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Staying Human While Studying for the USMLE Like a Machine

The time has come. You are entering your dedicated study period ready to work harder than you ever have to achieve the USMLE Step 1 score of your dreams. The plan: from the instant your eyes open in the morning you will scour First Aid for every minute detail, listen intently to Dr. Saatar’s Pathoma Gospel, and do UWorld blocks until your eyes bleed, all with little to no contact with the outside world. Then go to bed and just to do it all over again the next day. This was my plan, at least, until I very quickly realized this lifestyle was not only not sustainable but detrimental to my scoring potential.

Here are a few ways to stay human while you study like a machine. These techniques enabled me to stay in a positive state of mind, which played a critical role in getting the score I wanted.

Scheduled Spontaneity

I’d like to consider myself a very spontaneous person. However, while studying for the most important exam of my life, this particular character trait had to be dialed back. How did I adjust? When a friend would call me inquiring if I wanted to grab some food while I was immersed in a chapter of First Aid, I would politely decline and reschedule for a specific date and time. Now knowing that in 2 days’ time I was going to spend an hour of my afternoon eating burritos and catching up with a friend, my motivation was rekindled. I would work as hard as possible over the next 2 days to earn that little break. I had something in the very near future to look forward to. When my outing was over, I felt incomparably refreshed mentally, which warded off the most feared study complication: burnout.

Stay Social

I deactivated my Facebook profile while studying for the Step 1, as I simply don’t trust myself. If you are one of those people who have self control and can use Facebook responsibly while studying, I envy you — please continue to do so. Humans are social animals and I knew I wouldn’t survive this time with limited human contact. I made it a point to text several of my colleagues, who were also studying for the exam, several times a week. Studying for this exam is an experience unlike any other and only those have done it can relate to your day-to-day highs and lows. Venting and being vented to by my friends and knowing we weren’t alone was vital for my mental well being, as no one else could fathom what I was going through. I think my friends would agree that we couldn’t have done it without one another.

Get Away from the Computer

Although this overlaps a bit with my first point, and is commonly emphasized when USMLE Step 1 study strategies are discussed, it is so imperative that I would be remiss if I did not expand on it. You cannot spend every second of every day studying. You must continue to do the things that made you happy before you started studying. You may not be able to dedicate as much time to these activities as you would like, but you still need to do them. For me, this was going to the gym 3 days a week. I would enter the gym, start my stopwatch, and leave after 1 hour exactly. Now this wasn’t the 5 days a week for 90 minutes that I preferred, but I was there for mental gains, not physical. Also, I am fortunate enough to live on Florida’s east coast and frequently took 30min-45min surfing breaks. Again, I wasn’t able to stay in the water for several hours like in days past, but when I returned to my desk after a surf session I often performed my best.

In Conclusion

Your mental well being during your dedicated study is of unparalleled importance. Keep your psyche intact by scheduling some fun, keeping in contact with some classmates who are also studying, and please do not stop doing the things you love to do. Work hard, stay balanced, and you will undoubtedly earn a score that you will be proud of.