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While every day of your USMLE study period is incredibly important, I am not being dramatic when I say that the final 10-14 days of studying can really make or break your score.

I have seen struggling students finally put it all together during this period while I have also witnessed strong students suffer numerous breakdowns that ultimately derailed their scores.

As your USMLE exam approaches, you want to make sure that you have the best possible plan to maximize the final days of studying and to put you in the best possible position for success. Here are my best tips for making the most out of these final days.

Know Your Weaknesses

With 10-14 days of USMLE studying remaining (unless your tutor has advised otherwise) you should be taking your final NBME exam and should have objective forecasting of your likely score. At this point, I advise everyone to take a careful inventory of the most recent and all prior NBMEs as a means to creating a comprehensive assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Starting with your first NBME, work through each assessment and ask yourself, “Have I really gotten better at this subject?” At the end of your assessment, you should have a master list ranking each topic from weakest to strongest and can begin planning your remaining study schedule accordingly.

Remember, this might be a great time to pull in some outside help. We often have trouble assessing our own weaknesses or understanding how important a topic might be. Talking to someone who has been there before can really help you gauge exactly how much time you should devote to studying any particular weakness.

Study Smart

Two weeks is a lot of time, but not enough time to get bogged down by little details. At this point, you should be focusing your efforts on high yield material — particularly content that's amenable to memorization. As we have stated before, pharmacology, microbiology, biostatistics, immunology, and a significant portion of biochemistry are all subjects amenable to brute force memorization. Make sure that you are reviewing these subjects several hours each day and are putting yourself in a great position to get these questions correct on the actual exam.

For more difficult material and conceptual topics, try to make the most out of your UWorld account. Use the search function to pull up topics and refresh yourself on exactly how a question might be phrased or what kinds of details are important to understanding a concept. Searching for specific questions as you review material will allow you to see what buzzwords should be picked up on, how they might incorporate various distractors, and/or what changes they could make to a given question. Finally, keep using your question bank and make sure that you are reviewing all of your incorrect and marked questions from your previous two passes through the material.

Get in the Zone

One of the most common mistakes I see is that of students failing to plan for the actual structure of the exam day. With two weeks to go, you need to begin focusing on matching your physiologic schedule to that of the exam. Some common tips that I like to give include:

  1. Start waking up at the same time as you will need to for your actual exam. This is even more important for test takers who are not morning people. You need to get yourself used to functioning well at the time your test will be.
  2. Work on your stamina. At least once per week, use your question bank to simulate the length of the actual USMLE exam. Again, nothing is worse than fighting fatigue during your test.
  3. Stay healthy. It is way too easy to sacrifice exercise and healthy eating during the final days. That being said, taking care of your body and mind is only going to give you more energy on the day of the actual exam.
  4. Stay focused. These final days should be all about the USMLE exam. Keep that in mind as you schedule your life and try to avoid any big commitments or life stressors in this time period. Moving into a new apartment can wait — focus on your test instead, because...

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Dr. Christopher Carrubba

Dr. Christopher Carrubba

USMLE Tutor & Senior Contributing Editor
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