How to Study for USMLE Steps: A USMLE Exam Prep Story

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How to Study for USMLE Steps A USMLE Exam Prep Story

How to Study for USMLE Step Exams: A USMLE Prep Story

Tips on How to Study for USMLE Step 1, Step 2 and Beyond
If you are reading this, you are somewhere in the process of taking your USMLE Step exams.  Today's "how I to study for USMLE" exam prep testimony comes from Meri Khachatryan, MD. She offers some personal insights into how to study for USMLE Step 1, Step 2 and beyond.

What to Keep in Mind When You Study for USMLE Step Exams

Being in medical school is hard.  The second and third years are especially hard as you study for USMLE tests. The results of these tests sometimes determine what you will be doing for the rest of your career. 

In medical school, everyone (professors, physicians, students) talks about the importance of these tests. “Step 1 can destroy your career” was the only thing ringing in my ears. As a second-year medical student I was stressed to take the exam. Just the thought of how this one exam is going to determine my career and where I would spend the next few years of my training stressed me to the level where I was stressing more than actually spending time studying for USMLE step 1.

During step 1 I did what everyone else did.  I isolated myself in my apartment or spent hours at local coffee shops to study. I didn’t have any study methods, so I would do what everyone else did: I tried reading First Aid, and did UWorld questions, sometimes too many in a day to the point that I would not have time to process all the information. 

Stay Mindful of Your USMLE Study Stress

I was stressed, and it was not working, but it was too late to change anything. So, I kept jumping from reading First Aid to UWorld to watching sketchy YouTube programs with fun videos to help with microbiology and pharmacology. 

I took my test without confidence and walked out feeling relieved it was over. I passed the exam with a low score; lower than I anticipated and lower than any of my practice exams.

From this experience I learned that stress took the best out of me, and my score was not a representation of me. I knew I needed to make a change.

Look for Case-based USMLE Question Banks

During 3rd year of medical school, we take USMLE step 2. At this time, I was doing my clinical rotations, and I had some amazing attendings (physicians we work with) who liked to teach and ask questions, or assign topics to review. I spent time on those topics, and wrote down the questions I wasn’t able to answer so that I could study them later. Most of these topics were related to the patients’ cases that we were seeing.

Associating the topic with the patient, reading case reports trying to see what changes can be made in the patient’s care to optimize the outcome was fulfilling.  I was enjoying learning. I was excited to relate basic science (taught in 1st two years of medical school) to medical condition and management.  This helped me to shape my knowledge. It was during this year that I started enjoying medicine because I realized that I am studying for myself and to be able to apply the knowledge to patient care later in my career and that it is not about scores.

I became more organized. I typed the new information from the day as well as new information from case-based USMLE question banks in a Word document. I preferred typing over hand writing as it is easy to edit, and when I had new information about the same topic I would go back to that topic and edit, sometimes even days or months later so everything was more organized. Later I would print my notes, and have it in my backpack all the time, and whenever I had downtime in the hospital/clinic I would read my own notes multiple times. If I felt like something was missing, I would look it up and edit my note.

How I Decided to Study for USMLE Step 2 and beyond

During my dedicated study time for Step 2, I decided to do what had always worked for me before medical school. I cannot completely isolate myself and study effectively. I went back to Los Angeles, California to stay with my family. I would wake up at 8am and go to the library at 9am. I would study for 8-9 hours a day. I still used online USMLE question banks, but all the information that was new to me I would add to my typed notes. Ultimately, I spent as much time reviewing my notes as I did running through USMLE question banks. I spent my evenings with family, and sometimes I did light reading or watched YouTube videos of some topics where I needed more explanation. I felt more confident taking step 2, and this time my score was much higher and exactly where I wanted it to be.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me during my second year of medical school not to stress that much. Scores are just numbers, and we are studying for ourselves and for our patients in the future.

We all have different ways of studying. For lots of students, isolating themselves to study works perfectly, but this did not work for me. It’s very important to find a way of studying that works for you.

Make sure to get good sleep and eat good food. Sometimes all you need is a few hours or even a full day off of studying to get yourself back together. Never lose your motivation, and if something doesn’t work the first time around, analyze it, understand your mistakes, and move forward.

- Meri Khachatryan, MD

I realized that I am studying for myself and to be able to apply the knowledge to patient care later in my career and that it is not about scores.
Meri Khachatryan, MD

Future Plan: USMLE Step 2CK / Step 3 Review

Med-Challenger provides a high-quality USMLE Step 2CK / 3 review course with 1000's of case-based questions, detailed answers, time-saving remediation features and a low-cost membership plan that can save you money, time, and stress throughout your clinical career.  Special offers available.

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