USMLE World = Your Base for USMLE Prep
In my experience, USMLE World was absolutely the best resource that I used for my USMLE prep. USMLE Step 1 is one of the most frightening tests you will take in your medical career. The
MCAT was tough, but this one, in many ways, is even tougher. The following were my go-to sources to be able to score at about the 97th percentile on USMLE Step 1. The rest of this page will outline my study schedule and plan for my USMLE prep.
As you can tell from my intro paragraph, I highly, highly recommend USMLE world. When I came to the test, I felt that my USMLE prep had really paid off. I felt as if I was taking just another practice test from USMLE world.
A New Private Tutoring Option – Med School Tutors
USMLE Step 1 probably has more to do with matching into the residency of your choice than anything else. For that reason, it may be worthwhile to purchase additional preparation, particularly if you have struggled in the past with standardized test.
If you’re looking for a one on one tutoring option for the USMLE, Med School Tutors could be a great choice.
Unlike many other tutoring companies, Med School Tutors quickly gave me some of the average results that their students get from their services. Here is about what you can expect as far as score improvement:
– USMLE: ~32 points – MCAT: ~7 points – COMLEX: ~120 points
These are measured from an initial official practice test (or a prior actual test) to the actual test. These are pretty significant improvements, and I liked that they were quick to tell about what you can expect. That’s what you’re paying for, right?
Tutors are selected based on several criteria. For starters, they need to have scored very high on their standardized tests:
USMLE > 250
COMLEX > 630
MCAT > 36
From there, tutors are screened based on a phone interview, followed by an in-person interview, and often a second in-person interview. Tutors then go on to individual training sessions. I was able to receive this detailed explanation by the program about what training the tutors go through:
“The training sessions introduce our tutors to what we call the MST System and Approach to Tutoring. It covers best strategies for reviewing practice tests/questions (to ensure content mastery and test-taking improvement), establishing/maintaining a student’s study schedule, most common student weaknesses/concerns (and role playing scenarios), overview of best resources for different students’ needs, preparation for helping students cope with anxiety, and generally an introduction to the MST tutoring paradigm which is holistic and aggressive about pushing students to succeed.”
New tutors are also paired up with a tutoring mentor through their first year, which I think is smart and a nice touch.
There are also scheduled performance reviews for the tutors where they receive more training. Their continued employment depends on positive results as well as student satisfaction.
I think that this screening process is solid and that you should end up with a great tutor.
Med School Tutors goes through the following process to make sure that you’re ready for your test. From their website, this includes:
- Start with realistic awareness of your baseline
- Establish an individualized study plan detailing daily assignments
- Target your weaknesses no matter how much more comfortable your strengths are
- Integrate and link concepts across the entire spectrum of material
- Master and retain the most hi-yield content
- Focus on problem and question-based learning/practice
- Refine your test-taking and clinical-reasoning skills
- Schedule and review assessment exams
- Adapt and prioritize according to your progress
- Determine the best date for your test
I particularly like that they help you choose the best date for your test and have several assessments as you’re getting ready to take the test.
The cost of Med School Tutors is similar to all high level, one-on-one tutoring, which is in the $200 to $300 an hour range. However, there are package options that will decrease this rate by up to 15%.
For this level of customization, it’s not a bad deal. Plus, it’s often worth it to pay more for a great tutor.
Keep in mind that you are planning to enter a career where your compensation will definitely be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for years to come.
Your USMLE score could mean the difference between matching into a competitive residency where you really want to go and having to settle for a specialty you really didn’t want.
As with most one-on-one services, there is no refund available after tutoring has been done. However, if you are unhappy with your tutor for whatever reason, they’ll be happy to work with you to either find a new tutor or fix whatever issues you are having.
Overall, I would recommend Med School Tutors as a solid option for one-on-one tutoring. Their pricing is similar to other one-on-one tutoring, and they have the benefit of being a smaller company than a Kaplan or a Princeton Review. To me this means they can be more careful with their tutor selection. They definitely have the highest standards that I’ve seen as far as scores for tutor selection, and their average score improvement is very impressive. Also, you’ll get a very systematic, yet personalized approach that has been proven successful.
You can find out more about their tutoring and sign up here.
If you’re planning on going it alone, without tutoring, keep reading to see my study strategy and review of USMLE world.
The same USMLE exam program. USMLE World gives you the
opportunity to take tests on the exact same program that you will use on the actual USMLE exam. This was comforting to me since I knew how to mark questions for review, how to look up lab values and do the other tasks that might have been foreign to me had I not used USMLE world.
Questions very similar to questions on the USMLE exam. The thing that impressed me most about USMLE world was how similar the questions on the USMLE review were to those on the actual USMLE exam. When I came to the USMLE exam, I really felt as though I was just taking another set of questions from USMLE world. In this way, I felt that it was the best USMLE prep that I did.
