Hey there. Welcome to another edition of Askdoc's USMLE newsletter.
In this issue, we will talk about " How to Create a Schedule for the USMLE Step 1". Please read the section on "Creating a Schedule" from the free ebook before proceeding.
I hope you now realize that creating a study plan for the USMLE is more than just creating a schedule for it. However, very central to the idea of creating a study plan is creating a schedule to implement the study plan. Here we discussed a detailed process of deciding on a schedule.
Do You Need a Learning Phase?
The first thing you need to decide is if you need a learning phase. Learning phase is pretty unpredictable in terms of how much time you need in order to learn and understand all the topics being tested. Meanwhile the Mastery phase and test preparation phase is extremely predictable in terms of time needed to accomplish.
We will first discuss the two different types of learning phase you can implement depending upon your particular circumstance and how much time you need to allocate for it. Then we go to the two variants of the mastery phase you need to use again depending on your circumstance and the time you need to invest on those activities.
You need a learning phase if you are an old IMG or a fresh grad IMG who wants to score high. There are two ways to implement the learning phase. A full learning phase or an abbreviated learning phase.
A full learning phase means you study everything as if you don't know anything about the subjects. In my case as an old IMG 16 years out of medical school, I did a full learning phase. It took me about four and a half months to finish it. If you are planning to ace the USMLE, I recommend you do a full learning phase.
An abbreviated learning phase also tries to study all the topics, however, it skips learning in detail topics you already know or super low yield topics. For example if you are a fresh grad IMG who wants a good score, you still remember a lot of basic sciences. So you cover thoroughly only topics you don't know or have forgotten. You just go through topics you know pretty fast. You also don't use texts for all subjects, just some of them. For example, there are at most 3-4 questions on embryology and histology, so instead of using a full text like Bloom and Fawcett or Lange's Embryology, just used Kaplan's Review.
However, if you are an old IMG or fresh grad IMG who wants to ace the exam, do a formal learning phase. A formal learning phase can take a long time. The longest my student has done is about 1 year. The shortest is the 4 months it took me. An abbreviated learning phase can be finished on average 4-6 months. Fastest was 3 months.
Proceeding to Mastery Phase
If you are a third year American medical student or a fresh grad IMG just looking to pass or don't mind a low score, you can proceed directly to Mastery phase. The mastery phase will take from 3 weeks to 4 months again depending on the score you are aiming for and the what your particular situation is.
In my case, since I did a full learning phase, I just needed 10 weeks or two and a half months to finish the standard mastery phase even though I was aiming to ace the exam. The augmented mastery phase differs from the standard ones, in that every time you encounter a topic that you are not so familiar with, you open a textbook to study that topic before proceeding to memorize and master the topic. That will effectively lengthen your mastery phase, sometimes even doubling the time required.
Use augmented mastery phase only if you need to refer to texts only less than 10% of the topics you need to review. If you need to do that for more than 10% of the topics then you need a learning phase. Abbreviated learning phase if you refer to text only less than 25% of the topics tested and formal learning phase if greater than 25% of the topics need to be learned.
Another way to look at it is this. If you are an old IMG or a fresh grad IMG wanting to ace this exam or score really high, do a formal learning phase. If you are a fresh grad IMG just wanting to do well or an American Medical Student who want to ace the exam, do an augmented learning phase before proceeding to mastery phase.
If you are a fresh grad IMG who think for whatever reason, he could get into residency by just passing the exam, or a third year American Medical student who wants to do do well or was not prepped thoroughly by your school, then do the augmented mastery phase. If you are an American Medical Student who just wants to pass the exam and was prepped by your medical school, then just do standard mastery phase. If you are a genius, then do whatever you want.
Both the high yield review and the test preparation phase are done at the same time as the mastery phase and should always be included. Start fixing a schedule for the actual exam only once you are in the mastery phase and finalize it once you start online qbanks and getting acceptable results.
Other Things You Need to Consider
You not only need to allocate time for studying the actual contents of the exam, but also to take care of problems concerning study and test-taking skills. If you have really slow reading speed, scheduling an hour a day learning how to read faster will pay off later. After a few months you will be prepping faster and it will help you deal with the long kilometric questions characteristic of the USMLE.
If you have poor memory, then extra time memorizing and doing flashcard drills may help your retention of important facts for the exam. If you have poor test-taking skills, then learning new test-taking skills and spending time practicing these skills on thousands of questions can help you do better in the exam.
One last thing about creating a schedule. Once it's done, you will realize that from the start, everyone will be trying to break your schedule. Everyone will want a piece of your time. The key to success is to not let them.
If you don't guard your personal schedule, your life will be someone else's.
Hope you have learned a lot more about how to create a schedule than what was discussed in my book "How to Create a Study Plan for the USMLE".
P.S. Next issue, I will give a little talk about myself.
An in-depth written guide on how to prep better and score higher for the USMLE Step 1. Read the book. Better Prep. Easier Exam. Higher Scores,
A 48-module lecture seminar on how to prep better and score higher for the USMLE Step 1. Listen to the Lecture. Better Prep. Easier Exam. Higher Scores.