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Tips to Enhance USMLE Study Productivity

It's not that you don't know most or maybe all of these, but revisiting some tips and having them told to you by someone else, always helps ...

1. Identify or Recognize your "Happy Hours" for Studying:

All of us have a time of the day that we enjoy studying the most: for some it's the fresh mornings, for some its the post-nap afternoons, for some the late nights - make full use of those charmed study hours that suit you the best and built study routines around it.

2. Active learning versus Passive learning:

Eyeballing the notes and muttering the sentences back to yourself to memorize is 'passive' learning - while graphically mapping out what you learn using concept maps, making mnemonics to associate or jotting down points to jog your brains is 'active' learning and has a more lasting memory footprint. Try putting your thought flowcharts on paper for a difficult topic as your read those notes.

3. Tough things First, Easy is Easy:

"Acid base balance sucks - lets do it later" = Mistake. Remember that though the study momentum gathers speed as the exam date approaches, so does the anxiety. Your patience with getting topics done decreases and hence leaving the toughies for later will only prove demotivating in the face of time they take as exam draws near.

4. Reaching a state of airtight mind-space:

Each time you sit down for your dose of serious study - practice shutting yourself in an 'airtight mental space' wherein the only entities permitted are you and the topic you are reading. Takes time to develop that - but "Active learning " that I mentioned above helps you reach that mind space faster. It's up to you to build up the determination to not give in to other temptations and distractions during study time.

5. Some Gadgets and Tools can surely help you:

a. My large White Board and the Dry Erase Marker pens made my USMLE study more fun, making logical flowcharts, especially while revising Biochemistry flows and discussing with my study partner. You might find a White Board and Dry Erase Markers cheap on Amazon.

b. Post-it Notes and Charts stuck on walls: Try sticking those nifty post-it notes with that stuff on it at some very unique places. Like my cousin put his microbiology table charts on the mirror and the rest room ..and then Not revising was no longer an option ;-) - Post-it Notes are often cheap on Amazon too.

6. Get yourself a USMLE Study partner. Find friendly study rivalry. Rivalry in a friendly competition is a strongly motivating to get the best out of you. Also, keep a few hours in a week to teach each other a tough topic you read - using the white board I mentioned above. Teaching is the best form of learning and revising. If you dont have a study partner yet - get one by listing yourself at

7. Change of Subjects and Breaks:

I totally agree with Sherlock Holmes when he said that change of work was the best form of rest. For USMLE takers - lets make it a change of subject. Its a good idea to have a 'major' subject and a 'minor' subject at any given point. For example, if you were studying Pediatrics - you could keep psychiatry as a "minor" and read it for 10%-20% of the daily study time as a break / deviation.

8. Declutter your study space:

Clear the mess on your study space ! An minimalized, organized and clean surrounding is always inspiring and professionalism-inducing to your study.

9. Time-Management:

The biggest principle of time-management is awareness of the passing time. Give yourself good time before the exam - rushing through dates is not always a good thing. Plan early, register point pushing dates ahead and wasting your money and time. (except maybe the Step 2 CS, which you need to hurry with exam dates ! )
Also simply making up a detailed timetable ain't gonna work, it needs to drive you into action. If you are very frequent computer user, you could use a cool desktop-based interactive calendar application like Rainlendar to build up your USMLE study timetable. It allows you to feed in time targets and alerts you of deadlines regularly. Download Rainlendar Here

10. Switch off that Music / TV while studying

Some people argue that listening to music while studying helps them study better - but then if they like listening to music while studying, its obviously implied that their brains are paying some attention to the music, or put simply the attention is split. Sure, the music can help you live through that boring mechanical homework or assignments - but during the act of active learning and memorizing - I don't agree. In the context of studying, all it does it get you over the boredom - and if you are bored of studying, you should not be studying anyways. Go ahead and listen to music for a break and get back.

11. Invest in Self-Motivation:

Give a thought to what's driving your decision to excel on USMLE ? Your Principles ? personal heroes ? Career Goals ? Little things like having your favorite motivating phrase easily visible in your study room can go a long way in keeping optimism high.

After having said all that, remember - the best way to get started on a to get started :-) Dive in, the boredom, the scare of the huge syllabus and the mental inertia will go away.

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