USMLE tutoring versus a lecture course
Most students preparing for USMLE step 1 (and to a lesser extent step 2) think the best approach is to take a full lecture-based review course. This might work for some, but in effect you’ve just paid about $100,000 for a lecture-based learning experience at your medical school — if you’re not up to speed from that, it’s not clear that another lecture series is the answer. If you’re going to spend $4,500 to $15,000 for USMLE prep, you’d better be learning material darned well.
The main problem with a lecture-based course is that it is passive learning. You sit in a lecture hall and listen to someone else who has already digested the material repeat it back to you. This is fine if it’s the first time you’re learning the material, but passive learning is much less effective than active learning.
Active learning and medical knowledge
Active learning is a much more effective method of mastering and retaining material. You look to your teachers as USMLE subject-matter experts – why? Because they aced an exam? No. They’re experts because they can explain the topic and they can answer questions from students. That means they have to not just listen to a speaker, but they have to learn the material so well they can look a person in the eye and talk about it. That should be your goal as well: learn the material so well you can discuss it with your attending face-to-face, not just select the correct answer from a list of 5 options.
Active learning through USMLE tutoring
There are a variety of approaches to tutoring, but the most important thing to realize about USMLE tutoring in particular is that a tutor CANNOT teach you everything you need to know about the USMLE. It’s just not possible – the amount of material is so large that you would end up just taking a lecture course.
To be most effective a tutor must insist that it is up to you to learn the material – their role should be to make sure you learn the right stuff, clear up misunderstandings, and push you on the most high-yield topics. They are experts who look you in the eye while you explain it. This makes you responsible for your own education, and makes sure you know the material well enough to present it to an expert. You don’t listen to other people talk, you learn to listen to yourself, and make darned sure you are comfortable enough to explain it to someone else. This is active learning.
Qualities of a good USMLE tutor
Just because someone scored well on Step 1 doesn’t make them a good tutor. Here are the things to look for:
- Experience teaching in a medical school.
- Experience tutoring one-on-one.
- Expertise in at least one of the core USMLE topics.
- Focuses on you teaching yourself (active learning).
- An understanding of the issues around the medical residency application process.
USMLE test prep options, including courses and question banks.
USMLE step 1 introductory information.
First Aid for USMLE Step 1 review.