Great explanations for question answers. What you should look for in any USMLE prep program are good explanations for the question answers. USMLE world gives detailed explanations of why the right answer is right and why the wrong answers are wrong. This is invaluable during your USMLE prep. You can learn five or six important concepts that will be tested on the USMLE exam from one question and its explanation through USMLE
world. This makes USMLE world an incredibly efficient study tool for your USMLE prep.
Practice tests and timed tests. One of the big things you need to remember about USMLE Step 1 is that it is timed. You won’t have all day to think about the answers to your questions. This means that you need to practice taking the test timed. USMLE World gives you several options to do this. I purchased two full length practice tests along with the QBank. I only ended up using one of the USMLE World practice tests. However, as I came nearer to my USMLE exam date, I would do one or two question blocks (about one hour each) per day to get in the habit of taking questions in a timed manner. This is something you
must do as part of your usmle prep.
What I bought from USMLE World. I purchased a 6 month subscription to the USMLE World QBank for my USMLE prep. In retrospect, I would have probably purchased a shorter subscription. I thought that I would have time to start doing questions before my school let out to give us time to study for the usmle exam, but I really didn’t. So, I would recommend buying the QBank for the amount of time you have committed solely to your USMLE review. I also purchased two practice tests, but only ended up doing one of them. Our school also gave us a practice test before we were given time off for our USMLE review. I spent a lot of time answering questions and reviewing them near the end of my usmle review period, but only got through about half of the QBank. In my opinion, if you really study the answer explanations provided by USMLE world, you’ll be able to master the concepts covered by the USMLE exam without having to do all of the questions. That was my experience, anyway. Obviously, however, the more you do, the better prepared you will be for the USMLE exam.
My study strategy with USMLE World. As I said before, at first I thought I would
start studying the questions before my protected USMLE review time. As it turned out, I really started studying USMLE world about when I started my official USMLE prep. I took one of the practice tests at the beginning of my USMLE prep to help find out about where I was. USMLE world gives you a breakdown by topic of how you did so that you can target your studying to areas that need the most work. This was one thing I really liked about USMLE world. After this test, I spent my time studying in First Aid USMLE and in Goljan Rapid Review Pathology. After I would finish a section in one of these, I would go through questions about that section in USMLE world. I really started doing the questions more (about 2-3 question blocks per day) during the last month of my studying. This really helped me get ready for the USMLE exam and was, for me, the most helpful part of my USMLE prep.
Now, you have to understand that the way that I learn best for tests is by taking practice questions and studying the answers. This is why USMLE world was such a great tool for my USMLE prep. If you study style is different, this may not work as well for you.
First Aid USMLE
First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is a must-have for your USMLE prep. You will likely see some of your classmates using this book throughout their first and second years of medical school. I thought that my classmates were nerds for doing this. But, looking back, this was a great way to start USMLE prep.
Using First Aid USMLE during your first two years of medical school. First Aid USMLE is essentially a very condensed version of most of the things you’ll learn in your first and second year of medical school. At least the material that will be covered on the USMLE exam. The more familiar you are with Frist Aid USMLE, the better off you will be when you start using it for your formal USMLE prep in the months prior to taking USMLE Step
1. If you use this book during your medical school curriculum, you’ll be able to have a summary of the things you’ve learned, as well as seeing what might not have been covered by your school that is covered on the usmle exam.
Using USMLE First Aid for USMLE Prep. There are helpful figures in First Aid USMLE
and mnemonics to help you memorize things. I found the organization of the book very helpful in my USMLE prep. First Aid USMLE breaks the huge amount of information you need to know for the big test into categories that make sense for your USMLE prep. You will learn about immunology, endocrinology, pharmacology, the cardiovascular system, the renal system and all other important information for the USMLE exam. Again, the information is condensed in First Aid USMLE, so you may need to supplement the information with things from the internet or other books if you have bought
them. The bottom line is, First Aid USMLE has what you need to know for the test.
Don’t sweat the biochemistry. One tip I have is to not spend a ton of time on the biochemistry section of First Aid USMLE. Understand the key steps that have to do with certain diseases (e.g. what does lead poisoning or B12 deficiency affect), but don’t try to memorize full pathways that don’t have specific clinical relevance.
My study strategy for First Aid USMLE. My study strategy was as follows: get through the book twice in depth before my test. I tried to finish about 2 weeks before my actual test date. That was combined with my studies with USMLE World and Goljan Rapid Review Pathology.
Rapid Review Pathology by Edward Goljan
This book is a great resource during medical school and for the USMLE exam. It’s similar to First Aid USMLE in that the material is condensed into bullet points. However, it has more information about the “why” of diseases than First Aid USMLE and is a great companion to First Aid USMLE and USMLE World for your USMLE prep.
My study strategy with Rapid Review Pathology. My study strategy was the same for
Goljan’s book as it was with First Aid USMLE. I tried to get through the material in the book twice and know it well about 2 weeks before my actual test date. I would use the material in this book to compliment and supplement the material in First Aid USMLE. For example, if I was reading about endocrinology in First Aid USMLE, I would also read about that in Rapid Review Pathology.
