Starting at a 220 or higher? Five reasons to still work with a USMLE tutor

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • Every once in a while a student will ask the following question: “I’ve been getting good scores throughout medical school. Do I need to use a tutor to prepare for Step 1?” Though students are generally hoping for a “yes” or “no” reply, the answer is a little more complicated and depends on your priorities and end goal. Based on 13 years of student successes, the simplest answer is: Having a tutor can exponentially increase how high you score on your exam — even if you already know your stuff — and save you precious time, resources and energy in the process. How? Below, we’ve compiled the five most common benefits of working with one of our tutors:


    1. Identify your weak areas

    One of the most powerful benefits of tutoring is having someone show you what you know and what you don’t. Though this may seem straightforward, it’s often not. In the fast paced world of medical school, material comes at you so quickly that it can be hard to differentiate between what you truly know and what has simply been memorized. Though this is often not a problem for class exams (where you are testing information you generally studied more recently), when it comes time for the USMLE or the COMLEX, you have to truly understand the underlying concepts. This is because the content will likely be appearing in a different context than you learned it. Additionally, for example, USMLE vignettes often don’t ask a question like “What are the various side effects from the following drug?” but rather present a scenario where you must first make the correct diagnosis, then pick the appropriate drug to treat the disease and finally list the possible side effects. Hence, you have to know this information inside and out. Memorization alone can’t and won’t cut it.

    2. Avoid wasting time — especially during dedicated

    One of the primary things a tutor is able to do is to help you NOT make unnecessary mistakes. In particular, a tutor is there to make sure you don’t waste any time on study practices that are not yielding results for you. Every year new “trends” for Step 1 preparation emerge that promise revelatory success rates for every student who tries it. My favorite extreme example of this was eating spicy food before test day back in 2014! I think we can all agree that having a possible upset stomach before an 8-hour exam is a bad life choice.

    Though this may seem laughable now, when all of your friends are planning on attempting this and the stress of Step 1 is washing over you, it may seem completely sane. You may have some friends who insist on studying 14-16 hours a day. However, your tutor — who has helped guide countless students through this process — may find that you personally will see much greater success with logging 10-12 hour days. Instead of getting lost in a comparison loop, you can trust the sound voice of reason (and your adaptive, detailed study schedule) that’s focused on your best results. Hence, you don’t have to spend the first three weeks of your dedicated study period in an overly exhausted haze seeing poor returns on your time only to realize your error in judgement with only three weeks left to cover the remaining ground.

    3. Avoid unnecessary resources

    In line with the above, new resources with compelling messaging hit the market every year and it can be really hard to tell what will bring you the best results (or results at all). At MST, we have a dedicated Resource Review Committee whose job it is to test popular new resources as they hit the market. Not only do we then learn what helps increase scores, we also understand which resources are good for which students, timelines, learning styles and goals. Hence, when your tutor tells you to avoid X or pick up a copy of Y, it’s not random or based on one tutor’s single success story — it’s tested and proven!

    4. Develop test-taking skills and strategies for USMLE style vignettes

    Knowing the content is only one part of this process. Regardless of your track record with standardized exams, figuring out how to answer vignettes quickly can the be the difference between scoring well and scoring in the 90th+ percentile. We polled MST students who scored a 235+ on their first NBME and still opted to work with a tutor, and their #1 reason for choosing tutoring was to be able to review questions they got wrong together.

    Learning how to quickly dissect a vignette meant that they could successfully apply the knowledge they had learned throughout their pre-clinical years of med school and took some of the pressure off how much they needed to know to excel. What I mean by this is: If you know how to answer these 2- and even 3-step questions with grace, you can rely more on problem solving skills to guide you through even when you don’t have the knowledge. This can translate to huge gains in points, especially on longer questions that some students will just skip.

    5. Anxiety reduction/reassurance

    Finally, knowing that you are doing the right things and are supported by an expert cuts down on a lot of the worrying most students do when studying. It’s our job to know what works and what doesn’t, and in particular, to be a source of wisdom for when something doesn’t work. (Your tutor can also talk you down from throwing away your computer just because a shift key is broken — even if that seems like a perfectly reasonable response. True story.) Knowing that you are not alone and the steps you are taking will result in gains can make you feel more human.

    In speaking with one of our tutors recently (who has logged more than 5,000 tutoring hours at MST), he said that some of his students who get the most out of tutoring are not bad at building their knowledge or taking exams. They are just anxious! The sessions — and the regular communication when needed in between — help keep students’ anxiety at bay because they are gradually making progress and never need to wonder if they could be doing more. Though this may not sound like a lot, the reassurance that you are on the right path counts for a lot when it feels like your residency is riding on the line.


    Bottom line: You’re making an investment in your career and long-term success, and you want something that’s guaranteed to work and a score that will open doors for the residency you want. We promise to give you a specific timeline and plan that we’ll follow and regularly adapt to your progress. We lay out our rates at the outset so there are no hidden surprises, and while we may not be the cheapest experts out there (do you really want a cheap expert?), we promise you we’re well worth it, and we guarantee that your score will increase — and that you’ll be happy with your tutor match. Let’s do this.