Tara usmleTara is a New York native who grew up on Long Island and has lived in Manhattan for seven years now.  She graduated Valedictorian from Sayville High School, with a strong interest in the natural sciences and extra curricular based in music and the theatre.  She was able to cultivate all of these interests in her four years at New York University, graduating magna cum laude (GPA 3.782) in 2006 with a major in Biochemistry (GPA 3.78) and a minor in Dramatic Literature, Theatre, History, and the Cinema (GPA 3.70).  She scored a 36 on her MCAT (13 in physical sciences, 12 in verbal, and 11 in biological sciences).  In her sophomore, junior, and senior years at NYU, Tara was a teaching assistant for General Chemistry, running weekly small-group classes and extra review sessions before each exam.   She is currently a fourth-year student at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where she passed all of her classes in the first two years, achieved Honors in the majority of her third year clerkships, and was named a member of AOA as a fourth year.  She scored a 232 (97) on her USMLE Step 1, a 256 (99) on Step 2 CK, and has been involved in peer tutoring for first and second year courses throughout her time at Mount Sinai.  She plans on completing residency in Internal Medicine and pursuing a career that combines translational basic research and clinical medicine at an academic medical center.

For more information contact Test Prep New York/TPNY at 646-290-7440

What is your educational and professional background as it relates to your expertise on the USMLE?

I completed the USMLE Step 1 at the end of my second year of medical school, and the USMLE Step 2, both CS and CK, as a fourth year student. I prepared for the Step 1 on my own over the course of 6 weeks, and my medical school ran a prep course for the Step 2 CK over 3 weeks. I have also tutored for the Step 2 CK.

What does it take to pass this exam? Are the score requirements the same in every state?

The passing scores are the same nationally, and are set by the USMLE as a 185 on the Step 1 and a 184 on the Step 2 CK. The Step 2 CS is a pass/fail test for which you do not receive a numerical grade.

When should students take the USMLE?

I think taking the Step 1 after the completion of second year is pretty standard and is the best time to take it. The scheduling of Step 2 CK and CS can be a little tricky, especially for students who take a year off for research between third and fourth year, but taking both of them before you are too far-removed from your third year clinical rotations is best. For those who do take a year off, I recommend taking these tests during your year off and not when you return as a fourth year. T

There were a good number of my colleagues, including myself, who took the CK in July after completing third year rotations in June, which is considered early. This worked out excellently because we all had our clinical knowledge and shelf- taking skills well-honed at this point, and it was also nice to get the test out of the way. I have also heard that the Step 2 CK exam score comes into play in the residency application process if it is very high or very low, so putting off the test because you don't want the score to "matter" on residency applications should not be an issue.

What is the biggest mistake that students make before taking the USMLE?

Probably either studying too little, or too much. With the Step 1 especially, I am a firm believer that you should set your date, make a study schedule leading up to that date, and stick with it. The only reason you should push back the test date should be if unforeseen circumstances interfere heavily with your study schedule, and of course things like that do come up. I feel the same way about the Step 2 exams because I think structure in studying for them is the most important thing.

How much time should students spend preparing for the exam before test day? How much time should they give themselves when registering?

I believe the adage goes, you study "3 months for Step 1, 3 weeks for Step 2, and 3 days for Step 3." The idea of this is right, but the actual number of days for each perhaps not so much. I studied for 6 weeks for my Step 1, but did nothing but study in this time period (i.e. I did not have classes or other obligations at this time). A three-week study course was offered at my school for Step 2 CK, which I took. It was structured by organ system with lecture in the morning and self-study time in the afternoon, which I spent doing practice questions. And as for registering, most medical schools send you reminders for when you should be doing it, but as early as possible is best. I'd say about six months in advance.

Should students plan enough time between the test date and application deadline to take the test a second time if their scores aren't high enough?

I think the only time this would come into play would be for the Step 2 exams, and it would be very difficult to take either Step 2 exam a second time between the end of third year and application time (unless you are planning to take a year off). Also, the results of these tests, as I mentioned before, are less important to your residency application than is Step 1. So, no, I wouldn't plan on taking the test on a certain date with this in mind.

In your opinion, what is the best way for one to prepare for the USMLE? Is one preparation method preferable to another? Why?

Questions, questions, questions! There are several online "Q-banks" available and they really are the best possible way that anyone can prepare for these tests. Once you do enough questions, you really get a feel for the exam, and this will help you to succeed. For the Step 1, you also need to do some reading, but your focus should be on the reading earlier on in your study process and doing more and more questions as you approach the test. For Step 1, you should also have one book that doesn't go into topics in depth, but covers everything that will be on the exam. Then you should have some more specific books that delve deeper into each topic, should you need to rehash certain areas that you may not feel as confident in. I think the key thing for the Step 1 is to trust that you do remember some things very well, so don't waste your time re-studying those topics! And for the Step 2 CK, use the materials you used to study for shelf exams and do as many questions as possible as early as possible.

What should students look for in a USMLE tutor? In a class? Workbook or study guide?

Look for a tutor whose personality meshes with yours. If you are a very intense person, a laid-back tutor may be a good or a bad thing for you, but you need to recognize what you're looking for and make sure you find it. If you're looking at classes, I'd say make sure to find a teacher who's teaching style speaks to you and look for a class that is very well-organized. And if you have books that you liked to use as you went through your first and second year classes, USE THEM! You've probably already annotated them, which can be very helpful as well. Just make sure you supplement them with a book that is overarching and covers every topic, and use this book as your syllabus.

What advice do you have for students the night before and during the test?

The day before the test should be a day of mental rest! If you absolutely MUST do something because you're just the type of person who can't take the whole day off, do flash cards or something light and DO NOT do questions AT ALL the day before the test. You will inevitably psych yourself out after putting in so much hard work, and you should NOT do that. Also make sure you get to bed early and have yourself well-organized for the next day before you go to sleep, that way you have no extra stress in the morning! (i.e. make sure you know exactly how to get to the testing site, have all your permits printed out, etc.)

Is there a particular test-taking strategy you recommend?

I think it's best to go through the questions as fast as you can, but being sure to read COMPLETELY through each question, and put down an answer for everything, even if you feel very unsure about it. Going through the exam this way, you will be sure to finish every section, get to every question, and hopefully have time to go back to the ones you were unsure about that you marked. Also, I wouldn't recommend marking the ones that you have absolutely no idea about. (Sadly, everyone will experience some of these questions and that is OKAY!) If you go back to them you will be wasting time that you could spend on those questions for which you've narrowed it down to two choices, and THOSE are the ones that you have a real chance of getting points on.

What else do you think is important for test candidates to consider before taking the USMLE?

Think about who you are, how you study, and what kind of a test-taker you are. Then discuss these things with someone on your medical school faculty who you trust and decide together what your best approach to studying would be (i.e. in a group setting, with the help of a tutor or a class, or individually). After you get that mapped out, you will be much more likely to be successful at studying and when taking the exam. And make sure you have confidence-you are a bright medical student and will likely do great on the exam! GOOD LUCK!

For more information contact Test Prep New York/TPNY at 646-290-7440

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