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Test Taking Strategies for the USMLE

How to approach a USMLE question and basic test taking strategies for the exam.

When it comes to something as complex as the USMLE, anything that helps demystify the process can be a game changer. And yes, we mean anything! Even something that may seem as intuitive as how to approach a question. Of course, there isn’t just one right way to do it; it’s as personal as how you like your coffee (or tea). In this post, we’ll break down the “cream and sugar” of exam questions.

The First Glance

Most test taking strategies recommend the “first glance”. This entails reading the last sentence (which is usually the actual question) and then reading the answer choices before anything else. You can choose to start with the first sentence or not, it’s more optional based on how much time you have. You can practice this on a few UWorld blocks to see what feels best and then commit to the same process for each question on all tests.

This is recommended because it primes you to figure out what information is actually relevant or necessary and what is only there to throw you off course or distract you. This strategy comes in handy especially when timing is an issue.

Reading the Question

Med student and Cram Fighter Coach, Danielle, recommends highlighting as you go but most importantly, highlighting the parts you want to stand out if you have to mark the question to come back to it. This saves you the time of having to reread the whole thing. Highlight all of the pertinent positives and negatives. For example, if they tell you a patient does not have something, this will likely rule out one or two of your answer choices.

Choosing the Answer

When it comes to selecting the answer, we recommend keeping in mind the following.

First, if you know the answer, choose it! Otherwise, use the process of elimination. After that, trust your gut! There’s nothing worse than changing your answer and getting it wrong when you just knew your first choice was the right one. Exhaust your conscious explanations first, but then don’t underestimate the power of your gut. If you have some time, it could help to go through the process of elimination even if you know the answer.

Evaluating Your Choice

On the actual exam, you’ll really only be flagging a question if you want to go back and reevaluate it. In the beginning of your studying, however, you will probably flag questions because you want to remind yourself to review a certain topic, for example.

One helpful tool on UWorld is the ability to track questions you change from incorrect to correct, correct to incorrect, or (the bleak one) incorrect to incorrect. If you find the amount you’re changing from incorrect to correct is greater than the combined amount you’re changing from correct to incorrect and incorrect to incorrect, then this is an especially helpful tool for you; look for trends in the questions you re-evaluate and subsequently change to correct to see if there is a way for you to get to those answers more efficiently.

If you’re in the opposite situation and you tend to change answers to incorrect, that’s equally worth evaluating. In the short term (if you’re testing soon) – try to trust your gut a bit more and rethink less! If you’ve got more time, you should look for the situations that lead you to overthink, and actively practice shutting down those problem thought patterns that are leading you to overthink.

Get a Plan to Show Up Prepared

Now it’s time to give these tips a go. You need a detailed, personalized plan to go through the resources you want to review and show up ready on exam day.

Build your custom study schedule in minutes with our free trial and see how Cram Fighter can help you save time and keep you on track to perform your very best!

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