How did you handle studying for both the COMLEX and the USMLE at the same time?
I studied for the USMLE and gave myself a few days at the end of my schedule to study OPP. Most of the material, with the exception of OPP, overlaps on both exams.
What advice do you have for students who want to get a high score on the COMLEX and the USMLE?
My advice would be to start reading First Aid as early as you can. During the summer between my first and second year, I reviewed the material I had learned in class. I read First Aid’s chapters on Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Physiology, Immunology, Microbiology, and Neurology. I recommend reading First Aid again and again until you know every line.
I found that I only needed USMLE-Rx, UWorld, Cram Fighter, Pathoma, and First Aid.
Continue reading through First Aid during second year. Before you memorize the material on the slides from classes, make sure you know what First Aid has to say about that topic. Then, in December, start doing a block of questions per day. I did a timed block of 44 questions from USMLE-Rx from 6 AM to 11 AM every morning.
I recommend using USMLE-Rx as a learning tool. I see a lot of people using UWorld as a learning tool, but I recommend using UWorld as an assessment tool. Use UWorld assessments to track your progress with self-assessment scores. If you use UWorld’s questions as a learning tool, you’ll recognize the questions when you take the assessment. I switched to using UWorld from March to May. In terms of resources, I found that I only needed USMLE-Rx, UWorld, Cram Fighter, Pathoma, and First Aid.
Since First Aid was so central to your study plan, do you have any tips for how to use this resource most effectively?
I went through First Aid four or five times. For the last couple of times I went through First Aid, I bought erasable highlighters. At this stage, as you go through First Aid and your Cram Fighter tasks, you will notice that you know a lot of the material. But if there are key facts, like side effects, specific drugs, or symptoms that you can’t seem to remember, highlight them.
Then, every day I skimmed through what I read the day before, and went ove the highlighted points. When you read through FA again, you’ll see those highlighted points. If you remember them, you erase it. It’s off your “to-remember list.” If you do that multiple times, eventually it sticks. Keep doing that as you go through First Aid. It doesn’t take much time to flip through a chapter’s highlighted points (maybe 10 minutes), but it really helps you remember those details.
You mention the importance of studying from QBanks several months before your exam. What skills did you learn from studying USMLE questions early?
I developed a step-by-step process for tackling questions. I wrote them on a notecard and posted it on my desk.
I always read the last sentence in the paragraph first, which is the question. Then, I would scan the sentence before last.
So the process works like this:
- Read the question
- Read the sentence before the question
- Read the answer choices. See if you can get an idea of how you’re supposed to think while reading the stem, which is the text in the body of the question. Ask yourself “Am I thinking cardio? Am I thinking respiratory? Or both? Am I focusing on lab values?”
- Finally, read the stem from top to bottom
This way, I know where the question is going, and I know what they are looking for, before I read the stem. Reading the stem fills in the details. Sometimes you can answer the question right away at step 2. It might say “the patient was started on propranolol. What is the side effect of this drug?” In the case, you might not even need to read the rest of the question stem. You just answer and move on. You save a lot of time that way. Sometimes I would even have 20 minutes of time left when I finished a block!