USMLE/COMLEX LifeSavers: The difference questions make

Question Mark Block

via Jared Cherup (click image for details)

Common wisdom has it that those whose brains hold the most information do the best on tests. Ergo, devouring the gold standard textbook of a given subject is surely the way to success. Not so.


I am not the slowest person in the world, but I’m also not the smartest. Much of my success in academics has been through hard work. Yet, even hard work is not enough. Case in point.


I was a philosophy and theology major. Somewhere in my senior year of college I had the bright idea to pursue medical school. Thus began a two-plus year journey through hell. I was homeschooled during the grade school and high school years. Science was not my thing. I got through the required medical school prerequisites in biology, chemistry, and physics and did fairly well. Then came the MCAT.


I dedicated a good eight weeks of full time study to this test. I read an industry standard review book from cover to cover, and walked into the testing room feeling confident and prepared. I then proceeded to break into a sweat after thirty seconds because the air condition wasn’t working in the testing facility. Classic. My sweaty self left the testing facility forlorn: there goes my shot at medical school. Should’ve stuck with the plans for the Ph.D. in theology.


Mine was one of the last paper administrations of the test. Two months later I got my score in the old school mail. I opened the envelope (okay, to be honest, my wife was still opening score reports in those days) and discovered my 28. Not bad. Not really good either. Probably a 65-70th percentile.


I did end up getting into to medical school, so the score doesn’t really matter now. Funny how important these things seem at the time. Now I had to look up my MCAT score, because I couldn’t remember the exact number. What does matter is the fact that medical school consists of a bunch of other tests. Going in, I theoretically knew this was going to be the case. Being in the thick of it, it was stress city every four to six weeks.


The first year of medical school was a struggle. “Man, I wish I was doing that Ph.D. in theology right now,” was a recurrent thought, along with “science blows” and “I miss the XBOX.” In sum, my average was about a C+ or B- (a mix of mostly pass and some high pass marks). Certainly, no honors. I didn’t understand. I had read every reading from the assigned textbook, nearly memorizing the whole damn thing.


Once second year started I discovered there were a bunch of review books series on infectious disease, immunology, pathophysiology, pathology etc.—all the subjects of second year. That it took a full year for this shows you that I’m not the quickest bolt of lighting in the clouds. These review books were my life-savers because the chapters ended with boards-style questions. Only then I didn’t really know that of all the text between the two covers, the questions and their explanations were the real valuables, the crown jewels of boards study. Next time: why studying less might actually increase your score.


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