When should I take the exam?
Residency is daunting in itself and requires it’s own dedication. Level 3 can often seem like a hindrance while trying to learn everything else in residency. Know that these two are often intertwined – the information you learn while studying for Level 3 will be utilized in your day-to-day residency career. Depending on your residency specialty, you still have to know information for Level 3 that you’re not currently practicing in residency. If you’re in internal medicine residency, for example, know that Level 3 still has questions on pediatrics. For this reason, I recommend taking Level 3 earlier in residency as you still have lingering knowledge from medical school about a whole range of specialties. It will also feel good to get it over with! Look at your schedule for intern year and choose to take your exam if you have 2 months of “easy” blocks. This will allow more time to study during these blocks.
When should I start studying?
You’ll find you’ll need less time to study for Level 3 than Level 1 or 2. Most test-takers give themselves 2 months of studying time before the exam. Of course, this is variable, as you may feel you need longer or have a busier intern year schedule. In that case, I would suggest spreading the studying over a longer period.
How do I balancing studying during intern year?
Most residency programs do not give dedicated study blocks for Level 3. This, unfortunately, means that studying must work around your residency schedule. It’s best to break up the number of total questions in COMBANK and do 1/3 of them in the 4-8 weeks before the exam and the other 2/3 in the 4 weeks just prior to the exam. You will see then that you have a certain amount to do per day. I would often get them done during any downtime I had (lunch breaks in clinic, afternoons on wards, after work). As you get closer to the exam and with more questions to do per day, you’ll find that you will need more dedicated time to get questions done. Know that this is short-lived!
What materials do I need for Level 3?
Having gone through Level 1 and Level 2, you will find you will need less and less additional supplementary materials for each exam. Level 3 follows this trend. Most people (including myself) only use 2 resources: COMBANK and the Savarese OMT review. Complete all of the questions in COMBANK and read all of the Savarese OMT review.
How do I structure COMBANK questions?
I recommend doing questions ALL RANDOM and untimed. Early integration into the mindset of the exam is crucial during your clinical years. The exam is an onslaught of random, obscure questions from every subject. If you study questions by subject and then do the COMBANK questions by subject, your mind will be skewed into looking for questions related to the subject you’re studying. For instance, if you are studying cardiology and you have a practice question that has a clinical scenario related to chest pain, you will be guided to answers related to acute coronary syndromes rather than answers that could also explain chest pain (bronchospasm, costochondritis, somatic dysfunction, etc.). You want to start training your brain to think that you’re taking the real exam from day one. Two weeks before test time, change question blocks to timed so that you are used to doing them under the pressure of time.
How much time do I spend reviewing the questions?
You should spend 1/3 of your time doing the question and 2/3 of your time reviewing the question. Question banks are the premier resource for learning for Level 3. Answering questions is obviously important to gauge how well you know the material, but reviewing the questions are of the utmost importance. I reviewed every question whether I got it right or wrong. I had a separate word document where I filled out bullet points of the key learning points from the question and additional information from the answer explanations I felt was important.
If you’ve made it this far, you have shown dedication to exam success and preparation is key to success.
Remember, as Lincoln once said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.”
Written By: Daniel Guck, DO, Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellow at Penn State Health