Should I Enroll in a Prep Course For USMLE Step 1?

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When I was trying to decide whether to take the USMLE or not way back in 2004, I pondered on whether I needed to attend a prep course or not? As an old Grad, I was at a loss on how to prep for this tough exam and enrolling in a prep course was very tempting. The only prep course available in my home country was the Kaplan Center Prep. Like everyone, I inquired and was told the price plus what was included in the course. It was a series of recorded lecture which I have to listen at the center, lecture notes and an online q bank. What happens if I have a question? Well, it seems I am on my own.

Anyway, we all know how things ended up. I researched about the USMLE, thought thru how to prep properly for this exam and concluded that I am better off going it on my own and aced the exam. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of times when prep courses like what Kaplan offers can be helpful. But there are times when it’s just a waste of money. It depends on your study skills and situation.

In my estimate, probably only 20% of examinees truly need to go on a prep course in order to pass this exam. Sadly a lot of people who truly need it always decide to try to do it themselves first and fail in the process.

On the other hand, only 20% of examinees can do it on their own and score very well in the exam. They should not even bother about prep courses and just do it themselves. They’ll get better scores that way.

For the middle 60%, they need some prep course in order to score better, but they could pass this exam by prepping on their own. However, in my opinion, prep courses like Kaplan’s Center Prep are of little help in this situation, but the live lectures could help significantly.

For the bottom 20%, they don’t know what to study. That is the biggest reason they fail. By taking a prep course, they increase the chance that they study the right things. Therefore, prep courses are helpful in this situation. However, the average prep course are geared for fresh grads or AMG’s. The lack of a prep course tailored for the IMG and older grads is the main reason why a big percentage of them still fail after taking these prep courses.

For the middle 60%, they have adequate study skills, enough to pass, but not to score high and they can be helped by a course geared towards improving their ability to understand, memorize and recall information as well as improving test-taking ability. The problem of course is that except for a few, most prep courses out there don’t bother teaching this to the examinees. They tell you to understand, memorize and recall all these concepts but don’t tell you how to do it. For me that’s no better than buying a reviewer and then going thru it on my own. The live courses does a good job of improving the understanding of medical concepts, but little else, and yet for some people, that is enough to get them a high score.

So who should take a prep course for the USMLE?

  1. You know you are at the bottom 20% of your class
  2. You have taken the exam before and you failed
  3. You are an old grad
  4. You are an IMG who is at the bottom 50% of your class
  5. You want to score higher.

Of course, it is important to choose the right prep course as not all prep courses can help you. Most packaged prep courses being offered are good for fresh grads or AMGs. Old IMG’s need a prep course geared for them. Those who want a higher score needs a prep course that are geared to help them develop better study habits and test-taking skills.

Therefore, think thru first whether you need a prep course or not. Don’t immediately enroll into one, but don’t completely rule it out right away. Look at your situation and decide accordingly. And if you do decide to take a course, make sure you choose the one that can help in your particular situation. Choosing the wrong one can be painful to the pocket not to mention the end result.

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7 thoughts on “Should I Enroll in a Prep Course For USMLE Step 1?

  • May 2, 2012 at 12:52 am
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    Hi,

    Thank you so much for your helpful hints and guidance. I am considering taking usmle 1-3 since my american wife and me want to relocate to the US. i am german and a skilled and very experienced gastroenterologist with tons of endoscopical work during the last 15 years. I have read about job openings in that field for foreign doctors that only required the completed usmle and some extra post graduate training for max. 1 year to get adjusted to the system. An comment? How was your journey?

    Thx,

    Daniel

  • May 10, 2012 at 10:00 am
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    Hi Daniel,

    In order to practice medicine in the US, you are required to be licensed by the state medical board of the state you intend to practice medicine. Each state has varying laws on how you can be licensed. Federal law requires passing all the USMLE Steps. State law requires you to undergo residency training in an accredited US institution. Any training done outside the United States is for practical purposes not recognized by the States. The number of years of residency training you need to get license in each state varies from 1 to 3 years. This is applicable for IMG or physicians who studied medicine in a medical school outside the United States. For those who graduated in a US Medical School, 1 year of residency training is sufficient to be licensed. Therefore you need to research which state you plan to get your residency so you know how many years of residency training you need to get license.

    Askdoc

  • May 12, 2012 at 3:44 am
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    Thx for the notes. I´m on it and will do step I spring 2012. Had some contacts telling me some hospitals are desperate for GI´s and will allow residency minimal while receiving decent pay. But you´re very right! First get all required exams passed and do your research on how and where to go.

    Daniel

  • June 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm
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    Hi, if I am an IMG, can I take step 2 ck before I take step 1? Thx

  • June 10, 2012 at 10:37 am
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    Hi Orlene,
    The answer is yes. But please see my post on the pros and cons of doing so.

    Askdoc

  • October 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm
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    Hey Askdoc,
    Thanks for your blog. I’m an “old IMG” and scored terribly in France because I didn’t understand the exam and wasted my time in private classes that I wasn’t using properly.
    So I ruled out the prep courses until I read this post.
    I already have your book. I guess to me the advantages of those classes would be to realize how I’m doing compared to others are and be in contact with other people who are prepping (I hadn’t even thought of looking blogs up) but I remember gathering info on exams I aced as being more a way to calm me down and trying to find a secret weapon than really finding anything that helped me. the real answer was : find your own way, do your best, and correct your studying methods as you go even if it’s uncomfortable rather than comforting yourself in thinking yours is the method of champions.
    I guess I’ll read your book and check out the different prep courses. I should probably wait until my learning phase is over to start the classes though right?
    Thanks again.
    Ariane

  • October 18, 2012 at 4:36 am
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    Hi Ariane,

    Always be learning, that is one of my motto. If you think you are the best, know there is always someone better. On the other hand, if you think you are the worst, be comforted that someone is always worse. Learning phase is very variable, so its best to study on your own. You don’t really need to be on a prep course to compare how you perform with others. I never joined one. Forums are a good place to meet fellow students who are prepping for this exam. Just make sure you take the time to get to know them well before trusting their input. In an ideal world, everyone is honest and on the level, but sadly in the real world it is not always true. Anyway, good luck on your journey. Keep me posted on your progress. And if you really feel that my book has help you. A good review will be appreciated.

    Askdoc

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