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We’ve said it time and time again. The key to Step 1 preparation is to do lots of questions. There are no two ways about it. When deciding on which question bank to use, students need to look no further than UWorld; it is hands-down the ultimate Qbank, with over 2,000 top-notch questions. Perhaps more importantly, each of these questions comes with an incredibly in-depth explanation, packed with the facts that you need to know.

Exactly one year ago today, we posted Five Biggest Mistakes Students Make With USMLE WorldWell, this Step 1 season, we're back with five more. Avoid these traps, along with those mentioned in our previous article, to get the most out of UWorld while preparing for Step 1. 

 

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1. Do timed blocks

In today's world of wanting it done yesterday, we have become dependent on instant gratification. And why not? It feels good. But by overusing "tutor and timed tutor mode," and underutilizing timed mode for question blocks, you're doing yourself a real disservice. The purpose of doing questions is not just to learn material, but to rewire our brains to make them pattern-recognizing question-answering machines. We want to train our brains to be 100% "on" for an hour at a time, with no goal other than to correctly answer questions. That is exactly what timed mode does. When we use tutor or timed tutor, sure, we get the excitement of that green flash when we get the question right, but we build a pattern of repeatedly throttling and braking. You will be much better served by coming out firing, answering questions for a full hour, then taking a breath and reviewing those 44 answered questions over the next 2 hours. Simulate the REAL THING! 

2. Avoid using UWorld on-the-go

Your kooky bow tie wearing pathology professor is late again. You could talk about last night’s game with your classmates, but you are more driven than that, and decide to use those 6 minutes to knock out 2 or 3 UWorld questions. Be honest with yourself. While you may internalize a factoid or two during this time, you will not make significant progress in your studying. UWorld is intended to be used in a controlled study environment with 100% focus—it should simulate exam conditions. It should not be used casually for a few minutes in a noisy lecture hall, walking through the hallways, or at traffic lights. (I kid you not, a classmate of mine would routinely try to squeeze in questions while driving!)  

3. Don't skip questions you hate

We can’t tell you how many students, when reviewing questions blocks with us, say something like this: 

“I saw the [insert difficult and painful concept here] image, and just skipped it. I’m bad at these kinds of questions.”

The topic could be anything: histology, pressure-volume tracings, EKGs, gross pathology... you name it. Just seeing a question type like this induces tachycardia, anxiety, and the realization that the student has not yet internalized this concept. Do yourself a favor and recognize the warning signs! If you have a question type like this, set aside an hour or two, however long it will take to figure out the concept, and LEARN it inside and out. This is UWorld’s job! It identifies the question types that you hate, and should inspire you to master them. Bolster your knowledge base so that next time you see a question like this, you can conquer it with confidence instead of skipping it due to fear.

4. Don't postpone question blocks because you are “not ready”

A common issue that we see as tutors is students not getting around to UWorld blocks that they’ve been assigned. We understand that life can get in the way sometimes, but postponing UWorld blocks because you haven’t read and mastered the subject matter is no excuse. If you are short on time, you should err on the side of answering questions. There is absolutely no substitute for doing UWorld questions—it’s the only way to get better at test-taking. You could internalize all 742 pages of First Aid and still be shaky at employing that knowledge. As we said in our previous article, students should not get hung up on their percentage correct. If you get 32% of those questions correct, that means you have 68% to learn from. Hit questions early and often, regardless of your knowledge base, and use each and every explanation to learn as much as you can. 

5. UWorld is NOT a substitute for NBME exams

Yes, we know we keep touting UWorld as your go-to #1 resource for Step 1. But no resource is an island. Even if you get through UWorld’s 2000+ questions twice, you should still be taking NBME exams, as they offer you information that UWorld doesn’t. The NBME is the group that writes the actual test! You would really be short-changing yourself if you eschewed the NBME self-assessments. In addition to that, as you will go through far fewer NBMEs than UWorld blocks, they carry more gravity and importance and can command more attention than your “average question block.” They offer an amazing assessment of your strengths and weaknesses to help guide your studying, and they will tell you precisely how far you are from your goal score. 

When you are utilizing UWorld to its full potential alongside our other recommended resources, and combine this with expert instruction and planning, you are poised for Step 1 mastery. Give every question the full attention it deserves, whether you got it right or wrong. Never get in the habit of saying, “I knew that one, and I got it right,” and moving on without investing in every explanation. For the next couple of months, you’ve got a new best friend, and its name is UWorld. Use all of these tips to ensure that your new relationship thrives.

(And if you haven't already, don't forget to check out Five Biggest Mistakes Students Make with UWorld.)

24 hours could earn you 30 more points
Brian Radvansky

Brian Radvansky

USMLE Tutor & Senior Writer
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