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How to create a study plan for the USMLE - part 4

We now come to part 4 of our series on “How to create a study plan for the USMLE”. You can refer to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you want. On part 4, we discuss the different phases of a complete study plan.
The three phases are as follows
1. Learning Phase: This is where you try to learn everything that you still do not know about medical concepts tested in the USMLE.2. Mastery Phase: at this point, you already know the concepts, you just need to put them into immediate recall so that you can recall them in the minute or so that USMLE requires.3. Psychological Preparation: It is important to prepare yourself both physically and mentally for the grueling 7 to 8 hour exam(16 hours for step 3). Failure to do so may mean low scores or worse failing the exam altogether.
Many people tends to skip the learning phase and go directly to the mastery phase by purchasing review books like FA or BRS then use them almost exclusively for their studies. Depending on your goals and your current situation, this could be either a minor problem or a catastrophic one. One cannot master what one does not know. You can’t review materials you do not know. You need to study them.
The longer you are out of medical school the more time you need to spend here. The lower your scores were during medical school, the more you need to concentrate in learning all the important concepts tested by the USMLE.
Even recent graduates who are very good students cannot remember everything they’ve studied and usually there are gaps in their knowledge due to a variety of reasons. (eg. subject not covered by professor, etc.) Therefore, it still makes sense to realize that there will be concepts you do not know and the best place to prepare for them is during the learning phase. This is especially crucial because you should not schedule your exam before you finish your learning phase (a common mistake committed by many). You should only schedule the exam once you are in your mastery phase where the time frame for accomplishing most preparations is more predictable. We will deal with scheduling in subsequent posts.
The mastery phase is what most thinks of when they talk of reviewing and in truth for most people, this is where most of their preparations should be. The main objective of the mastery phase is to get as many information as possible into immediate recall so that one can do well in a timed exam like the USMLE. (Refer to my post on different types of recall here.) Given enough time, one can recall almost anything one has learned and that’s the reason USMLE is a timed exam. It wants to test how much material you’ve mastered rather than how much you’ve learned. Outline notes, Qbanks and Flashcards are the way to go during mastery phase.
The psychological preparation phase is commonly skipped and yet many times this can be crucial to doing well in the examination or even passing it. Even if you are physically able to finish 8 hours, being mentally alert by the 6th to 7th hour is not that easy. Horror stories abound of people panicking and going blank during the examination.
In boxing for example, Boxers do not do much training in the last week before the fight. They’ve finished their training by then and if they’ve not then there is a big chance they will lose. However, they still go to the gym not to train but to keep focus and to prepare themselves for the upcoming bout. Therefore, it is important to give yourself time before the exam to physically recuperate from a long and arduous preparation and mentally focus on the upcoming examination.
We will end here and discuss how your particular circumstances can affect how you should prepare your study plan next time.

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