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Want to avoid floundering on your USMLE? Here are six reasons students sometimes do, and how best to avoid these pitfalls:

1. Procrastination

We all have been there, but during boards studying, especially during dedicated study period, procrastination can be devastating. Each day during the dedicated study period should be a good 12 hours of studying, losing a whole day to procrastination, or even worse a whole week, is a ton of material that could be learned and enforced. Combating procrastination can be tough, but I find the best way is to take smaller breaks throughout the day, breaking up the material into more manageable chunks, and taking breaks to maintain your sanity.

2. Anxiety

Anxiety can be hard to recognize. Students who have testing anxiety traditionally will seem prepared before their exam, but then their score will not reflect their pretest level of readiness. To address anxiety having strong support systems and utilizing them is the best solution. One other trick is to approach each question as a new one during the exam, with no ramifications from performance on prior or future questions, as to not let the anxiety build.

3. Poor Organization

Not having a study plan and sticking to it can be disastrous. The key is sticking to the plan. Most medical students are decent at producing a plan, but as soon as the procrastination sets in then day by day the material builds up until it is overwhelming. My advice is to make a study plan that isn’t too ambitious, and if you fall behind to quickly alter your study plan to make up for lost time. Another remedy is to integrate “catch up” days in your study plan to account for the possibility of unforeseen events or lack of productivity.

4. Using the wrong resources

Great resources are key. Studying from the wrong materials can lead to studying non-high yield material or distractions from the best resources. Too many resources is just as bad as studying from the incorrect ones. Stick to just a few trusted resources and know them well.

5. Overconfidence

Going into an exam blindly without objectively knowing your level of preparedness is not a good idea. When it gets close to test day, take many practice tests to get a good sample size. Then be honest with yourself. Are you prepared enough that if you for some reason were in a funk on test day, you could still get to your target score? Do not be overconfident and assume your will perform at your best score or better on test day.

6. Burning Out

Studying for long periods of time ceaselessly takes a toll. Once burn out sets in studying becomes less effective, and scores go down. If it feel like you have hit a wall, studying isn’t producing results, and anxiety is through the roof, consider burnout. True burnout is alleviated best by a break from studying. A Few days off doing something else in this case is necessary and rejuvenating.


Ryan Kelsch

Ryan Kelsch

Ryan is a third year medical student currently attending Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where He studied molecular and cellular biology and tutored extensively organic and inorganic chemistry as a private tutor. Ryan scored a 263 on USMLE Step 1 and a 790 on COMLEX Level 1 and is currently ranked 3rd in his class of over 200. He wishes to pass his success down to his students. It would be his honor to serve his students in whatever needs they have.
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