Using Q Banks effectively for USMLE Review

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Doing Q banks is now considered part and parcel of USMLE review. Any person still not using Q banks is taking a big chance of doing poorly in the examination. In fact I believe one of the biggest reason for the increasingly high scores among both AMGs and IMGs is due to the existence of superb Q Banks, primarily USMLE World and Kaplan. My double 99 in step 1 and Step 2 CK can be attributed to Q Banks. My 90 in Step 3 can also be attributed to Q Banks, rather the lack of a really good one. This is especially true of the Computer Case Simulation portion which is 25% of Step 3 and which I would admit I scored poorly.

So what makes Q Banks so effective for review? At first Q Banks were used to test how well you have learned and your ability to recall the concepts you have learned. However, with the advent of Kaplan Q Bank, followed by USMLE World, Q Banks have now had an expanded role.

First, it simulates the actual examination. This ensures that instead of spending time familiarizing yourself with the software and the intricacies of exam taking during exam time, the exam process itself is now second nature to you and you can concentrate on just the actual examination. An example is learning to drive, if you have to worry about how to operate the brakes, the wheels, the transmission, etc. you are not going to drive very well. But once driving is second nature to you, you can drive effortlessly, concentrating only on getting from point A to point B instead of how to operate a car.

Second, it focuses you on the finer points of tested concepts. In most reviewers, facts are presented as is. However, some facts are slightly more important than others and sometimes reviewers presume you understand the implications of certain facts presented. Q Banks make sure you understand those finer points and sometimes makes explicit what is implied. Especially in step 2 CK and Step 3, the finer points in diagnostic and therapeutic decision making are better illustrated in Q Banks than lectures or notes.

Third, it trains you how to answer tough questions. Even if you can recall what you have read, sometimes you cannot answer the questions based on those concepts. That is the essence of tough questions and Q Banks help familiarize you with tough questions and even teach you how to tackle and answer them. You can read about how tough questions are made here.

Fourth, it covers not just high yield topics but also low yield ones. As explained in my post, High Yield Concepts and the USMLE, one of the important things to do to get a high score is to also review low yield topics not just high yield ones. But going to textbooks can be considered overkill for some even though it usually is the only source of low yield topics. As I said, even among low-yield topics there are higher yield ones and Q Banks are a good source of higher yield low yield topics if you get my drift. 😉

So how do we use Q banks effectively for review? Not all Q Banks are created equal. The most useful for training yourself to do well in the USMLE are still USMLE World and Kaplan. Often, however, a lot of examinees opt to “download” versions of the Q Banks rather than using the online one. And as I stated previously, the biggest benefit in using online Q Banks is that they simulate the exam conditions itself. Aside from copyright concerns, using the “downloaded” version diminishes this benefit. On the other hand, you only need one online version in your review.

The next question is which Q Bank should we subscribe to. The best answer of course, is that if you have both time and financial resources, then use both. USMLE World is best for studying while Kaplan is better for evaluation and test preparation. If you can only use one, then you need to choose the one that suits your needs best. You can read my post on the difference between the 2 Q Banks here. Remember, try to use the online version if you are going to be using one only. That is the way to get the most benefit.

Now, when should I start using Q Banks in my review? In order to maximize the benefits of using Q Banks, you must have reached the following competency in your review process.

First, you have covered most high yield concepts in your review. You can use the Q Banks to master the high yield concepts while appreciating and retaining better the low yield concepts introduced in the Q Banks.

Second, you know enough about the tested concepts that you can appreciate the finer points being focused on by the Q Banks. It is better to say to yourself, “so that’s how to differentiate between the disease A and B” rather than “oh answer is C, let me memorize that.”

Third, when you encounter tough questions, you know it is not because of your lack of knowledge that is making it tough. You can better spot the patterns used to toughen the questions and hopefully learn to spot them and counter them in the actual examination instead of being deceived or distracted by them.

Usually this means that you have finished the major part of your review. However, if you are going to use both Q banks, you can start with one immediately after your first reading or learning phase, preferably USMLE World then reserve Kaplan for final review.

As to Q Banks other than the 2 major ones. Feel free to use them even in your first reading to test whether you can recall what you’ve read. An implication in my analysis above is that there are Q Banks that are good at helping you master and recall specific subjects, while both USMLE World and Kaplan Q Banks are better at helping you perform well in the actual USMLE exam.

We will discuss the NBME assessment exams next time.

For further discussion of this topic: Using Q Banks effectively for USMLE Review II

 

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13 thoughts on “Using Q Banks effectively for USMLE Review

  • June 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm
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    I thought starting with Kaplan Q bank would be a better idea because it is a bit easier with more focus on “high yield concepts”.

  • June 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm
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    Depends on what you are using Q Banks for. If you are using Q Banks for studying, UW is better and you need to verify that you’ve learned the concepts and you can use Kaplan Q Bank to do that. Using UW to verify that you’ve learned the concepts in UW is not recommended as you may just have memorized the exam style and actual questions of UW. Again Kaplan Q Bank is less effective (though still quite effective) as learning tool and doing it the other way around will be less efficient although still possible.

