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Advice on How to Use USMLE Question Banks from a Question Writer

We’ve pooled advice on strategies for using question banks from medical students, a question bank author, and a Cram Fighter coach.

“After basic science review, question banks are going to be one of the more important resources that students use,” says Derek Kong, a Yale medical student and a contributor for PasTest. “I would venture to guess that greater than 95% of U.S. medical students taking Step 1 are going to use some type of question bank.” Since question banks are such an integral resource, creating a strategy can help you ensure you don’t underutilize them. Below are answers to common questions and suggestions for question bank strategies from medical students who succeeded on Step 1.

How many question banks should I use?

“I know people who have used four different types, I know people who have used just one,” says Derek. “The numbers of question banks are a matter of personal preference, but almost everyone is going to use at least one question bank.”

When should I start using question banks?

“It depends on what purpose the question bank is going to serve in your study plan,” says Derek. “If you’re going to use a question bank to learn basic science and get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, then it’s wiser to use it earlier. In that case, you’re using it to build your science foundation, and you’re learning the five or six different topics that each question is teaching you.”

“If you’re going to use your question bank to work on speed, accuracy, and to model the bank after a real exam, then it might be worth waiting until a couple of weeks prior to the exam to really build your endurance, make sure you’re able to finish the 46-47 questions in a section,” says Derek.

Reviewing question banks

“I think the biggest pitfall would be not thoroughly reviewing the questions you went through. As a rule of thumb, if I took 46 or 47 minutes to go through a block of questions, I typically take 2 or 2.5 times longer to go through and review all the questions,” says Derek.

Joel HardingConstantly identify your weaknesses, review your weak subjects and analyze topics you frequently get wrong on question banks.

Joel Harding, Cram Fighter Coach and student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine
USMLE: 250, COMLEX: 715

“Think about it. You have at least five answer choices for each question. One of them is right, four of them are wrong, and even though that question is going to test that one particular topic, it’s going to also indirectly teach you the associated pathologies, medications, and microbiology that’s associated with the other four incorrect answers. So to know why the other four are incorrect is just as important as knowing why the correct answer is the correct answer. One question could easily test five or six different topics indirectly.”

Set a goal

“I first went through one time of just First Aid. I then focused on my Qbanks and any topic I needed extra help with I reread that chapter in First Aid,” says Garren G. a student at A.T Still School of Osteopathic Medicine-Arizona. “I had set goals on how many questions I wanted to do prior to my test.”

I typically take 2 or 2.5 times longer to go through and review all the questions.

Derek Kong, PasTest contributor

Use the 80/20 rule

“I would say about 80% of your initial approach should be review of information with 20% spent on questions,” says Joel Harding, a student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Once you have completed a thorough review through a board review book series, or course then switch your approach to 80% questions and 20% review. Constantly identify your weaknesses, review your weak subjects and analyze topics you frequently get wrong on question banks.”

About the Author

Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.