Why QBanks are a CRUCIAL Part of Your USMLE Review
Here’s Why Practice Questions Should Be at the Center of Your USMLE Review
So you’ve downloaded all the study schedules you can get your hands on, can practically recite pages from First Aid in your sleep, maybe bought a couple subscriptions for video lecture series, but still you’re wondering: Am I doing this right? The world of USMLE prep can be overwhelming (to say the least). We’ve been there too. I mean, are you even in dedicated if you haven’t spent at least one night crying in a stress induced breakdown? Of course, we’re kidding. But, feelings of anxiety and stress are completely normal for any kind of students preparing for a high stakes exam– let alone medical students.
With this post, we want to help provide you some guidance and clarity regarding how you should be going about your USMLE review. Hopefully the following advice will help to alleviate some of your anxious feelings, but (as always) if you need a little extra help planning or additional reassurance, the Elite team is always here and more than happy to talk to you.
Alright, what’s the best way to study? We want to start here with a bit of an allegory (bare with us, it’s a good one) one of our team members uses when advising USMLE students:
The Analysis Paralysis Allegory
On the first day of lessons, a professor in an introductory pottery class tells all his students, “Whoever makes the most perfect and beautiful piece of pottery on the final day of the semester will receive a full scholarship for the remainder of their studies and earn a spot in an elite high paid apprenticeship. — You have the entire semester to prepare to make your piece for consideration.”
The students were shocked and excited so they immediately get to work. Most of the students run to the library and spend most of their semester researching famous potters, learning about great pottery making techniques, and visiting museums to see pieces considered marvelous. They study and study and study what it takes to make a brilliant piece of pottery until they are confident that they know everything.
However, one student does not run to the library. Instead, he rushes to the pottery wheels and begins creating. During the semester, he creates hundreds of pots. Each time he runs into a problem for which he doesn’t know the solution, he stops the wheel, goes to the library, and researches how to improve his work.
The final day of the semester comes, and most of the students enter the room with stacks of papers and books and photographs from all their research. They start to laugh at the boy who does not have any piles of papers and is instead surrounded by boxes and boxes of misshapen pots.
The students all sit down at their pottery wheels and the professor signals that they may begin creating their pottery. All the students with all their research confidently crack open their books and begin to make their pots. They quickly realize however, they have never actually made a piece of pottery before and their pots look amateur at best.
The students become frustrated and upset and yell to the professor, “We spent all semester preparing for this day and we possess all the knowledge to make the perfect pot, why is our knowledge failing us now?” The professor smiles and gestures over to the student surrounded by his boxes of misshapen pots and says, “You may possess all the knowledge, but you lack all the experience. You don’t need to know everything about making pottery to create something beautiful, you just need to know how to work the wheel.”
Maybe you already guessed, but the point of the pottery class story is to show you learning isn’t enough. You absolutely have to practice. And, it terms of the USMLE, that means sitting down and doing practice questions. Now, we are not recommending here that you only and exclusively go though qbanks. After all, even boy in the pottery class who chose to practice stopped occasionally to run to the library and learn. This being said, here are our recommendations:
Go crazy with the practice questions during your USMLE review, but remember to LEARN from your mistakes
- When beginning your USMLE review (this is assuming that you are a “standard” student in your medical school classes and retained foundational information), we recommend that you jump head first into practice questions! You should have learned or at least touched upon most (if not all) of the information you need for the USMLE in your classes. The best way to identify areas you need some extra review with is to start trying practice questions and see what you are missing. When you miss a question, make sure to flag it and make a flashcard/ use a video resource to solidify the material being tested in your mind. Don’t forget to utilize spaced repetition!
- Try to notice trends in what kind of questions you are getting wrong. Practice, practice, practice. It is absolutely imperative that you get used to the format of USMLE questions. You need to start getting used to the types of language used, tricky things to look for in the answer choices, and time management in getting through questions. We strongly recommend using a kitchen timer (not phone) to see how long questions take you to answer.
*If however you jump into practice questions and find you have absolutely no idea about the content in which many of the questions are trying to test you on, go back and build up your foundations. If you feel like there is a lot of information you are confused about or you feel overwhelmed, you may also want to consider a couple hours of tutoring.
Identify weak areas or topics that you need to focus on during your USMLE review
- Again, the more practice questions you attempt, the more you will start to notice trends emerging. You should start to be able to identify subjects or types of questions that you are weaker in and thereby need to focus on. This is where you need to bust out the flashcards and start memorizing. Some students also choose video resources or get a personal tutor and we recommend both of those options as a supplement to flashcards; not in place of.
*DO NOT identify your weak areas then hyperfocus only on those. A good USMLE review requires you to focus on weak areas while also going through mixed questions to keep your memory fresh even with topics you already feel confident on. Once you identify your weak areas, give them some extra time and effort, but continue practice question from all areas. If you focus on exclusively learning one topic or subject and neglect the rest, your knowledge in those areas will suffer.
- Did we mention you should be doing practice questions? We can’t stress this enough! PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!! YOU NEED TO DO PRACTICE QUESTIONS!!! Do all the practice questions you can, time yourself, look up explanations (or ask a tutor), continue to identify subjects and topics of weakness and devote time to studying them. You should be making and reviewing flashcards for the information you find yourself shaky on and seeking out supplemental resources if you identify any topics that really stump you.
That’s pretty much all! Best of luck!