Let me first tell you, this article will not teach you the material you should read or the qbanks you should subscribe to or the workshops you need to attend to score high. There is a lot of information on the Internet about that. What it will show you is:
Exact system you should have to ensure 240+ score on all steps.
If you are preparing for step 1 , step 2 or step 3, if you are in US or outside US, medical student or an IMG, this system will help you be a better test taker and a high USMLE score is almost guaranteed. No matter which USMLE step you are working on right now, you get this system down; you are on your way to a stellar score.
This is a story of three IMGs who were from different academic achievements in medical school. They studied together and scored 240+ on all USMLE steps.
They came to the US with the same dream as all. To complete USMLE, apply for residency and match at a good program. Like you, they were confused by all the noise out there. Read all kinds of books, solve many q-banks, look for USCE, do some research, work part time. On top of that, the whole MCQ type question was new to them. They felt that there is too much to do in a very short time. They had spend a lot of money already buying the question banks and books but they were not sure how to make the best use of them, They got discouraged when they read on the forums about people failing USMLE step 1 or 2 after reading the same material as they were planning to read.
What did they do differently?
What made them read the same material as everyone else, but score much higher?
Did they follow a specific study schedule? Did they have a study partner? Did they pay for a USMLE preparation course?
They had a system that they followed and now they are sharing it with you all. The trick is to stick to these steps and trust the system.
System step # 1:
Timing for USMLE steps:
Planning in advance about how long you are going to spend in preparing for each step is crucial. If you plan to just start reading now and see how it goes, you have planned to fail. Give yourself 6-9 months for each step. General rule is if you have nothing else to do right now, no job, no kids, just focusing on USMLE, try to complete each USMLE step in 6 months. If you have one other responsibility, give yourself 7 months. If you have more than 1 responsibility, give 8-9 months per USMLE. Too little or too much time can be detrimental. Everyone is different and have different studying speed, but make a rough plan and stick to it. I have seen a lot of students preparing for USMLE step 1 or 2 for more than a year and not scoring as well.
System step # 2:
Distributing your time between theory and question banks:
Once you have figured out how many months you are going to give before you schedule your test, pace yourself in reading the theory part. Try to read each subject twice. Have a slow first read and a quick second read. Do not spend too much time memorizing the theory; you will not be able to retain everything anyway. Understand the concepts, make some notes if that is what you generally do and move on.
The three IMGs above devoted 30% of their total time period to theory and 70% to questions. For example, if you have no job, kids/family commitments or school (masters, PhD), give yourself 6 months to complete each USMLE and give about 2 months for theory and 4 months for question banks. The fun part begins when you start solving questions. This is when your test taking skills rise exponentially. You will retain a lot from your theory when you are actually solving questions. No matter where you completed your medical school from, how old your year of graduation is, do not feel pressured to remember the entire theory before you start q-banks. That will just waste a lot of your time.
System step # 3
Getting the most out of q-banks:
When starting with questions banks, solve 50% questions subject wise and 50% mixed. Start with subject wise first, that would include third read of the theory while doing the subject questions. The rest 50% would be mixed questions. This should take significantly less time than the previous 50%. Goal is to improve as you go forward. Don’t expect to score 80% correct from the get go. Goal should be 3-4 test blocks a day. You will start at 1-2 block per day but keep pushing yourself.
Before you start the block, imagine you are sitting in USMLE exam room. The doors of the room you are sitting in should be closed and cellphone should be turned off. During the 10-minute break, train your brain to totally unwind from USMLE (this will help you during your breaks in the actual USMLE exams). Eat a small snack or take few sips of coffee or any other drink you prefer. Read all the answer explanations for the blocks you have completed. You should ideally be spending more time reviewing answers and writing down or making notes all the new things. Now you can take a longer break. Repeat the process for next block. Do this up to 4 times a day if schedule allows. You breaks will get shorter as you progress further. Try to stick to this schedule. Most students who end up taking too long or not scoring too well on USMLE start off strong but then slack off. The winners stick to their plan.
