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Tips for Using Practice Exams to Boost Your USMLE Score

We asked Hazel Asumu, University of Florida medical student and Cram Fighter coach, about the do’s and don’t’s of using practice exams to study for Step 1.

Below are three tips for using practice exams to pinpoint your weak areas and improve your timing from one of our very own Cram Fighter coaches.

Compensate for your weaknesses with added study

“I recommend taking an NBME practice exam before you even create a study plan,” says Hazel. “Your NBME results will tell you how many questions you got right under each subject. You can use this information to target your studying. If you are weak in one subject, you may want to start your study plan with that subject.”

Hazel says that resources tend to fall on a spectrum between general and very detailed. “You’ll want to choose a very detailed resource for subjects you’re struggling with. For subjects you are doing well on, there’s no need to use a in-depth resource,” she says.

Use the practice exams primarily as a source for getting familiar with the kinds of questions asked, improving your timing, and finding your weaknesses.

Practice taking the test under time constraints

“Take your NBMEs in the timed mode,” says Hazel. “Many students find out that they don’t have enough time to finish the 40 questions at their original pace.” If you need to increase your pace, you can include timing practice in your study plan.

I recommend taking an NBME practice exam before you even create a study plan.

To improve, Hazel says students can “read the question first. It’s the very last line of the prompt. Then, read through the answer choices. That way, you know what you should be looking for.” Hazel says that you can then read the question stem, the body and explication that comes before the question. “Sometimes you can even answer a question without reading through the whole stem,” she says.

Don’t dwell too heavily on your predicted score

“One mistake students make is concentrating too much on the practice exam’s predictive score,” says Hazel. “It’s true that the predictive score will give you a good ballpark, but so much of your success will depend on your mindset and confidence. Use the practice exams primarily as a source for getting familiar with the kinds of questions asked, improving your timing, and finding your weaknesses.” Hazel explained that students should be confident in the fact that, as long as you are improving in these three areas, you are working towards boosting your eventual USMLE score.

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