While USMLE is no walk in the park, it doesn’t have to send you over the edge. Here are some prep tips to help you pace yourself in med school and prevent burnout:
The best place to start is knowing what you want to accomplish. For example, decide if you only desire to pass the USMLE Step 1 exam or if you want to get a 270. This is crucial when you are making your study schedule. Working towards specific, personal goals will help you measure your success without becoming overwhelmed and experiencing burnout.
Everyone learns differently—at various paces and through different methods. Trying to mimic the study schedule of someone else in med school will more than likely cause more harm than good. While it is okay to use templates as a guide, customized prep schedules and plans work best.
Use varied learning techniques. Read review books of course, write on white boards (don’t be afraid to use all the colors), teach a friend (or imaginary students), watch videos, do practice questions, make videos of you teaching lessons, etc.
This one’s huge in avoiding burnout. Doing a little every day really goes a long way without you exerting an unrealistic amount of effort. Remember, USMLE Step 1 prep (and medical school) is a marathon, not a sprint. Start slow and gradually work your way up to your optimal performance.
Some are able to prep for four weeks, 12 hours each day. Others prefer studying eight weeks, six to eight hours each day. By knowing your daily study limits, you will be more productive in your studies and less likely to burnout.
This is one of the most important, yet most neglected, pieces of advice when preparing for the USMLE exams. Your brain can only process so much information at a time, so after a certain point, studying becomes counterproductive. That’s why many experts in the field stress how imperative it is you take a day off to give yourself a chance to recharge. It’s not about prepping harder, but smarter.
The better you treat your brain and body, the more they’ll go to work for you. Proper sleep, diet, and exercise are essential pieces to avoiding burnout. Hydrate your bodies with plenty of water, and indulge in super foods (i.e. avocado, kale, fish, broccoli, etc.). Your brain will function at a higher level, retain more information, and remain calm in the process.
If you need a break from the repetitive book studying, try setting up an elective-like rotation with a preceptor a few days out of the week (short term if you are actively studying for the USMLE Step 1 exam). This can keep you motivated while reminding you of your goal. Additionally, it can boost your confidence because the material your studying for Step 1 may be applicable and reinforced in the clinic. In short, the clinic can make the information come to life.
We all learn at different speeds and in different ways. Concepts that you may be struggling with can usually be explained by a med school peer/professor in minutes, literally. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Ask someone when you need help and keep things moving.
More importantly, make sure your support system understands the magnitude of this exam for a medical student. Apologize in advance for your moodiness, absence, and social awkwardness that will be unavoidable at times. By expecting life changes, you’ll decrease your stress level and avoid burnout.
Of course, another great way to beat burnout is to prep for the USMLE with Kaplan—the world leader in test prep. Check out our top-ranked High Yield programs now to get started.