By: Chris Martin
When studying for the USMLE step 1 there are some universal tenants that pervade though medical students beliefs. Among the resources held in the highest regard, the most sacred of all is the UWorld question set; for good reason. The questions included in that test bank are the best written, most well thought out questions that you can find in a database. However, the actual knowledge contained within the database is no better than that found within any of the other databases (USMLE-Rx, Kaplan, etc.). For this and other reasons, do not repeat the UWorld Qbank.
While the one of the biggest mistakes a med student could make in their Step 1 studying is not finishing the UWorld Qbank, equal contempt should be given to those hoping to improve their scores with a time-consuming second pass. Such students likely have missed the unique and most important aspect of this incredible resource. UWorld doesn’t teach you INFORMATION for the test; UWorld teaches you HOW TO TAKE the test.
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To excel at this test you will have to integrate 3 different sets of information. You need to understand the test format for test taking strategy (how questions are worded, posed, and what this structure means for the answer the testers are looking for), the overall systems that these questions will occur in (general system understanding), and facts (many, many facts). Know that for any time you’re spending on one aspect of these three, you’re potentially missing out on improving your abilities with the other two so you should use your time wisely.
“But I already made it through UWorld, have two months to go before the exam, and only averaged a 45% on my first pass.” Two important things should be considered before starting UWorld. Start a plan and schedule to finish the Qbank within a short time before your test. Do your best to stick to this plan. If finishing early, supplement with NBME exams. If finishing late, convert standard schedule into larger test blocks to finish more quickly. Starting later than is feasibly possible to finish causes you to only partially utilize the single best resource for improving your score. Starting too early means your first pass is less efficient, and you won’t be peaking prior to your test.
An inefficient first pass means that a test taker is consistently getting less than 50% on their blocks, is getting burnt out on questions early on in their dedicated study period, or is taking too long to review questions turning what should be 2 ½ hour time periods into 4. One irrefutable fact about the Step 1 exam is that it requires a huge amount of information for you to understand. UWorld is not the place to be learning information. On average a single question takes about 1 minute to answer and 2 minutes to review. The average college student can read 450 words per minute. At that speed many of you would be able to read this article twice in the time it takes for a single question. The time to learn information is from review books and videos. Not questions. Questions are for refining decision making and very specific aspects of your understanding about the information you already know.
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While it might feel good to see those 80-90% blocks on UWorld for your second pass, it won’t be doing much to help you. Spend your time working diligently elsewhere and see your practice scores continue to improve rather than falsely elevate from remembering the question from the first time. You won’t build the bad habits that come from already knowing the answer to questions and you’ll approach your questions with focus and intensity.
-Don’t start UWorld before you’re ready. (able to score 60% or higher is best)
-UWorld is best for teaching you strategy of the test, not the information
-UWorld take 2-3 hours/block or 3 mins a question, an inefficient way to gather information, read or watch a video instead.
Good luck with your studying everyone, happy QBanking!