Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Time management tips for USMLE exams

The USMLE exams are really long and tiring but they are like parts of a big puzzle and each part does play an important role in the journey to become a doctor in the US.

This post will focus on some time management and test-taking skills that are helpful to each test-taker. I hope you enjoy reading

Before your exam:

1- It is advisable to do a simulation of the exam. Do 7 or 8 uworld blocks- with breaks in between - or 2 consecutive NBMEs or UWSAs. This way, you ll be familiar when you start to lose your concentration or feel hungry and when you will need a longer break between the blocks.

2- This is optional, but for some people, doing the practice test in the prometric greatly reduces the tension of the exam day. If you are very tensed, schedule a practice test in your prometric and live the experience. This is also considered a test drive and by doing this, you ll know exactly where the prometric is :)

The night before the exam:

1- Sleep well. You need each synapse in your brain to work perfectly :D your memory and logic will be tested tomorrow. Your brain should be ready for that.

2- Try your best to sleep without taking any meds, if u have to, make sure that this time is not the first time you try them.

Exam morning:

1- Arrive early to the prometric, 30-40 mins earlier than your exam starting time. You'll sign some papers and pass a simple security check.

2- Wear comfortable clothes with less pockets and shorter sleeves. You ll be asked to show your pockets and roll your sleeves each time you go out for a break and each time you back into the exam hall.

Blocks and breaks:

1- Skip the tutorial
By doing this, you ll have a complete one hour break instead of a 45 minutes one. The tutorial will show you the software which is a replica of Uworldso save your time and use these 15 precious minutes.

2-Pre-schedule breaks according to the previous simulation
Enter the exam with a plan in mind about using your breaks. Will you take a small break after each block? Will you do 3 blocks with breaks then 2 without? Choose what best suits you based on what you felt during the simulation that you did. For example, you might have felt hungry after your 3rd block, so you may need a longer break in the real exam after your 3rd block.

2- Eating, drinking and using the restroom
Use your breaks wisely. Eat small things/snacks in breaks to avoid hypoglycemia during the exam and eat a small sandwich/breakfast before the exam to have some energy to start.
Don’t forget to "visit" the restroom in your breaks. You are not allowed to go to the restroom during a block, if you urgently need to do that, this will be labelled as “an irregular behavior” and it will be reported to ECFMG.

3- Staying in the exam hall
You don’t have to leave the hall during your break. If you wanna take a fast 5 minutes break, you can simply stay where you are, close your eyes, relax your mind and continue your exam when you feel ready

While solving blocks:

1- Reading the question/the last line first
 Always read the last line first in all USMLE exams, some questions are answered only by reading this last line! Especially in pharmacology questions, you may have a question stem which is 12 lines long then you ll read: What is the mechanism of action of …..? This will help you to save some valuable seconds.
As a rule, read last line first then go back and read the question normally.

2- Highlight any abnormalities
When you read a question, highlight the age,sex and where the patient was admitted; ER, outpatient. Also highlight any abnormality like hemodynamic instability….chest pain...etc.
Your eyes will focus on these findings and will try to associate them to reach a diagnosis.

3- Omit distractors
With time, this becomes a skill in the USMLE world, you realize that many sentences are just fillers to distract you. For example, a myocardial infarction in a 70-year old male, a person who smokes only occasionally or who drinks on weekends.

4- Resist the urge to re-re-read, simply mark and go on
Read the question and apply the hints mentioned above. If you don’t know the answer yet, read the highlighted parts again, if you still don’t know the answer or you are not 100% sure of it, pick the one you feel it is the right one, mark the question and move to the next question. You may get back to this question only when you finish answering all other questions.

5- Leave abstracts and drug ads till the end
This applies for Step 2 CK and Step 3 exams. Abstracts and drug ads are very lengthy and they may take a lot of time in addition to the fact that many statistically insignificant data is thrown here and there. When you see an abstract or a drug ad, choose any answer then move on and go back only when you finish all other questions. It’s illogical to spend 10 minutes on 2 drug ad questions and miss 7 questions at the end of the block!

6- Don’t leave unanswered questions
Even if you don’t have any clue about a question when you read it, choose an answer, mark it and go on. Having a 20% possibility to answer the question right (supposing a question has 5 choices) is better than having nothing. This will also save some much needed seconds, because if you read a hard question then skip answering it, after reading another 20 questions, you' ll have to re-read the hard one.

In general, don’t change your first answer, your first hunch is most probably the right one. Change your answer only if you are sure that the one that you chose is wrong.

Test taking skills are very important and play a vital role in your journey

Good luck to everyone :) USMLE exams are tough but manageable, just tell yourself: I WILL DO IT :)

And that’s it :)


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