I am currently in the process of studying to take my USMLE Step 2 exam. And it has made me completely rethink the way I study.
For Step 1, I followed the basic study plan that we were advised to follow: I took a couple months off, used online classes to refresh my knowledge, and then intensively did timed practice questions and practice tests. And this method works! But it is not the best method for me.
I’ve come it realize that so much of studying has to do with your individual learning style and what it takes to stay motivated. You could spend months doing questions, but never learn anything if you are not actively engaged and WANTING to learn.
One of the biggest problems that I ran into while studying for Step 1 was the solitary nature of the studying. I spent my first two years of medical school almost exclusively studying in groups – and it has always been the best way for me to study. Going from constant group studying to entirely solitary studying was a drastic transition – and it made studying for Step 1 almost torturous. On the flip side, plenty of people have told me that studying in groups makes them anxious (for example if someone knows more or if someone isn’t focused on the topic).
Another issue I faced while Step 1 studying was whether or not to take the official practice tests. These are nice because they give you an idea of what your score might be. However, they are usually inaccurate. Additionally, you spend several hours doing the test and are never able to find out what the correct answers are. For me, they almost just became a waste of time because they basically only let you know if you will pass or not.
The final challenge I faced was whether to do practice questions in a timed mode to simulate the real test, or to do it in tutor mode where the answers are shown immediately after you pick a choice. If you have trouble with timing during exams (for example always finishing last or always rushing through the last few questions) the timed mode works well. It is good practice for time management. For me, the problem with the timed tests were that I had to wait till the end of the test to find out the answer. This became very time consuming because I had to rethink my thought process and why I chose a specific answer. Plus, after the end of a long test the last thing I wanted to do was go back and redo the whole thing. On the tutor mode I got immediate answers, and I was able to retain much more information.