Whether you are preparing for a licensure exam like USMLE or COMLEX, an in-training exam like the ABSITE or CREOG or are preparing for a MOC exam you know that Qbanks can be one of the most valuable ways for you to prepare. They are designed to mirror the question content and stem styles on your upcoming exam, and can simulate what you will experience (except for maybe the jitters and sweaty palms) on exam day. You have this awesome tool at your fingertips but your time is limited between classes or cases and studying, so what is the best way to use Qbanks in your exam prep?
Exam Prep Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Let’s preface this by stating that every exam has different stakes. Licensure exams like the USMLE (especially Step 1) can dictate your entire career path, while some In-Training Exams are more so seen as a measuring stick of your knowledge through residency.
Regardless of the stakes, cramming is a bad idea. Marathon runners don’t start their training a week before their race, they start months in advance to build their stamina and increase their performance. High stakes exams require a similar approach. First you need to determine what score you are aiming for, evaluate where you are likely to score today and come up with a plan to get you to where you want to be. If you’re preparing for the USMLE or COMLEX, we suggest that you start utilizing Qbanks at least 6 months in advance. In-Training Exam takers should start using Qbanks at least 3-4 months in advance, and we suggest the same for those taking a MOC exam.
As is also in marathon training, it’s critical that you pace yourself. A marathon trainee does not start off their training by attempting to run 26.2 miles. Similarily, you shouldn’t attempt to take as many questions as you can each day. Yes you are preparing for an exam, but you’re also trying to improve your knowledge and reasoning skills. Studies have shown that retrieval practice (use of practice questions) produces greater gains than traditional studying. Start your prep by taking 30 questions 3xs a week, while working up to 25-50 questions daily in the days just before your exam. This will help you retain information more effectively leading up to exam day.
As mentioned above, you need to be able to absorb the information that is presented to you so you increase your knowledge and critical thinking skills. At the end of the day, this isn’t just about passing an exam but increasing the quality and accuracy of patient care. As you take practice questions make sure you don’t rush through your results but rather take the time to review question explanations. These explanations are critically important and will give you insight into why or why not each answer choice was correct, incorrect or insignificant. Knowing this level of detail will help you make better informed decisions in the future.
As you are working your way through a Qbank, we suggest that you take notes on the content you have been exposed to. Whether you take notes in the app like you can do with TrueLearn, or you take them by hand, these notes will prove to be invaluable as your wrap up your studying. We suggest taking notes all throughout your prep and revisting them in the weeks immediately before your exam.
When you start off your prep, you’ll most likely start off in ‘tutor mode’ and take your time through questions and immediately see their explanations. And that’s exactly what we suggest. But as you progress, you’re going to want to transition over to a timed mode. Your exam will be timed, so these modes will apply the same constraints that you will have on exam day. Our research has shown that higher performers tend to simulate their exam more than under performers. Simulating the exam helps to challenge yourself as it applies the same time constraints as the actual exam, all while distributing questions that follow the exact exam blueprint.
Use Data To Stop Wasting Time & Effort
It goes without saying that your time is at a premium. That’s why you need to make smart decisions regarding your studies. If you’re a TrueLearn user, you have a powerful system of analytics at your fingertips. These reports give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses, category performance, performance relative to your peers and much more. By identifying areas where you should be spending more/less time studying, you will maximize your efforts as well as your eventual exam score.
When using Qbanks correctly, they can be one of your most valuable study tools. Good luck on your exam!