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Five Biggest Mistakes Students Make with UWorld

At Med School Tutors, we rely heavily on UWorld in our work with students. Over the last ten years, UWorld has been widely recognized as the gold standard Qbank for all USMLE exams. This is due primarily to the quality of its questions and rigor of its explanations.
UWorld content is updated throughout the year, which keeps the Qbank incredibly current in the changing world of medicine and medical testing. Students who use UWorld achieve consistently topflight results, but where do they go wrong? What are potential pitfalls that second year med students should make sure to avoid in their own prep?
We’ve identified the five biggest mistakes that med students make with UWorld for Step 1 prep (and also posted five more big UWorld mistakes here).

The top mistakes to avoid with UWorld Step 1 prep:

1. Not starting UWorld early enough in your Step 1 study period

Many students come to us concerned about starting UWorld questions too early in their Step 1 study period. They say they’re not ready to tackle a Qbank as difficult as UWorld. They would prefer to start with an easier Qbank or focus more on reading. This is a mistake!
Step 1 is a question-based exam. Therefore, the best approach to studying for Step 1 is to incorporate UWorld questions early and often. Even if you have not finished all of the material five months before your exam, there will certainly be some content you’ve covered.
For example, if you’ve already had your immunology course, do some immunology UWorld questions! If you’ve learned biochemistry, create a few short biochemistry question bank sets from UWorld. During your heme block in second year, do some heme questions.
Attempting difficult questions is a great way to focus your studying and highlight areas of deficiency. Additionally, you might want to do UWorld questions on the topics you’re learning in coursework.
Remember that you can customize your question sets based on discipline. You can focus on heme pathology or heme pharmacology, if that is what your course is covering. No need to deal with biostats or biochem during a heme pathophys block. The earlier you expose yourself to difficult case vignettes, the more efficient your question-based studying will be later on.

So, when should I start UWorld?
If you are in your second year of med school, buy UWorld now and start building your basic sciences foundation by working through questions.


2. Not spending enough time reading explanations in UWorld

Glossing over UWorld question explanations is one of the biggest and most damaging mistakes med students make when utilizing UWorld Qbanks.  Students who score 240 or higher on Step 1 know that the true value of UWorld lies in its high-quality explanations.

UWorld questions are prompts. They are vehicles for practicing the pattern recognition, clinical reasoning, and test-taking skills that we need to score high on the USMLE.
However, doing UWorld question banks alone and skimming the explanations is not enough to achieve mastery of the material.
Top scorers understand that UWorld is best used as a learning tool, and most of the learning happens when reviewing explanations—especially on questions you got wrong.
If there are five answer choices and only one correct answer, 80% of the content will focus on the incorrect answers. We must read all of the explanations—every word—to get the most out of the question.
Does this take time? Absolutely! Students come to us and say, “I’m spending too much time on UWorld sets. It’s taking me forever to review my blocks.”  We say, “No, you’re not. That’s how we learn.”
Med School Tutors has found that students should spend 2-3x as long reviewing explanations as completing sets. This review includes looking up content in high-yield resources and making flashcards. Don’t skimp on question review!  

3. Not linking UWorld Qbank explanation review to First Aid

What many students do not know, however, is how to effectively integrate First Aid study with UWorld question bank review for Step 1 prep.
We think about the UWorld Qbank as a tool for illuminating or animating the content in First Aid. Anyone who has opened up First Aid to a random chapter and tried to read it through as a narrative knows how difficult this is to do.
What we’ve found from our own study experiences and through our extensive work with students is that linking UWorld to First Aid is an incredibly effective way to make the book content stick. This means that optimal question bank review entails having a copy of First Aid ready to annotate—or even just to locate the information. Get ready to flip those pages! It’s one of the best ways to learn First Aid.

4. Prioritizing the percentage of correct answers over learning content

Med students are data-driven individuals. We all love numbers, percentages, trends, etc. However, we fall into a trap when we allow the numerical information provided by UWorld to overwhelm the learning component. Students become overly enamored with percent correct and cumulative results, when what really matters is how much we are learning from the explanations. We cannot stress this point enough: UWorld is primarily a learning tool, not an assessment tool.
Additionally, students who focus too much on numbers are more likely to suffer study inertia. Why? Because these students are afraid to move on to the next question block until they’ve mastered the material. This leads to more reading, more passive watching of videos, more review of notes. Students move slowly through the Qbank to improve their chances of achieving high percentages on the next set. Let go of your concerns about numbers! Nobody will see your percentages. Keep the focus on where it should be: learning the exam content and improving test-taking skills.

5. Working through the UWorld Qbank once only

This is a big mistake that students make for many of the reasons described in this post: focusing too heavily on percentages, not wanting to waste the questions, wanting to start with an easier Qbank as a “warm up.”
What students often do not realize until too late is that there is an overwhelming amount of content in this Qbank, again, found primarily in the explanations. It takes multiple passes through the Qbank to embed the key points in our minds and derive the full benefit of this wonderful learning tool. Most students do not have photographic memories (we don’t either), which means that repetition is the key to learning the material.
Mastery learning entails identifying the best resources and approaches, and working them repeatedly. If you are a 2nd year student and have not already done so, go ahead and acquire UWorld Qbank. (Many schools provide students with access to UWorld subscriptions, so be sure to find out if that’s the case before you purchase it on your own.) Start working on questions now as you create your basic science foundation. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to score high and join the 240+ club. We’ll save a spot for you.