Note: This was initially published in 6 parts and was then consolidated into a downloadable ebook.
Why create a study plan for the USMLE?
This is probably the question foremost in the mind of anyone who ever thought of tackling the USMLE. I remember when I was starting out, how this pre-occupied me a lot. Although studying for the USMLE is a big endeavor, studying how to study for the USMLE is no mean feat either. Just like an architect or engineer needs to plan out how to build a building before actually building it, we need to plan out how to prepare for the USMLE before we even begin studying.
Now some people can just jump right into reviewing and 3 to 5 months later take the exam and come out with a 99. I’m not one of those and so are I believe majority of those taking the USMLE. Some will start by applying and scheduling an exam 5 months later, only to find out that they’re not ready. So they extend their period of eligibility and still they’re not ready. Some will take the exam and fail or score so low that it amounts to the same thing. Some will forfeit the application fees and reapply later. Of those who do, some wind up getting good scores because they’ve learned their lesson and did better preparation this time, while for others the results are going to be poor because they did not change anything they’ve done before. Proper planning is crucial for proper preparation
Steps to creating a USMLE study plan.
Often, in forums, I’ve heard people refer to taking the USMLE in military terms. Going to War against the USMLE, they call it. Military generals never go to war without a thorough battle plan, that is if they expect to win and neither should you. We’ll be tackling this topic head on.
The Steps to creating a study plan are:
- Determine your objective
- Know thy enemy
- Know the learning process
- Know the components of a good study plan
- Know the factors that can affect your study plan
- Importance of sleep, rest and recreation
- Putting it all together
Determine your objective for the USMLE.
Just like all battle plans, you start out with what is your main objective.
- Is it to pass the exam?
- Get an average score?
- Beat the mean?
- Ace it?
High scores isn’t everything in the match. But it can make up for other deficiencies in your resume, like less than stellar grades in medical school, older grad, lack of USCE, etc. Often you see people in forums posting their study plans and asking if it is enough, but enough for what. Determining your objective is the first step in assessing whether your study plan is adequate or not.
So how high a score should you aim for? Well, it is a universal truth that most people do not achieve what they aim for so it is a good maxim to aim high. In the Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino stated that
“It is better to aim for the moon and hit an eagle then to aim for the eagle and hit a rock.”
If you aim for a 75 and fail to reach it, you are in trouble. If you really want a 99 aim for a high 99 so you have points to spare in case not everything went as planned.
One word about setting objectives is to never set it in stone. As you finish your study plan and even as you begin your studies, you may find that your objective may change. Either you’ve underestimated yourself and have found out that you could do better, or your situation’s change, (e.g. your wife gets pregnant or you got pregnant, lost your job, got promoted, etc.) Do not be afraid to reset your objective, just be aware how it will impact your over-all chance in the match.
We’ve often heard about how people downgrade their objectives when they are unable to follow through on their plans. But how often have you heard of people who failed to upgrade their objectives when presented with the opportunity.
In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, when Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army defeated the Union Soldiers defending the three ridges south of Gettysburg, Lt. Gen. Robert Ewell refused to take Cemetery Hill, which wasn’t part of the original Battle Plan, even though it was lightly defended at that time. On days 2 and 3 after Cemetery Hill was reinforced by Union troops, the Confederates made numerous charges to take Cemetery Hill to no avail. This led to the famous Pickett’s charge by 12,500 Confederate troops on the 3rd day of battle which was repulsed by union rifle and artillery fire at great loss to the Confederates. By refusing to upgrade his objective, Gen. Ewell missed an opportunity that could have changed the outcome of the war and the destiny of the United States.
Know thy enemy.
Now like all good Generals, we have decided on our main objective for the USMLE. The next step is to study the nature of the enemy, only then can we know how to defeat it.
Now someone might say, why don’t you just post a study plan and like good soldiers we will follow them. Well that would be easier for me, but I doubt it will work or be effective for a lot of you. You see, a plan presumes that there is an objective, takes into account where you are coming from, your skills and particular strengths and weaknesses and your particular condition. A one-size fits all plan presumes you have the same objective, the same skill sets, the same background and the same prevailing environment which is just not true.
Now normally when somebody asks you how to go to Times Square, you presume he is somewhere in NY. But in the internet, the person may be in San Francisco, Baltimore, London, Karachi or even Manila. And the answer would be different in each case.
So too must your study plan be different depending on your particular circumstances. Just as a doctor tailor makes his treatment plans depending on your circumstances (child, adult, geriatrics or healthy, immuno-compromised, debilitated) we must tailor make our study plans accordingly. But just as doctors have treatment guidelines to guide them in formulating a good treatment plan, so too does this book attempt to provide you with guidelines on how to study to help you formulate a good study plan.