your review book.
  • I also recommend not using the textbook as the review book.

Review Book

Use the review book as your source of final review during the last 10 to 14 days before the exam. This step will really enhance your recall. 

Habits and Rewards

Finally, make studying a habit and reward yourself every time you spend 30 to 60 minutes on focused studying (ice cream, cupcake, or your favorite drink just as examples).

Tips from Matthew Reed, M.D., CA-2

Matthew Reed, MD
  1. TrueLearn Question Bank is #1; do it all the way through.
  2. Listen to Anesthesia and Critical Care Reviews (ACCRAC) podcasts. There are too many niche videos/podcasts that are low yield, but the broad ones are excellent.
  3. Hall Questions: do the questions that are subspecialties that BASIC covers.
  4. Mix in your TrueLearn incorrect questions while doing Hall.

Try to complete those steps with a few days to a week to spare before the exam, Reed said.

“For the last few days, all that I did was reset Truelearn and blast through the entire question bank, which should not take long since you have seen everything at least once before,” he said. “I then started going through my incorrects for that pass-through, but I did not finish it. I feel like this is important because it keeps you in the test-taking mindset. Knowing material is half the job, but you also need to master taking exams.”

Avoiding Burnout

Taking steps to avoid burnout is essential, Reed said.

“Ensure you do not burn out leading up to the test and take ‘light days’ as needed, but do not let a day go by that you do not learn or reinforce anything,” he said.

For example, taking small steps to reinforce learning such as listening to a podcast or video on your daily commute on easy days can still make a big difference, said Reed, who scored in the top 10% on the BASIC exam in 2021.

“Steady grinding with the final two weeks being all-out will get good results,” he advised.

Tips from Trevor Sudweeks, D.O., CA-2

Trevor Sudweeks, DO

Start early and be consistent.

Residency is busy and you never know when you are going to have extra time to study, so make sure to study daily, even if it is just five questions from a question bank. Being consistent will pay great dividends.

Pick a source and stay with it.

I used core topics for the basic review and when I wanted more information on a topic, I went to Barash. Barash goes into a great depth of information, so I only read a few paragraphs on the topics I wanted to understand better.

When using a question bank, take notes on each question.

Even if it was an easy question, I would write down the key point that I knew or understood that led me to get the question right. I kept my notes in OneNote and then put asterisks on recurring topics so I could tell items were heavily tested. This also allowed me to review my notes over and over as I kept adding key points to my study journal. I have page after page of notes from taking practice questions. I also took time to review my notes regularly and that helped reinforce the topics.

Review for oral exams using Yao & Artusio.

This really takes book knowledge and applies it clinically. This was a great help on the BASIC as well because it covers very key points that are highly tested.

Discuss topics with attendings in the OR.

Sometimes teaching opportunities are hard to come by in busy cases but making an effort to talk with attendings during the day is a great opportunity to learn.

Study daily and start early.

I have heard multiple residents talk about trying to cram the few weeks right before and how that was not successful. I started focusing my reading and studying several months prior to the exam and spent 30 to 45 minutes a day (as allowed by a busy work schedule) to learning core anesthesia principles.

Learn more about our residency program.