The USMLE is a national standard that makes it easier for physicians to get reciprocity in different states. It was instituted as a replacement test for various exams accepted by different states (e.g. the FLEX test and the NBME exams).
Scores on the USMLE are increasingly important for residency admissions. Since schools have different policies on grading–some schools are pass-fail, others have a lot of grade inflation, and others are strict about keeping a bell-curve in grade distributions–residency programs are relying heavily on USMLE scores to rank their applicants.
That means you have to concentrate your efforts on scoring well on the USMLE Steps 1 and 2. You can tap into a wealth of advice and firsthand experience on the USMLE forum.
Studying for the USMLE
USMLE preparation is about getting ready for a test, not necessarily understanding everything about medicine. Here are the techniques we think are most effective for studying for the USMLEs.
1. Sample questions. Sample questions. Sample questions. Having been through the process, it is clear that the most effective way to study for the USMLE is by using professionally developed question banks (Kaplan has a very strong USMLE question bank). These question banks focus on the important, tested topics, and they are pretty good at identifying distractors (those “wrong” answers that sound pretty believable).
2. Focus on your weaknesses. The USMLE is broken down by topics. That means you have to perform in all the areas to do well on the test as a whole. You know you’re weak in an area when you’ve done poorly in a course. But if you’ve done well on a school-specific test or in a pass-fail course, you can’t tell how you’ll perform on the USMLE.
You can get an objective assessment of your strengths and weaknesses using diagnoistic tests. Kaplan offers a free a USMLE diagnostic exam. More importantly, built into Kaplan USMLE prep materials are diagnostics meant to let you know how you’re doing in a specific subtopic.
3. Study for the USMLE as you study your medical school course. This seems like a trivial answer, but it’s not always implemented. Some medical schools use board-exam like tests in their courses, but some are pass-fail. If you’re in a pass-fail course, it is important to realize that you’re preparing for the USMLE and that you study that way.
Other USMLE Resources
USMLE tutoring: Criteria and recommended services.
USMLE General and Official Resources.
USMLE Step 1: Step 1 information, including question format, USMLE score information.
USMLE Step 2: Step 2 test format and specific USMLE test prep advice.
USMLE Step 3: Step 3 resources, including test format, eligibility and specific USMLE test prep advice.
USMLE scores: What are speciality residency programs looking for in your USMLE scores.
USMLE questions and study guides: Compiled information for the basic science and clinical courses, with access to official sample USMLE questions.
Medical Crossword Puzzles: StudentDoc’s very own puzzles for a fun review of the basic and clinical sciences.