  • June 13, 2008 at 2:11 am
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    OK, one is done with his first read. He read all his review books and is familiar with Step 1 content. What is the most affective way to actually use Q banks as a study tool? Blocks of 50? Random questions or subject wise? Read all question explanation or just of those that he got wrong? Should one take notes or not?

  • June 13, 2008 at 5:04 am
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    That would actually be covered in future posts. Talking about everything in a single post would be too long. : ). The details again depends on when he is using the Q Bank and for what purpose. It’s different if it is used as a learning tool and different if it is used as an assessment and preparation tool. Probably need 3 to 4 post to complete everything though. So be patient.

  • June 13, 2008 at 8:21 am
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    Yes, I know. I just thought Ill keep things flowing.

    Thanks for your effort.

  • June 15, 2008 at 7:45 am
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    Actually, I had the option of writing vertically, that is exhaust a topic thoroughly before moving to the next or horizontally, that is touch each topic lightly and go through a whole lot of topics before going back to previous topics and tackling them in more detail. I’ve decided to do the latter, since different people have different priorities and topics of interest. For example. UW vs. Kaplan QBank could stand 3 to 4 more posts. While each of the section of my eBook How to create a study plan could from 2 to 5 posts each to be considered “exhaustively” covered. So please be patient.

  • May 20, 2009 at 2:54 am
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    I am extremely frustrated because everywhere I go I find students telling me Uworld is so much better. I currently have 5 weeks left, I’ve done about 400 questions from kaplan and I dont know whether I’ll do ok. My study plan is such, because FA is so choppy and not fluent, I read BRS path and phys before doing any questions. Whatever I got wrong or points about the right questions I didn’t remember, I annotate in FA. But I rarely get a chance to get through FA again because I try to do 100 questions a day (or get through 60-70 questions). I end up scoring about 60s-70s on those qbanks but my sister keeps saying, kaplan has allowed people to pass in the past, why do you doubt you wont? should i buy uworld to see why everyone’s going crazy about it? or should I continue with kaplan? the biggest benefit i see to kaplan, is the fact it tells me where in FA they got the information (i’d miss that part on UW), it has audio (very useful in the cardio and resp system since I’d never be able to recognize it if it was my first time on the real thing) and then it gives hints for studying: “if you see this symptom + this symptom = think this disease” but I usually know most of these. i’m worried only because i failed two blocks in my 1st year of med school and only passed everything in my second year. i just dont want to fail step 1 hence i’m so worried 🙁 please help?

  • May 21, 2009 at 8:04 am
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    Hi s.r.

    First, when I took my Step 1, I only used Kaplan q Bank since there is still no UW q bank at that time. I got a 99 / 256. However, if you are aiming for a higher score than that, then maybe uw will help 😆

    But if you are aiming for a 99, then what are you doing using FA for review only? If you read most of my post, if you just want to pass, FA is fine, If you are aiming higher than that, high 80’s to 90’s then you need Kaplan notes. If you want 99’s, you need to do more than Kaplan Notes or FA.

    So the question you need to ask first is what score you are aiming for?

    Askdoc

  • March 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm
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    hi sr
    i need yr help i am an img graduated 2.5 years ago
    i aim for 99 actually one of my elder friends got 262 which before i thought those results were impossible
    my exam is in last week september i need ur advice and a plan plz
    i am using kaplan – actually i didn’t use firstaid yet – i don’t think will use it much -i may only depend on doing kaplan well
    i have rapid review third edition but i am not sure…………….. it is soo huge and full of data – i think not needed for step 1 – am i wrong?

    so doing those with usmleworld will it be enough
    thnks for ur help

  • April 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm
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    Hi drmg,

    You are wrong. Kaplan is enough to get high 90’s but not the high 99’s you want. To get high 99’s you need to know a lot. Rapid Review is not enough to get high 99’s too. so if you are not ready to do the necessary work to get a 99, you should not even attempt it.

    Askdoc

  • February 20, 2012 at 9:54 am
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    Hi askdoc,
    I have never looked at usmle prep this way.You changed my view point.Kudos to you!

    I have started preparing for step 1 this month.Finished Goljan audio along with BRS Pathology chapter-wise.Started with Goljan lecture notes.

    I am thinking about using UWorld as study tool once I finish reading Goljan notes…starting with 10-15 questions per day then steadily increasing the questions.Will do kaplan qbank too.Plus usmle rx,FA Q+A,Nbme.Will definitely do obsolete qbanks and retired questions(as per your advice)for practice.

    Am I doing the right thing?Should I use it as I study each subject..using it as learning tool.I can study best this way.Or should I wait till I finish reading each subject ..i.e.after KA?

    Can I use UWorld as a study tool right from the beginning from my prep when I can learn from 10 questions daily?

  • February 20, 2012 at 9:57 am
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    I would like to add..I am an IMG,fresh graduate.So I have finished clinical rotations.

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