System step # 4
Last week preparation before the exams:
Last week before the exam should be spent reading the marked questions that you generally get wrong and reviewing concise portions of texts (highlighted parts in your study material or a quick study guide). On your last day before the exam- relax, watch a movie, go out with friends and have fun. This will help you sleep better the night before and be ready for the test. Trust your preparation. If you have followed the system above, you have trained your brain to endure the stress of USMLE.
We have covered a lot of things here.
- How to decide how much time you should give for each USMLE?
- How to distribute this time between theory and q-banks?
- How to get the most out of q-banks?
- Overall, how to train your brain to perform at its optimum capacity during the day of exam?
Now, if you are just starting out your USMLE journey, or you have been preparing for USMLE step for some time now but not sure if you are chances to score high are or if you have already given one USMLE step but not happy with the results, sign up below to get a INSIDER’S KIT to know exactly how these three IMGs scored 240+ on all their USMLEs. Get the details about the books and q-banks they read, scores on q-banks and self-evaluation tests to predict if you they were ready to take the test and a template study schedule to get you started.
Test names are the registered trademark of their respective owners.
You know when you see them.
From the first day they start working on their application to the day of the match, you see them being methodical and inspired. They have good and bad days like everyone else, they have successes and failures like everyone else but they persists in their upward spiral of being the best.
Welcome to the world of top performer IMGs. These are the IMGs who persisted in their efforts to match at their dream residency spots despite their limitations.
You may have seen some of these applicants, may be you have read about them on the forums or heard stories. The real question is :
CAN YOU BE THE TOP PERFORMER IMG? Can you match at your dream residency spot ?
The answer is YES.
Even if you don’t have amazing scores.
Even if you are an old graduate.
Even if you need a visa.
And one way to this is to learn from these top performer IMGs. I want to talk about studying the best. Too many people seek advise from not so successful people and walk away with vague inaccurate information that dont help them in any way.
I’d rather introduce you to amazing, successful IMGs who can show you what you all are capable of doing but never thought you could do. Being the best is never an accident. If you’re aiming to be amazing at what you do – whether it’s residency match or your career after residency– one of the best things you can do is elevate who you study from.
To do that, I have created this section for interviewing some amazing IMGs and asking them how exactly they did it.
Our first top performer IMG is someone who matched in dermatology residency at a big university program this year. She outlines exact steps she took, how long she worked for it and her credentials/scores to land a residency spot in on of the most competitive programs in the country.
Here are the questions I asked her and her replies.
1. Dermatology is PGY2 through PGY4, with pgy1 being a prelim position in medicine or surgery. Is that correct? Is there a PGY1 in dermatology?
Yes that is correct. Like some other specialties such as Ophthalmology and Anesthesia, Dermatology needs a PGY1 in medicine or surgery. Another option is to do a Transitional Year (kind of an internship where you rotate in every department for a few weeks/months). Transitional year is very competitive as they have limited spots and mostly American graduate applicants. In general, I found matching in to prelim equally taxing as derm because you are competing with candidates who are applying for derm/ophtho/radio etc.
2. What were your scores or is it necessary to have super high score 230+ for derm?
Most dermatology programs have a Step 1 cut off of around 225. The mean score for selected candidates is over 230. While a high score is vital, a high score alone is not enough to secure an interview in dermatology.
3. Did you have an advanced degree; MPH, PhD etc in US? Do you think that helps?
I did not have any advanced degree in the US. But I had completed a dermatology residency in my home country, which probably helped me secure research fellowships in the US.
4. Did you work in any capacity in dermatology in US? Volunteer, observership, externship, paid research etc. Also for how long?
I did two research fellowships in US for a total of around three years. I was on a paid research position in the last two years.
5. What other tips do you have for a dermatology IMG applicant?
I think it is not an easy path to get into derm. It is more of a marathon than a sprint race. My journey was long and stressful but persistence ultimately paid-off.Having 2-3 years of quality research experience is a must for everyone whether it is an AMG or IMG. I know many AMG’s who have done 2-3 years of research before matching in derm. Last but not the least- having a good network is indispensable. I had 4 great LOR’s from key opinion leaders in derm and reached out to all possible sources for help during the whole application process.