When Should I Start Studying for USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX?

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Session 03

Board Rounds is back with BoardVitals and Dr. Andrea Paul to discuss when you should start preparing for the USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1 exams.

This week, we’re going to dive into when you should start preparing for these exams. The Step 1/Level 1 are going to be one of the most important pieces in your residency journey. And so we need to make sure you’re preparing as best as possible and when you start doing that.

[02:11] When to Start Thinking About Preparing for the Boards

Sit down and start with setting a goal. Which specialty are you planning to apply to or would you like to be able to apply to? What’s the minimum score would you feel is acceptable or competitive for those areas.

Then look at your schedule to see what time you’re available or what time do you want to dedicate for studying. And sticking to that is really important. Be present and work harder on those hours. Always have some flex days, especially towards the end.

[04:49] Setting Dedicated Time

You need to schedule dedicated time during all those classes. So if you’re doing biochemistry, you need to carve out an hour on few days a week where you’re going to do biochemistry related questions on your USMLE prep materials. This way, you’re able to connect them earlier. To help you score higher, start preparing early. Know what scores you need and test yourself to see if you’re getting towards that.

'If you start making those connections early... it all helps you down the road.' Click To Tweet

[08:30] What Resources to Use and Average Study Time

Andrea thinks that paper textbooks are not always the most user-friendly. The great thing about online resources is that you can take them anywhere. You also get to customize what you’re learning.

Most students study for Step 1 during their preclinical curriculum, during the first year of medical school. And then the intensity increases during that dedicated time. Most of them would average 11 hours of studying per day for 35 days, usually covering 4000 practice sessions during that amount of study time.

'Most students now are averaging about 11 hours of studying per day for Step 1 and that's for about 35 days. That's an incredible number of hours to study.'Click To Tweet

Moreover, their data says that the number of days people study didn’t correlate with their scores. Right around the midpoint was when the scores were highest. But students think more and more is better. So this is something to keep in mind. Also, their strongest correlation with high scores is the number of practice questions they took and their grades in school. Ultimately, Andrea says it’s all about a combination of someone’s work ethic and being a good test-taker that leads to a good score.

[14:42] Simulating the Test Environment and Eliminating Distractions

When you’re interrupted with a text message or when you’re on your phone, it takes about 15-20 minutes to get back into the flow of where you were before that interruption. if you add those three into an hour, well, it’s not a very effective hour, isn’t it?

It is therefore important to simulate the test environment. When you’re in a question bank and doing questions, you’re not going to have the phone or someone knocking on the door, or any distractions.

That being said, you want to make the most of your study time. Put that phone somewhere else or turn it off. And simulate that same environment as much as you can.

Even when you need to utilize your resource online, don’t have other things or windows open. Keep a spreadsheet maybe open and just minimized so you could take notes. Avoid breaking up the actual studying with looking up some side information you might have thought of. Instead, keep that checklist and make quick notes of what you need to go back or what you need to go and review more on. Otherwise, it’s best not to open another tab or window.

'It's will power but it's a month of your life and it will be worth it and you'll be glad that you didn't worry about your social media for a few days.'Click To Tweet

[18:38] Practice Questions and Reviews

Just use the question bank and there’s a sheer number of questions you can look at and practice to help you. Again, this was the strongest correlation with the high score. So look at it as doing blocks of questions in different ways. For instance, today, look at the cardiovascular system and do a full day of questions in that area. This way, you’re randomizing different materials and your mind has to go to all those different places.

Additionally, after answering the question, immediately click a box to open the explanation to see if you’re right or wrong and why. Their explanation will then go through each option why it was not the correct answer. This is the best way to start out since you’re still in the knowledge-gathering phase, more so than the assessment phase.

Then as you progress and you see your scores get closer to your goal, that’s the time you can go to the test mode and do more assessment.

With BoardVitals, you can create any length of the exam you like and any format you like. So you can set your own time. On average, the time students spend on each question is based on about a minute and a half. If you focus around that minute mark, that’s going to get you finished on time.

[23:44] Predicting Your Score

Andrea says you can’t really predict that but you can’t fully simulate a real test environment or each person’s knowledge on the specific topics they’re going to get on that day. There’s always going to be variation.Finally, just do as many questions as possible and even if the topic may not be exactly the same.

[28:00] Manage Your Life

'Make sure that dedicated study time is truly dedicated as possible.' Click To Tweet

Exercise. Start your day doing something active. This way, you’re going to enhance your ability to retain knowledge so much more than just staring for four to five hours. It’s really all about being intentional with your day to set yourself up to success.

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