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two women studying in a boatYou’ve made the decision to tackle the USMLE Step 1 without a formal prep course, and you feel fantastic and committed to your decision… until Day One when panic sets in: 

“Where on Earth do I begin?”

You're somewhat relieved by the fact that you've chosen to study with a friend, but your study buddy is just as freaked out as you are and you're desperate for someone to just tell you “this is what you have to do right now to crush the Step 1 exam.”

This is where your USMLE tutor comes in. I've worked with tutors and study buddies in my life, so I can say that while it may not yet be clear, you'll soon realize all the reasons why your tutor is an essential part of your study team.

5 Ways a USMLE Tutor is Different from a Study Buddy:

1. Your tutor is an unbiased influence

If you've spent any time with your peers in medical school, you're likely very familiar with the incessant bombardment of advice from EVERYONE on how to succeed. You may have realized, however, that many people dispense advice to validate their OWN methods.

A medical student’s greatest fear is that they've missed out on a crucial resource that could have catapulted them to scholastic superstardom. You tell a friend you’ve been using Goljan, and he responds, “Well I’VE heard that everything you need to know is in FIRST AID...” There's a good chance that he's simply justifying to himself why he has not yet used your resource.

A study buddy will inevitably do this at some point… but your tutor will not. Remember: Your tutor is past the exam and dispenses advice that is completely unbiased by the insecurities surrounding the exam. So before you forgo using Goljan because of your buddy’s well-meaning advice, run this by your tutor to help sort out the utility of the resource in the context of YOUR study needs.

2. Your tutor has done this before, and WELL

There are three groups of people who could possibly help you navigate through the USMLE Step 1 study process: A friend who has recently taken it, a study buddy who is going to take it around the same time as you, and a third person who has taken it, crushed it, and has helped hundreds of other students crush it: a tutor.

Not only has your tutor taken the exam before and performed exceedingly well, but he/she has sat with countless students studying for Step 1 and has undoubtedly learned through their experiences as well. Tutors have the knowledge of what makes a successful student through their own experiences and have further refined these strategies with each passing USMLE Step 1 cycle.

When you are truly unsure about your study methodology, it’s best to hear your buddy’s insight, but to live by your tutor’s experience.

3. Your tutor is on YOUR schedule

A study buddy can be an incredible person to bounce ideas off of and to reinforce information with. Unfortunately, however, your buddy is also studying for this exam, and can’t always afford to spend the time to walk you through a difficult concept... but your tutor can. In fact, that is precisely the benefit of having a personal tutor: you set the time, the agenda and the pace. However long it takes, your tutor will make sure you don’t move on before you are ready.

4. Your tutor requires no reciprocal emotional or scholastic support

Step 1 is going to turn you into the most selfish version of yourself, and it's not going to be pretty. This is the most important test you will ever take, it's the only thing on your mind, and it's ALL you want to talk about. Lucky for you, your study buddy only wants to talk about Step 1 too! But wait… he wants to talk about HIS obstacles… and if your friendship is going to survive this, you have to let your buddy vent, too.

When you meet with your tutor, IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU. How awesome is that? It’s quite possibly the lowest-maintenance yet most beneficial relationship you will ever have, and you'll look forward to this ‘selfish’ time throughout the entire process!

5. Your tutor has one goal: to help you achieve your maximum potential

Your study buddy will serve a very important purpose while studying for the USMLE. Your buddy will be in the trenches with you, keep you on track, and hopefully provide a social outlet during this time that would otherwise be non-existent.

If you are good study buddies, you have already discussed that at the end of the day, you each must do what is best for yourselves in order to achieve your maximum potential on this exam. However, when your interests don’t align and you're in desperate need of support, it can be extremely frustrating! In this moment, all is not lost. You have someone available to you whose goals ALWAYS overlap with yours: your tutor.

You both share the common objective of ensuring your continued improvement and maximum achievement on this exam. This will prove to be an invaluable support system from the moment you begin studying, to the day when you get your score and call your tutor to tell them “We did it!”
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Leila Javidi

Leila Javidi

Leila Javidi, MD, MPH is a graduate of Saint George's University, a Family Medicine resident at Mount Carmel Health System, and a certified consultant with MST Consulting. Although she had never before considered herself a “standardized test guru,” over the course of her first few years of medical school she developed a fool-proof study style — and crushed her exams. She loves to teach and she prides herself on her ability to motivate students to achieve their maximum potential. She is most known by her students for her sense of humor, her ‘pep talks’ and her ‘no-excuses’ study mentality.
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