How to score 260 and above in USMLEIn this article I am going to be sharing my little secret on how I went on to get really high scores on my USMLE exams.
A little information about me to set the stage for my study plan. I am an IMG, aspiring to be a neurosurgeon. I was one amongst the ten thousand people who wrote for 1 positions in NIMHANS exam, India. I was very disappointed that I wasn’t selected. The next morning I woke up, decided to take my USMLE exams and come to the US to pursue my dream! And here I am now threading the path less travelled by.
I hope my tips and the secrets I am going to go share will inspire you, the reader, to not only ace these exams but also do anything else you choose to, in your life.
1. DECIDE WHEN YOU WANT TO TAKE THE EXAM.
Set yourself the time frame within which you want to complete the task. This gives you a direction and also mentally prepares you for the rest of the journey.
I gave myself a 4 month time period to take up the USMLE step 1 exam. I started off by gathering the recommended study materials for the step, sketching out the study plan, deciding on how many blocks I wanted to do a day, how many practise tests to take and the timings. I also registered with ECFMG, got my USMLE ID, scheduled for the exam. This process might take anywhere from 4-6 weeks. So its better to get it done right at the beginning.
2. STUDY MATERIALS.
- i) Choose your study partner, if that will keep you motivated. ( I personally do better in self study mode. I only go over the topics I am not sure about with my partner.)
- ii) I decided to use FIRST AID, Kaplan notes, BRS and Golijian's audio lectures. Golijian High yield audio lectures, were my go to, especially when my eyes were tired. Interspersing audio lectures with visual materials helped me to rest my eyes while preparing.iii) I chose to take a subscription for the UWORLD question bank with self assessments.
- My plan was to take ONLY 3 TESTS. The first two being practice tests and the final one being my actual exam. I suggest that you space out these exams well. one every 14 days or so. ( Plan each exam to be scheduled in the same time of the day as your actual exam.)
- It is important that you feel ‘READY’ on the day of your exam (and not burnt out). I don’t prescribe that you take up a lot of full fledged practice tests. I have seen many of my colleagues being burnt out by this. Some were even postponing the actual exam, thinking that it would give them more time to prepare and score better. Eventually only one out of the ten actually did better. Seven of them didn’t see much of an improvement or rather the score were actually lesser than their practice test. One of them was so worn out, that he dropped the plan of USMLEs altogether and joint a private institute in India itself.
- What is important is that after the practise exam, YOU REVIEW YOUR PAPER. Go over all the questions which went wrong. Study those topics, in detail, if required. This way you will benefit from these practise test.
- 3. DEFINE YOUR STUDY SPACE AND STUDY TIME
- For preparing for your USMLE exam you would ideally need a desk, PC or a laptop, good source of light, music (if you like to listen to it while studying) and coffee while studying! Your space can be your room, library table, a desk space at your study centre.
- I chose to study full time. In later months I actually ended up studying upto 14 hours a day. I suggest that each of you choose the time slots which suits you the best. 'One size doesn’t fit all’; when it comes to the number of hours per day one should study. What’s important is that you complete your portion for the day ‘well’. I would say ‘well’ is when you feel confident to answer any type question from the topic after you have studied it.
4. PRACTISE MAKES PERFECTION.
- For the USMLE exams, as for other competitive exams, correct and repeated practise really pays off. As and when you learn new concepts, practise them repeatedly. While reviewing the question blocks, practise the concepts too. Ensure to revise assorted questions which can be asked on a particular concept while revising it. (ANKI or Flash cards are a good option)
5. MAKE CONNECTIONS.
- After all, the topics are subdivisions of human health. Making connections is a ‘fun’ way of revising. For example, choose Cardio vascular system, revise the anatomy, physiology and recall the gentic syndromes associated with it, infections which can affect it, the pharmacological treatment for the same, physiology equations related to flow, fluid dynamics etc.
- I personally found that in this way I could cover a vast amount of topics in a much lesser time.
6. POSITIVE SELF TALK
- During your preparation it is important that you don’t fall into the trap of self depreciating talk.
- The best way to avoid and be at top of your game is by practising positive self talk. Watch out for self doubts. Don’t brood over it and don’t allow it to distract you from your goal. Remenber that many people have aced through these exams, secured a residency position of their choice and so can you!!!
7. CHOSE AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER.
- This is someone whom you trust and to whom you report to in different phases of your study. While you go over with them what you studied, you not only mentally revise the topics, you might also remember what you have forgotten to do; diligently make a note of the same.
8. EAT WELL, EXERCISE AND SLEEP WELL.
- While preparing for such competitive exams, its easy to forget 'taking care' of one self. Trust me nothing can replace eating healthy food (protein rich helps), exercising and having a sound sleep.
- I was sleeping for only 5-6 hours a day. I chose to do yoga everyday, this gave me a good relaxation, while I kept myself agile and flexible. I went for a run, Trained for a marathon, which I officially finished in 6hours. In this way I got some fresh air and enjoyed myself. This helped me to keep up with my time schedules, as well as have a social life.. ( When friends wanted to meet me, I asked them to join me for a work out session.Ha ha ha..)
- With this we have come to the end of PART 1. Watch out for my PART2 in next few days. Mean while don't hesitate to reach out to me for any further clarification, scheduling, registering for USMLE exams, preparing for them or assistance. I look forward to assisting you in any way possible to ace your exams!