Maximize Your USMLE Study Time with Flashcards, Videos and UWorld

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • There is truly only one way to excel on the boards or any other exam: The appropriate amount of time must be devoted no matter what.

    Every single person who has ever done well on their exam has one thing in common: they have all prepared thoroughly, studying early and often.

    However, time alone is not the whole story. The time you spend must be effective and efficient, allowing for maximal learning of the concepts you currently know the least about. Here are some well-tested tips that will help you extract the most out of your study time when using flashcards, enabling you to get closer to your goals in a shorter amount of time.

    For Flashcard Programs (e.g. Memorang, Anki, Firecracker):

    Read through the set of cards first before you take them. Digest the material, and look up anything you don’t know or understand. Only then take the questions. This will get the easier questions out of the way much faster, so you can focus on extracting the material from the more difficult questions.

    Start taking questions from all topics right away.

    Attack your weakest topics early and often.

    Chip away everyday at topics you know are difficult for you, or require a lot of memorization (biochemistry, microbiology).

    For Videos:

    Videos are great when you have time on your side, but they’re not good for short, intensive study periods because they’re more passive ways of learning (versus, say, a Qbank or flashcards). If you do have more time to prepare or are starting your prep early, the key is making learning from the videos more active. Here’s how you can do that:

    Watching the video once or twice without taking any notes can be really helpful. Then try watching it one more time after you’ve soaked up a lot and only then taking notes or creating flashcards. This way you waste less time making unnecessary flashcards on topics you already know.

    You can also watch 2-3 videos at a time without notes, then go back and watch all three and take notes. This can help you extract the most out of each video because after you’ve watched the video a few times, things will spontaneously start making more sense—especially if you’re proactive about looking things up that aren’t familiar or don’t make sense. Finally, if you’re watching a YouTube video, you can always speed it up (or slow it down) by pushing shift and the > key at the same time. Shift plus < will slow it back down.

    Long story short:

    1) Have an overall goal of learning the material to the point where you could teach each lecture yourself.

    2) Take the key facts you learn from the video and turn them into flashcards (we’re big fans of Memorang and Anki).

    For UWorld:

    We’ve posted extensively about UWorld, and it’s a testament to the endless usefulness of the Qbank that we STILL have so much to say about it. Below, I’ve compiled some of the best advice we’ve got for utilizing this irreplaceable Qbank.

     Always take questions in timed, random mode.
    Knowing that all the questions you take in a block will be pulmonary will make them much easier, so you will give yourself an unfair advantage you won’t have on your actual exam. Of course if you’re using UWorld before you’ve covered certain topics, exceptions can be made (in which case you may want to consider this post).

     After taking the block, quickly look at the incorrect questions and read through their explanations, without writing anything down.
    Then take a break, do something else (Memorang/videos) and then go back later in the day and take notes/create Memorang flashcards on the explanations to the wrong answers. Again: doing a first pass without making notes or flashcards will reduce your time making unnecessary notes/cards when the time comes.

     Key point: Even if you’re taking the questions 44 at a time – definitely do not review them 44 at a time.
    A good rule of thumb is for every minute that you spent taking a question, earmark at least 3 minutes for review. For example, if you did 44 questions, total review time for that block should come to at least 2 hrs and 15 minutes (approximate).

     Focus your review disproportionately on questions you got wrong as well.
    And on those incorrects, focus on the answers you did NOT end up choosing and make sure you understand what they are getting at. As an exercise, mentally rewrite the stem so as to make each of the other answers into the correct one.

     Review UWorld questions only 5-6 at a time, and give yourself mental credit every time you get through reviewing 5-6 questions.

    This time reviewing should be spent as follows:

    read the “educational objective” at bottom, and make sure you understand it· look just as carefully at why the wrong answers are wrong as why the right answer is right
    mentally create alternative stems that would have led to the wrong answers being the correct one
    in general, spend much more time reviewing questions you answered incorrectly
    create Memorang flashcards for those key facts, associations, treatments, physical exam maneuvers and their significance, etc. under a new folder

    For questions you got incorrect, if you have time, go to uptodate and read the “summary and recommendations.”
    This is usually chock full of clinically relevant information that should highlight which basic science pieces are the most worth understanding and remembering.

     If timing is an issue for you, give yourself 55 minutes rather than 60 minutes for a 44 question block with the rule that you MUST enter an answer for every single question.
    Because on the actual exam, you MUST enter an answer for every question. How to do it? If you feel yourself spending too much time on any given question, move to the next one immediately.

     Always: read the question first.
    It’s incredibly common to get questions wrong simply because you misunderstood the question. Be sure you understand exactly what is being asked. Read it 2-3x if needed.

     Read the answers.
    Make one key association with each answer—whatever comes to mind. Ask yourself: what key lab value / physical exam maneuver / piece of history, radiology, etc. would I EXPECT to see in the stem if this were the correct answer?

     Read the stem.
    If during the stem you read something that enables you to eliminate an answer, do it immediately.

     Pick the answer you feel answers the question best. (NOT the answer that is tempting, but doesn’t answer the question).

     In general, aim to understand each question you got wrong in UWorld at a level to which you could teach a formal lesson on this topic to a fellow medical student and have them completely understand it.
    Understanding the question to a level that only enables you to pick the right answer when you see it again in UWorld is simply inadequate. You must understand why the question writers included each wrong answer. Why were they expecting some people to choose each wrong answer? How could you change the stem to make each wrong answer correct?

    For all resources, let them complement each other! For example, if you read something you’ve never heard of in a UWorld explanation about hematology, go watch a corresponding video. Then go over the same topic in your Memorang deck. If it’s not in Memorang, create a flashcard!