Every year med students around the world prepare for their boards. Many of those students are making mistakes preparing for USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1.
Once again, we’re joined by Dr. Andrea Paul from Board Vitals. Be sure to check them out because not only do they have the Level 1/Step 1 QBanks, but all of the shelf exams as you continue to move forward through your medical education!
Students can find themselves doing so many stuff that they forget to focus on what they really need to focus on. If your mind starts to stray away, then that's a signal that you need to take a rest or break. Reset so you can get back to focus instead of just pushing through. Otherwise, you may just miss how many important points. So get up. Take a stretch. Take a minute. And then come back and be fully focused again. Slow down and it will help you in the long run.
"The length of time isn't necessarily reflective of the quality of the time that you're studying."
There's a lot of data looking at how many days the students study per day and interestingly, once people went beyond 35 days, the scores started to go down. This is related to inefficient studying or maybe fewer hours per day. But there's a strong correlation that you can't study for too long. Hence, dragging out the day and staying up all night is only going to hurt you.
"You only have so much stamina in a day to sit down and these questions are intensive, they require a lot of thought and you only have so much to do that per day."
Board Vitals recommend studying for about 20-25 days with about 8-10 hours a day of studying. All of their data show that below or above it is just going to give them low scores. that said, it really varies depending on how your scores are looking. If you're already on the high range of your goal, then you probably don't need to spend the whole month rehashing everything again. Otherwise, doing so may only hurt you. So recognize where you're at then make a plan on the length of your study based on that.
Have a spreadsheet or notepad beside you so you can keep a list of what you missed and why. Was it an error or did you misread the question? Was it the way that question was worded that tricked you? Maybe you need to pay more attention to questions worded that way. Or it can be a specific piece of knowledge that you missed. Then go through the list at the end of each day or the week and you'll start to see patterns.
"Keeping a really good track in analyzing how your own mind is working in answering these questions -- right or wrong -- is really important."
Board Vitals provides feedback so you can see which areas you may be stronger or weaker.
Unlike in high school or undergraduate where you just want to be competitive against others, this is different since it's an individual goal. It's something that's going to affect your life. But you just don't have one option. You may really want to do a certain specialty, but you may be just as happy doing something else. So it's not the be all and end all of life.
"You want to stay motivated but not to the point that your nerves overpower your instincts on exam day."
People who are scoring so high on their question banks, they get to exam day and the pressure is just so intense. So breathe and relax. Medical school is already an accomplishment. So just do the best you can.
The boards actually don't allow retests like they do for the MCAT. For the MCAT, you can void it at the end of the test. I wonder if people are doing this on the boards as well. In fact, Andrea has received questions on whether this is a good strategy to take Step 1 and purposefully fail it to see if they could go in and get a strong score. Unfortunately, the rates for residency matching for people who fail on their first attempt is quite low. So no matter what you get on that second attempt may not outweigh that failure. So it's always best to do the best you can.
Several students still use textbooks to prepare but this strategy has never yielded high scores for those Board Vitals has spoken to. Those are not clinically focused but only basic science textbooks meant to get you through that course. That's the purpose of the school component, but not the purpose of the board exam. Instead, focus on things that are meant for preparing for this test. And do it in a way that does the highest yield for you.
"Don't waste time on the textbooks that you use in those first two years of school. Those are not geared toward this test."
As you go through this process, you need to be self-aware of where you stand. Are you solid enough with your foundation? One of the best predictors is doing well in your classes. Did you do well on those or did you struggle? Do you have that foundation to jump in and do questions and review? Or do you need something more substantial to get you up to the level to get you prepared to do those?
If you didn't score well, remember that not everyone is a great test taker or study-er. So if you didn't do well in your preclinical classes, maybe keep a more realistic goal for Step 1.
"Be realistic about it and not setting goals that are so far outside that you will only end up disappointed."
Additionally, don't look at what other people are doing. By your second year of medical school, you should know what works and what doesn't for you and do that. Don't try and do something completely different now for this test. Stick to what's worked for you in the past.