The Most Important Resource for USMLE Exams… and No, It’s Not USMLE World

So, you booked your USMLE exam, and you have your resources that everyone has told you are the best: a book that covers the information and a Qbank that is just like the test with high-yield explanations. As you start reading the book, you realize there is a ton of stuff you don’t know, and you work your way through it, in order to remember as much as you can. When doing the Qbank, every so often you hit a question that makes no sense, frustratingly slowing your pace to a halt until you finally get it.

You look at the calendar and think “Where did the time go? I have so much more to do still.”

You know you have to speed up so you decide to speed through the book — when you see a question you know, you decide to skim the answer, since you have no time for the that long explanation.

You take your first practice test and realize you are deficient in sections you’ve already reviewed. How is this possible? You did the questions, got a lot of them right, and you read through the book. Sure, it was faster than you had wanted, but what the heck happened? This is a story that has played out over and over again since the beginning of USMLE.

The number one resource for an exam isn’t one you can purchase. It is TIME.

Now before you roll your eyes thinking “Well duh,” hear me out.

Once you book your USMLE, that is it!

Whether you realize it or not, you have an exact number of free hours in which to study before the inevitable exam. This specific amount of time is often overestimated or completely ignored. It isn’t as simple as just using your time efficiently (not goofing off) but goes much deeper.

When you consider time as your number one resource, the world starts to look different.

That question you don’t understand, that fact you can’t seem to commit to memory, or that section that just seems to kick your butt starts to take a back seat because you now know that no single question, fact, or even section can trump the amount of time that it’s allotted.

Now, I would never suggest going into a USMLE exam not knowing an entire section. However, let’s break down some math to show you why, for the average student, ignoring time can be disastrous.

Assuming you have:

  • 320 hours (50 minutes + 10 minute breaks) to study for your USMLE Step 2 CK — that means 30 hours/week during 6 week rotation + 70 hrs/week during 2 weeks of dedicated study.
  • Time to read book at pace of 15 pages an hour = 23 hours.
  • Time for USMLE World + reviewing explanation @ 4 minutes per question = 170 hours.
  • 2nd pass through review book = 12 hours.
  • Time to re-review those answers before test @ 2 minutes per explanation = 85 hours.
  • Two full length practice exams + review = 25 hours.
  • Total = 315 hours

What I’ve outlined above is the average mount of time you will spend on the absolutely essential USMLE resources (students often times do even more), and as you can see, there are only five hours of wiggle room.

If you are not consciously aware of the amount of time you spend on a question or page of a book, it can easily balloon to double or even triple that amount, and before long you do not have enough time to properly go through everything.

By disregarding your number one resource, you have prevented yourself from learning and solidifying (through re-review) important high-yield information, because you either run out of time to get to it or rush through other sections to make-up for that time. I see it constantly and it’s a killer.

Worst of all, because you feel like you spent so much time knowing those few facts/questions, you initially go into the exam with a false sense of confidence, missing the deeper layer: the high-yield material that USMLE loves to test. A layer that comes only through spending the proper time to understand the information on multiple levels.

The answer to combat this is simple: Treat TIME as your number one resource, instead of wasting it on that random UWorld question or those facts you are having trouble remembering exactly.

You need to sit down and calculate exactly how much time you have until the test, break that down into weeks or even days (whatever works for you), and then break that time down further into number of questions/pages needed to get through, so you know exactly how much material needs to be completed, when (meaning, on which specific calendar days), and in how much time.

If you have a fact/question you just can’t remember, and it’s is taking you too long, then SKIP IT.

I know it is hard, but it is essential.

If it is high yield enough, your question bank or review book will run through it multiple times… Trust me!

Once I realized that important fact, then everything became easy, the stress subsided (a bit), and I was scoring high, long before I took the exam.