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?
- You know you are at the bottom 20% of your class
- You have taken the exam before and you failed
- You are an old grad
- You are an IMG who is at the bottom 50% of your class
- 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.