My USMLE Prep Schedule
Before starting: Before you start really preparing for the USMLE exam, you should have a couple of things clearly in mind: where you are with your score and where you want to
be. To determine where you are, you need to take a USMLE Step 1 practice test. Our school gave us one that we took as a class. Your school might do the same. You might be scared by this score. I know I was. But, it’s good to know where you’re starting from.
To determine where you want to be, you should consider what specialty you are applying to and how competitive that specialty is. For some good information on this, you can go to the Careers in Medicine website and click on Specialty
Pages. Find the specialties you are interested in, then click “match data.” This will give you the Step 1 scores and other information about applicants who match into that specialty. For a more general idea, you can go here and choose a specialty from the top right box. It will tell you if the specialty is low, intermediate or high on competitiveness. You can also find a very useful scale in the
first few pages of First Aid USMLE that gives you a ballpark estimate for different specialties.
A passing score on Step 1 is 188. The national average score on USMLE Step 1 is 221. The most
competitive specialties have average USMLE Step 1 scores of around 240.
So, before you start studying, set your goal. If you are trying for a less competitive specialty, your USMLE Step 1 score won’t be as important and you might be shooting for average or just above. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re going for orthopaedic surgery, you had better hit the books! Probably the best resource for what you need to do to match into particular specialties can be found here, the NMRP’s report on “charting outcomes in the match.” It goes into volunteer, research and other activities as well as Step 1 scores for different specialties.
My goal was a 245, so I needed to spend plenty of time studying, especially since my first practice test said I was at a 208!
Month 1-2: Monday to Friday I would read a new section in First Aid USMLE and the corresponding section in Goljan’s book. I would read new material in the morning (around 6-8am), new material in the
afternoon (1-3pm) and review the material from the day at night (7-9pm). Those hours might go a little longer on some days. The night review would sometimes include USMLE World questions on the related topics. On Saturday I would review the things that I had studied in the previous days. This would include USMLE world questions about the topics.
In the middle of this I also took the USMLE world practice test and found that I was around 220. This was encouraging since it was about what I needed for psychiatry, but lower than my goal of 245. So, I had to keep working on my USMLE
Now, this was the ideal schedule for me and didn’t always happen just like this. I would sometimes get tired of reviewing material or wouldn’t have enough time to do USMLE World questions at night or whatever. This was my ideal. You can set your own dates for having reviewed your material. I wanted to finish by 2 weeks before my test date. I would also take breaks at times during my studies to go play basketball, run, or take other breaks. I study a lot better when I take breaks between. You might be different.
Month 3: This is where I started transitioning to doing more USMLE world questions. I had finished most of First Aid USMLE and Goljan by this point, so it was more just doing questions. Usually I did 2 sets per day and started studying Same hours, same breaks. It was what worked for me. With having a family, it worked well to do studying before the kids woke up, during their naps, and after they went to sleep.
Test Day: I scheduled my test day for the middle of June, a couple of weeks before rotations started on July 1st. Looking back I wish I would have done it a week earlier. That last week probably made very little difference on my score but took a week away from vacation that I would have loved to have before starting rotations my third year of medical school. So, my advice to you would be to take it at the beginning of June.
On test day, make sure you bring snacks and food. It’s a very, very long test. I would also recommend taking all of your breaks. I would run around the building, do push ups or do other things to keep my body and mind refreshed. That
might just be my thing, but if I sit for too long I start going crazy!
So, with all of this, I was able to surpass my target score of 245, with a 257 which I was very happy with. Again, this is what worked for me and may not work as well for you. But, USMLE World, First Aid USMLE and Goljan Pathology are top notch resources no matter your study preferences. You may also want to work with groups to help each other learn the material. At any rate, best of luck! And remember, although important, Step 1 isn’t everything. Programs look at a lot more than just this score, particularly your transcript and letters of recommendation. Good luck!
Getting Professional Help
Obviously the main tool I used for my preparation was USMLE World along with the other books. However, there are other options for USMLE Step 1 prep, mainly through Kaplan.
Kaplan also has a QBank that many of my friends used and had good things to say about it. Kaplan is a trusted name in test prep and they have a solid product. You can even use the QBank on your mobile phone, which is handy.
The price is good too. You can either get 1 month for $99 or up to 12 months for $199. You’ll also get 1 diagnostic test and 2 simulated exams for this price, which is a great deal. Another useful thing about this QBank is that question explanations reference First Aid pages so you can work between the two resources. You can take advantage of this offer here.
As with the MCAT, Kaplan also offers prep courses which review the material covered on Step 1 and integrate that with questions and testing. If you do better in this kind of environment and/or feel like you need some extra help to get that extra high score, these courses are a great option. There are varying levels of intensity and time in the courses you can take, including an online option. Click here to explore these options. You’ll see the different programs for Step 1 on the left side of the page.
UWorld’s QBank is more expensive, costing $99 for one month, $145 for 2, $185 for 3, $299 for 6 and $399 for 12 months. You also have to pay for practice tests separately which are $30 each. They also do not offer any kind of instruction outside of the questions.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of some of your professional options for Step 1 Prep. Best of luck!
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