Thursday, June 18, 2009

USMLE advice you won’t get anywhere else

Once I started studying for the boards, I found that most of the advice I had heard was crap. Not that it was bad advice in its own character, really; it just didn’t apply to me at all. I just don’t think I learn the same way the average med student does. Maybe this is why I went MSTP instead of MD. Anyway, here’s my list of unorthodox strategies that I found helpful while studying for the USMLE.

1. Learn excel. Learn it really, really well.
Let’s say (in theory) you somehow got your hands on an electronic copy of First Aid or some other boards review book and you really want to make some flashcards. If you know excel really well, you can just highlight the columns of the table in Acrobat, paste into Word, run your cleaning macros (Oh, BTW, learn Word programming really well, too), and paste into excel. Repeat this with all of the columns from the First Aid table and you have reproduced it. Then just write some formula like:
Fill down, copy all the results, paste into with “<>” as the line break indicator, and you’re done. Seems like a lot of work, huh? Well it isn’t; you just made 100+ flashcards in under 10 minutes. All you need to do this is really solid knowledge of excel functions and how to link them together. I’d go into this more, but it’d be really boring pretty much everyone but me.

2. Get flashcards on your iphone/ipod touch.
I used Mental case despite not having a Mac. I bought the premium version, too. Worked great with all those sets. Now you’re studying while in line at the grocery store or bank. Awesome.

3. If you’re not one to burn out, don’t think you’re going to burn out.
Everyone I talked to from the class above said things like “after 2 weeks, I couldn’t read any more” or “anything after 3 weeks is useless as you’re going to burn out anyway.” I never thought I was a burning-out kind of guy, but I believed them. Well, turns out I don’t burn out. I got a little wobbly a few days before exam, but that was due to the number of days remaining opposed to the number of days behind me. Not everyone burns out, so just go with what you know about your work ethic.

4. You don’t NEED to take a break first.
Everyone and their mother seems to believe that in order to survive the USMLE, you MUST take at least a few days, and as much as a week off between 2nd year finals and studying for the boards. Nope. I suspected that I’d rather start right away and get more days off at the end. I was spot on. Turns out that advice was crap.

5. Nearly everything anyone tells you about the boards is anecdote, not fact.
Duh, right? This should be obvious, but soooo many people spout advice and stories like it’s all absolute Truth. “The test doesn’t really mention X or Y” “You need to study by doing Z” etc., etc. Well, their words apply to them and maybe a subset of everyone else, but you can’t be sure it works for you.

#5 is the most important one here. It tells you that #s 1-4 of my post are complete crap. They are! Those things applied to ME, and I am an outlier (and that is an understatement). I would be shocked if any of it proved useful to more than 1 or 2 people. If you seek advice from SDN forum members or classmates already done with the USMLE, take it all lightly; you are a different person. It’s like a vacation: if someone you know has been to Venice and tells you about it, you wouldn’t assume that their Venetian vacation is the only right Venetian vacation, right? It’s just like that, only the vacation sucks.


John Weidner said...

You might also like importing your flashcards into In addition to flashcards, StudyStack will use your data to generate matching, hangman, crossword, and a bunch of other activities. It also allows you to export your flashcards to many other programs that run on cell phones, PDAs, or iPods.

R said...

I was thinking about sending this to spam-oblivion, but since you're the creator of the site and not a corporate lackey of some sort, I considered it more of a 'sharing my hobby' type post.

Anyway, I gave Stack a go during my 1st year of med, but back then it didn't have the usability of Exchange. Honestly, I haven't tried it in over a year or so. It's worth mentioning that there are other card sites out there as well; I only talk about exchange in this post because it's the one I have used for 2 years now and it's worked well for me.