Monday, March 21, 2016

USMLE -- I said it aloud and haven't been struck by lightning yet.

The face pictured here is not mine.

I've finished coursework. In just a couple of moths I'll take Step 1 of the USMLE. My initial plan was to pursue hedonistic pleasures this week, to have my tonsils (and possibly my adenoids as well) removed next week, and to recover for a period of ten days to two weeks following the surgery, studying only intermittently. Following my recovery, I would begin a six-to-seven-week period of rather intense study for the first installment of the USMLE, which is said to be the mother****er of all tests.

Old habits die hard, however. I didn't get to my current station in life (which is not all that much about which to boast, though what I have achieved would be even more pathetic by comparison  had I gone through life up to this point as a slacker) by waiting until the last possible moment to prepare for any exam.

I began the arduous process of studying for Step 1 of the USMLE this morning. I didn't study for the full the twelve-to-fourteen hours that I plan to devote to test prep once I begin studying truly in earnest, but I gave "the Boards" a solid eight hours and forty minutes of my time. I'll probably do the same for most of the days this week. I'll still manage to knock at least three of the four items off my short-term "bucket list" for this week, but I could not give up studying even were I to try. Studying is such a habit for me that it's not much of a stretch to call it an addiction. 

Step 1 of the USMLE contains 280 multiple-choice questions (dropping, as of May 2016, from 322 questions)  which are to be completed over an eight-hour span, with forty-five minutes of the eight hours allotted for break time. A person can increase his or her break time by skipping the optional fifteen-minute tutorial at the beginning and/or by finishing each of the seven sections in less than one hour. Unless a person taking the test has highly extenuating circumstances, i.e. lactating or something similarly compelling, it would seem rather foolish either to skip the tutorial or to give any section less that its fully allotted time merely to increase one's break time. Then again, I don't smoke. Perhaps I'd feel differently about breaks if I were a nicotine addict.

Results for Step 1 of the USMLE are reported as scaled scores -- a three-digit score as high as 300, along with a two-digit score that we're told is not a percentile ranking but looks, sounds, and smells eerily like one.  The minimum passing score is 190, but anyone whose score skulks anywhere near 190 will be forced to settle for the very dregs of placements in terms of internship or residency.  Medical schools vary with regard to the number of attempts allowed. A person may take the test up to six times; my med school allows only three attempts before the candidate's enrollment is terminated. I will not jinx myself by suggesting that there's no way I will fail the test on my first attempt, but I seriously have no intention of taking the Boards three times.

I have a detailed study plan mapped out in writing, borrowing heavily from someone else's plan I found online. I've already deviated from it, though, by having  begun my study yesterday. I'd love to take a laid-back approach to this thing, but I can't. Neither can I pretend that my level of obsession is a good thing. On the other hand, were I not stressing out over the USMLE, I'd undoubtedly be stressing out over something else. The USMLE is as worthy as any other cause for stress.

I''m not depicted in any of these drawings.


  1. You probably don't need it, but good luck anyway!

  2. Exams are a necessary hurdle to the next level. Your learning continues long after the exams are behind you.

    You will be OK. You have learned exam technique, the biggest predictor of examination success.Believe in yourself!!!!

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