USMLE Study Tips: Quarantine Edition

You’re in medical school and have been quarantined for weeks. When you first heard that your clinicals or classes were cancelled you made big plans to finish UWorld, memorize First Aid, crush boards, and cure disease. But the days blend together, and you spend two hours on Netflix for every one on your studies. It’s 2 p.m. and you’re in your pajamas about to eat breakfast. But quarantine isn’t over yet! There is still time to rescue your schedule and leave isolation with the satisfaction of a job well done.

How to Study for the USMLE During Quarantine:

1. Make a study schedule for you, not for your peers.

If you are struggling to concentrate, consider revamping your schedule with very small goals that are based on your current patterns. For example, if you completed 10 UWorld questions today and watched 3 episodes of Tiger King, a good goal for tomorrow might be 20 UWorld questions and 2 episodes of Tiger King.

Capitalize on this victory and build momentum for the next day. If your goal for tomorrow is to complete 300 UWorld questions, but you barely made it out of bed today, further discouragement is likely right around the corner.

You may feel pressured to accomplish everything, particularly if you are surrounded by over-achieving classmates. You know the ones — the student who just made 100 masks for healthcare workers and published a review on the public health response to the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic.

Our accomplishments will always pale in comparison to those who are accomplishing the most, and few things are more discouraging than failing to achieve what you set out to do.  If you don’t feel comfortable asking your recently published peer for schedule guidance, reach out to MST! Our tutors love making judgement-free schedules that factor in your personal strengths and weaknesses.

2. Get creative with your studying

You were scheduled to take your exam next week, but now Prometric is closed. You’ve completed your question bank twice and your First Aid book is in tatters because you’ve spent the last 5 weeks pouring your heart, soul, and coffee over its thin pages.

If you’ve exhausted your question bank, review the questions you got wrong. Analyze your question bank statistics and practice test score reports to identify your weak areas.

You know the little blue links at the bottom of every UWorld question explanation? Consider clicking them and reading a little more about challenging topics.

They say that you haven’t mastered a topic until you are able to teach it. Try talking through challenging topics alone or with a classmate to really test your understanding.

If you are an expert on test content, but aren’t meeting your goals on practice tests and UWorld percentages, now is the perfect time to focus on question analysis and test strategy. Your MST tutors are experts in this field and will give you the boost you need.

You were prepared for next week, but now you are dreading the thought of at least four more weeks of stress. When the Olympics were delayed until 2021, wrestling gold medalist Jordan Burroughs tweeted, “You gonna cry about it or boss up? First of all imma do both.

Preparing for boards is emotional. Take a day to reset your emotions and gain a new perspective for test day. Your goals might shift from acquiring content to deepening understanding.

3. Don’t despair

Remember that, while this is a new challenge, you are not new to challenges. You have accomplished a lot to get to where you are today.

There are thousands of medical students struggling with quarantine around the world; most of them feel similar to how you are feeling. It is okay to not achieve everything right now — take time for thorough self-evaluation and focus on realistic goals that will encourage you during this isolated season.

When you spend months focused on nothing but boards, you inevitably neglect other important parts of your life. Quarantine may be the time you need to rebalance your priorities. Try incorporating (socially distant) time outside, healthy meals, and conversation with your family and friends into your schedule.

Here are some additional resources to help you navigate COVID-19 as a med student: 

New Free NBME Assessments Due to COVID-19

What to Do When Your Campus Closes

9 Video Conferencing Tips

Navigating Prometric Closures

Understanding V/Q Mismatch