Started From the Bottom: The Uncommon Things I Learned Going From the Bottom of My College Class to the Top of My Medical School

In college, I was a scholastic disaster. I had a science GPA below 3.0 and an MCAT in the mid 20s. I applied to an overseas medical school and was put in a post-bacc program, with entrance contingent on receiving a 3.5 GPA on five nearly medical school level classes.

Fast-forward to the end of medical school and I graduated magna cum laude, the president of my medical school’s honor society, and with 250s and 260s on the Step 1 and Step 2 USMLE, respectively.

All because of the study strategies I developed.

I’m not telling you all this just to brag. I’m telling you so you can understand medical school grades, and more importantly, so you realize that USMLE scores are not simply a battle of natural cerebral ability but a test in efficiency and implementing the proper learning strategy.

While I certainly cleaned up my act after college and studied a lot harder, it’s not like my IQ jumped a bunch of points overnight. Early on, I told myself I couldn’t win playing everyone else’s game; I would have to play my own. Through a mix of looking through large amounts of data (feedback, reviews etc.) and looking for patterns, doing everything I could to understand the learning process, and good old trial and error, I came up with a way of studying that was both efficient and simple.

So what were the unconventional things I learned going through this transformation that can help you on the USMLE?

  • That a lot of the advice from the high scoring students is fairly useless, because they are too naturally gifted for it to be widely applicable.
  • That less resources often get better results in less time as long as they are the correct resources.
  • That if you don’t know what you are doing, when, and in how much time, you will likely be inefficient and it will affect your score… sometimes significantly.
  • That memory is gained and lost in a predictable and reproducible manner. (More on that in a later article)
  • For the average person to do extremely well on timed standardized exams they must develop a “question sense” in which they feel the right answer rather than think through it. (I’ll get into that later as well)
  • Exam fatigue is real and must be combatted effectively or you’ll run out of steam before the end of the exam.
  • NBME’s are as close to the real thing as it gets, use them both to gauge how you are doing and to build confidence, which is crucial to doing well on the real thing.

As you continue to go through my articles, I’ll expand on some of the things above.

I wanted to make sure you know you don’t have to be a genius to do well in medical school or USMLE exams.

Of course you have to work hard, but if you don’t want to work hard then you may have picked the wrong profession. If you take nothing else, remember approaching medical school and the USMLE smarter is so much more important than working harder, and I honestly believe the vast majority of medical students can do very well with the correct approach and a good work ethic.