9 Steps to Learn From UWorld Step 1 USMLE QBank

My Question Gem notebook

My Question Gem notebook

“Do at least 5,000 unused questions.”  – Master Yoda 

You’re starting your first question bank, purchased dearly with the money you would’ve spent on food, and you can’t help but wonder if you’re using it correctly.  You may be asking “How much time per day should I devote to questions?  Am I really learning from this?  How will I organize this information?”

To start off, I will run you through a typical day of my step 1 study (for new readers, I took the test last year and found great success in this method.  I cleared my goal of 250 with several points to spare).  The bulk of each study day was spent on questions.  Each question set this year contains 44 questions, and I did 3 question sets a day.  I did USMLErx by topic, and I did UWorld completely random and timed.

7 am – 8am: Completed first question set

8 am – 9 am: Completed second question set

9 am – 10 am: Completed third question set

10 am – noon: Corrected 1st question set

noon – 12:30 pm: Took a much needed break.  Went outside and shot hoops

12:30 pm – 1:00 pm: Ate lunch while watching sketchy micro

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm: Corrected 2nd question set

3:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Corrected 3rd question set

5:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Watched Pathoma

6:00 pm – 7:00 pm: Reviewed flashcards

7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Ate dinner, tried to make normal human conversation with Mrs. DA.

8:00 – 9:00 pm: I used this as a “clean up” hour.  The first part was spent reading the new entries of my Question Gem notebook from that day, but some nights I was so burnt out that the best I could do was watch more pathoma/sketchy micro.  It’s also a good time to do some pharmacology flash cards, or catch up on your Question Gem flash cards. (Question Gems are explained later in the post)

10:00 pm Go to sleep

Right off the bat you’ll notice that question banks take up almost the whole day.  You’ll also notice that there is no dedicated time for reading First Aid.  That’s because you will constantly be in First Aid while you correct your question sets.  Also, near the end of my dedicated study period, I finished UWorld.  At this point my plan changed, and I started only doing 1 UWorld question set per day on questions I had missed previously, and I used the extra time to read straight through First Aid.

So you devote all this time for question sets, but how do you make sure you’re actually learning from them?  Welcome to Mr. DebtAnatomy’s “How to learn from the Step 1 UWorld question bank.”

Step 1: Complete USMLErx qbank before starting UWorld.  Can’t stress this enough.  UWorld questions are the best of the best, so you don’t want to waste them.  The more you know before starting them, the better they will be.  Start USMLErx before your dedicated study time, and have it finished by the end of your first week of your dedicated study time.

Step 2: Always do UWorld questions on timed mode, all categories and unused.  This is how the real test will be, so this is how you should study.

Step 3: Do not take a question set, correct it, then take your second question set, correct it, etc. etc.  Do all 3 question sets in a row before correcting them.  Initially I was correcting every question set immediately after finishing it, but after a tip from a mentor I changed my strategy to the above schedule.  For some reason this saved me about an hour every day.  It also better mimics the real test.

Step 4: When correcting a question set, read the whole explanation provided in UWorld, including why the other options are incorrect.  HOWEVER, your main goal when reading the explanation is to pick out a single takeaway message.  This should be the principle that you didn’t understand, causing you to miss the question.  You should be able to summarize this principle in 1-3 sentences.  Often this will be very similar to the summary paragraph at the bottom of the UWorld explanation.  Do this for every question you got wrong, as well as for every question you answered correctly on accident.  For questions you answered correctly because you knew them, just read the complete explanation and move on.  WARNING: Each question explanation will have a TON of information, and you will be tempted to make a flashcard for every tidbit of information, especially for the wrong options.  Resist this urge!  Read the whole explanation, try to remember all this information, but only focus on the SINGLE MAIN principle that you need to learn to answer this question correctly, trusting that you will hit the rest of the information in the other 5,000+ questions you are planning on doing.  I can’t stress enough how important this is.  The biggest mistake people make when using qbanks is trying to learn everything at once.  They start to feel like they’re drowning, and they can’t get through 5,000+ questions.  Don’t drown, just find your main prinicple from that question.  I will refer to this “main principle” in the following steps as your “Question Gem”.

Step 5: Look up your Question Gem from step 4 in First Aid.  You will get very good at maneuvering through this book.  Once you find the correct page, read the relevant section (usually 1/4 to 1/2 of a page).  Make any annotations you feel are appropriate (small extra tidbits from the question explanation).  If you can’t find the topic in First Aid, then write in your summary sentence where it should appear.

Step 6: Turn your Question Gem into an anki flashcard.  Add it right then and there on your computer.

Step 7: Write your Question Gem into your Question Gem notebook.

*Step 5 – 7 are SO VITAL.  It is extremely important to keep your Question Gems short and sweet, otherwise these steps will take too much time.  These steps should be performed fast and efficiently.  Don’t worry, you’ll get better at this as you do it.

Step 8: If the question you are correcting involves microbiology, and you have already watched the sketchy micro video on that bug, then quickly review that image from sketchy micro.  For those of you unfamiliar with how to review sketchy micro, there is a feature where you can view the image, and there are red dots on the important parts of the image.  Hovering over those dots will reveal the explanation.  This step should take less than a minute.  If you haven’t watched the sketchy micro video yet, don’t sweat it.  Just do steps 5-7 and trust that you will eventually watch the video as you work through sketchy micro.

Step 9: Review your Question Gem flashcards and notebook that evening (see schedule above).  I believe my settings on Anki were to give me 50 new questions per day and 50 old questions per day.  However, I usually tried to do more than this.  Reviewing that day’s new Question Gem entries in my notebook was one of the last things I did everyday.  That ensured that each night I went to bed with a fresh 50-80 Question Gems securely in my mind.

In summary, read the complete explanation for every question.  For questions you got right on purpose, this can just be a skimming read.  For every question you missed or got correct on accident, pick out your main Question Gem.  You do three things with this gem: 1. Look it up in First Aid and annotate it.  2. Make it into an anki flashcard.  3. Write it in your Question Gem notebook.  These question gems should be short, sweet, and summarized in your own words.  This ensures that you learn 50-80 new things extremely well each day, plus information that you learn on the side as you read the explanations, not to mention what you learn as you watch sketchymicro and pathoma.  Resist the temptation to take several question gems from each question.  Just make a mental note of them and trust that they will come up in future questions.

Between USMLErx, UWorld, and practice tests, I completed over 6,000 new questions.

If this was helpful to you, please share it!  Have you found other ways to learn from question banks?  Do you have any questions?  Please comment below!

Confused at the difference between uworld and usmlerx?  Not sure what flashcards are the best for pharmacology? Here’s a link to a post I wrote a while ago about different step 1 resources: http://debtanatomy.com/9-top-resources-for-usmle-step-1/

Correcting question sets may take longer when you initially start studying.  Do no fret!  You will get faster at this.  Just keep on working!  Happy studying!