Manage Your Time on USMLE to Get Extra Questions Right


It’s March. This is the thick of USMLE prep right about now. But you’re still not getting all the questions right that you think you should.

So I’m taking a second to answer the most common question I’m getting right now:  “Why has my score plateaued and I am missing a whole bunch of questions toward the end of each block?”

Well, it’s coming down to the problem of timing. What I’m seeing a lot of you all face is that you’re still not getting the timing factor correct. I think that is the most common problem right now. So let me address how to fix this. Timing can actually get you several questions, even if you are getting through all the questions in time.

Perfect how you’re managing your time during the test….And this is guaranteed to give you several questions per block of 40. This optimization alone is enough to change your grade more than all the study you’re probably going to do for the rest of the semester. So stop right now and fix this problem because this problem is your answer to a better score quickly.

The overarching thesis and understanding that you need to have about timing is the following:

The time that you spend on those difficult questions is absolutely wasted. The value of that question is very low.

Think about this. You have a question that you’re spending two or three minutes on. The chance that you’ll get it right is very low, right? You’re wasting all the time of the test on a question that’s already statistically low and you’re probably not going to get right. SO take that time away from that statistically low question and move it to two or three questions that will actually probably get you points on the test, because you’ll probably get those right.

So every time you spend time agonizing on a question, realize I’ve already lost this question, this is a statistically low question simply because I’m struggling with it. And simply because the amount of material maybe that I’m having to spend reading it, let me spend my time on a question that I actually think I can get right, or even better yet, use this time to see multiple questions and therefore really increased the gold chance that I’m going to get more questions.

Right? So that’s the overarching principle.

Now let me give you a few hints and a few tricks on how to do it.(*Caveat this is only for students who have conquered the knowledge phase 1 learning and are moved on the test taking practice phase)

#1:  Blow through a few practice tests quickly.

This exercise often brings out more points than slowly getting bogged down on the big questions. You don’t believe me? I’m the one that’s tutoring hundreds of students and most students I tell to try this do benefit from this.

So practically..take two days, just blow through, hit the first thing that comes to your mind. Stop deeply agonizing and thinking about this. Now we’re type A meticulous personalities so I know we’re not all going to just be careless. So I tell you to “blow through this” because I know that you’re not actually going to do that. But the point is, is that those of you who can actually just shake it off and rapidly answer questions will do better.

So actually picking up your pace right about now in March is the right thing to do because it’ll help you. So pick up your pace right now.

#2 What you’re going to really find is that as you pick up your pace, you’re going to realize that the first thing that comes to your mind and the most likely or most common thing in your mind is actually correct.

The USMLE seems hard. The questions seem unknown and very difficult, but at the end of the day, they’re probably talking about something you already know because you’ve been studying for this for months. You know a lot of these materials, so it’s probably what you know and not what you’re guessing.

#3 Be clock conscious.

Sounds simple, but we’re not right. So we’re used to being clock conscious on the blocks of like 40 and looking up and being like, Oh my gosh, it’s 30 minutes. I got 30 minutes left. And I’ve got like so many more minutes to finish it…

But this is no bueno…you MUST break it down to smaller blocks. Its March…We can’t handle big block times. We’re going to under utilize our time and not do it correctly. So you’ve got to break it up into the smallest increments of time that you can manage right now and later you can bring it back up because ultimately you’ll have to manage a big larger block of time.

Right now, I’m pretty sure most of you all cannot manage more than 10 minute blocks at a time appropriately. So here’s how you’re going to do it. Let’s say that you’re doing blocks of 40, which is what I recommend in my program. That’s about 60 minutes. But check the timing on your program. So if it’s 60 minutes to 40 questions, then you will  break that all the way down to 10 Question blocks and you realize that  you should be at a 15 minute mark. Now try that for a while. So write down on a piece of paper two columns. You’ll have a 10q-15min, then 20q = 30 min… See where I’m going. 30q=45min, 40q= 60min so now here’s what you’re going to do as soon as you answer number 10 you’ll look up at your clock, and if you’re at 15 you’re on track and keep going.

But if on question 10 you’re at 20min…. What I want you to do is click through the next questions.  Speed yourself up to scale so that you’re back on track and keep going. This hurts really bad to do this. This makes you very upset to have to skip questions, but by doing this, you force yourself to work faster. (as you skip be sure to select on letter as an answer choice so they aren’t blank.)

This will be very hard, but guess what? You’re not taking the USMLE right now. You’re still training and practicing, so this is an appropriate thing to do. This, forcing yourself to speed up to the next block, And it is going to hurt so bad that you’re just going to get better and better.

Now, if you’re finding that at 10 questions, you’re still one or two questions behind…Then break that back down to five questions, right?  So at five questions, you should be at like seven and a half minutes, right? So at five question mark, you look up, I’m at seven and a half. And so on and so forth. The point is, I want you to break it into the smallest blocks that you can handle, right?

And you’re telling yourself at this # of questions, I need to be at this time frame and do that check in over and over again until you finally accomplish doing 5 question blocks. 10 question blocks etc…. Again, these blocks are when you check into your timing up at the top of the screen. So that’s how I want you to do it.

Even if it hurts for the first couple of weeks, you’re going to be able to repair yourself. It’s March, guys, give yourself some grace. Fix this timing thing. Now you’ll see four or five questions added onto your test, and now you’ll start to see that plateau go up a little bit again and Ooh, that’ll feel good.

And it’s about time to feel good. We’ve got covid 19 we are all locked down working hard….ITs time to  feel good about your scores, so fix the timing. Stop what you’re doing today and fix it.


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