Help, My USMLE Study Plan Isn’t Working! How to Get Back on Track
- Dec 06, 2022
If you have gotten to the point in your medical training journey to be preparing for your medical licensing exams, the USMLEs, congratulations! You are on a path that many have found immensely rewarding as well as terribly stressful. Being a medical student, you are used to exams whether it be the SAT, ACT, MCAT, or Chemistry 101. Studying and working hard is a part of who you are. The USMLE exams, however, are unlike any tests you’ve taken before. They are longer, cover more material, and have a greater impact on your career than the tests that came before. Even the best medical students struggle with these beasts, but never fear, the vast majority come out on the other side competent physicians. If you read my previous blog post where I helped you decide the best med school study tools to use to create an effective study schedule, this will be an extension—that is, what to do when something goes wrong and your USMLE study plan begins to fall apart.
How to Get Your USMLE Study Plan Back on Track
1. Identify the problem
There are many reasons why after a week or two of studying during your dedicated period, you begin to feel your plan is faltering in some way, and none of them have anything to do with your ability as a student or future doctor. The first step you must take is to identify the weaknesses and strengths of your plan and reshape it to keep the good, cut out the less good, and add the great.
Ask yourself the following questions: Am I using too many resources? Am I not using enough resources? Does my study routine target my weaknesses? Am I giving myself enough time to get through the material? Once these questions are answered, it is time to sit down and readjust your study plan to be effective and lead you to success on exam day.
2. Focus on the best resources
The most important next step is to pick the optimal number of resources that can be done during your study period and focus on turning your weakness into strengths. UWorld is essentially a requirement in this regard. It is both a test-taking skill builder as well as a learning tool where you are continuously increasing your fund of knowledge as your progress through the Qbank. Pathoma is another quick and easy-to-digest resource that offers a broad range of information that you can repeat multiple times throughout your studies. The rest are excellent supplementals such as Sketchy to brush up on your micro, path, and pharm.
Finally, flashcards are what I call a “filler method” that you can do to wind down at the end of the day, during meals, or on your daily walks, which I highly recommend. Incorporating flashcards into your day alongside your Qbank studying allows for spaced repetition, a powerful study technique where the learner sees the same context at specified intervals to increase retention and accurate application on test day. The exact number of resources and which ones you use will ultimately depend on what makes you feel confident.
3. Schedule your resources to cover your study period
After honing your resources down to the ones that best serve you, I recommend using Cram Fighter to schedule them automatically. Cram Fighter is a smart USMLE study plan creation tool that combines all of your study resources into one easy-to-use schedule (and automatically rebalances your plan if you fall behind). This means you can spend less time creating a plan and more time actually studying!
One of the key features of Cram Fighter is the ability to select which resources you will be using during your dedicated study period. Once selected, you can fine-tune your resources with the number of pages you’ll read per hour, the number of questions or cards you’ll complete per day, and more. You can also remove resources that are less helpful or efficient to your studying to free up space to focus on high-yield resources or the self-care that is necessary to succeed.
For a step-by-step walkthrough of how to use Cram Fighter for your USMLE study plan, check out this 5-minute demo:
4. Adjust your study schedule to fit your needs
After selecting your resources from hundreds of indexed choices, you may then select some days to have a higher workload and others a lighter one depending on your schedule, making Cram Fighter extremely flexible. Then, press the magical rebalance button which will automatically output a study schedule catered to your needs and get you through your material by the date of your exam.
If at any time you fall behind on your Cram Fighter schedule, you may simply input where you are, press the rebalance button, and Cram Fighter will adjust to wherever you are in your study schedule within minutes, taking the stress out of having to rework your strategy multiple times.
There are many other features that you may want to explore on Cram Fighter to fit your individual needs, such as building in rest days or catch-up days, scheduling vacation time, etc. which will allow Cram Fighter to integrate into your life as seamlessly as possible.
5. Boost your confidence
Ultimately, confidence on test day comes from knowing that you executed a well-thought-out USMLE study plan which targeted your weaknesses, bolstered your test-taking skills, and maximized your time wisely. You feel secure in the fact that you’ll come out on the other side of the USMLEs as a happy medical student with a passing score.
The next time you feel yourself faltering, falling behind, or worried about your ability to get through the mountain of material there is to learn, take a breath and press the rebalance button and continue your way down the path to the medical career of your dreams!
About the Author
I am a graduate of the Ohio State University with a degree in Neuroscience as well as a minor in clinical Psychology. I am currently a research coordinator at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center prior to beginning residency. I am attending the University of Pittsburgh Medical School for my MD. I am interested in the field of Orthopaedics as well as medical education, healthcare reform, and various advocacy groups. I focus on questions/testing strategy as well as taking what you learn from a book and applying it to test questions. Twitter: @LCluts