Excellent Tips For USMLE Step Exam Day Preparation

How should you plan the day of the USMLE step exam?

I have been trying to write this article for a long time now. Finally, it is here. After taking all the USMLE steps, I always felt that my experience should help others who are following my path. Here are certain things that I wanted to share with you all. These are my personal ideas and you have to individualize your situation and do what is best for you in your situation.

  • You have to plan in advance in such a way that you do not read anything new a week prior to your exam day.
  • Go to the test center a few days earlier to your actual exam day. See where the building is, parking, traffic, and just get familiar with its surroundings. After getting idea about how far it is, how the traffic is, you have to plan to start early on the day of exam. Have someone drive you to the exam center if possible. Have a back up plan for transport.
  • You have to review the tutorial on the official USMLE CD-ROM once at the beginning of your any USMLE step preparation and once you are getting close to the exam.
  • I even remembered my CIN number [exam permit number] as I have to log in several times as I took break after each block. If you do this kind of things early during your preparation, exam day will go very smoothly. I believe that every second you save adds to your advantage.
  • Avoid any stress on the day of exam as much as possible. Save any energy you can but you have to plan it in advance to be able to do it.
  • Stop studying at noon the previous day. This is what I did and it worked for me. Just relax as much as possible. Do not go out as you may catch a cold and ruin the whole preparation.
  • Make sure you have everything you need on the day of exam. Start this a few days prior to the actual day. I used to start filling my book bag with exam permit, ID card, water bottles, tablets if you are on any, dress including under and upper wears, clean socks, comfortable shoes in its rack, list of all the things that need to go with you to the exam.
  • Tell your parents to avoid any visitors to your home as much as possible a few days prior to your exam. Avoid any kind of distraction as much as possible.
  • Do not watch TV. You never know what will make you and your eyes feel tired. Relax all your senses couple of days prior to your exam day.
  • Sleep early on the day of the exam. Sleeping is a pattern. You have to sleep early i.e. 8 or 9pm at least for three days prior to the exam day so that you can sleep well the night before the exam. Try to get 8-9 hour sleep. If you can’t sleep, don’t get anxious. Just say to yourself that you can at least relax.
  • Do not develop the habit of drinking a lot of caffeine to make you be awake during night so you can read. That may ruin your sleep cycle. I know some people like to study during late nights. I always prefer to study during day and sleep during night. You can do which ever way you like but a week prior to the exam day, you have to study during day and sleep at night only.
  • Try not to eat outside 2-3 days prior to your exam day. Do not eat anything new even at home.
  • I took bananas and apples to the exam hall so that I can eat either one of them during each break. I also took Sprite [Yes, I love it. I can’t drink caffeine] to the exam hall so I can keep my sugars from dropping. Just took a few sips during each break. Don’t drink too much water during breaks. Pack your lunch from home so you don’t end up wasting time during lunch break and also you don’t get upset stomach from outside food.
  • Take break in a way that keeps you physically very comfortable. I always did one block at a time. I finished one block, came out and peed and went to eat a banana or an apple and had some water and went back inside. If you do more than one block, your bladder may be full by the end of second block and you start feeling pressure distracting you from exam.
  • During breaks, do not talk to strangers. Sit at one place and just relax. Frankly say to yourself “Relax, Take a deep breath, Calm down, Peaceful”. Well, do what works for you. I used to take 5 minute breaks between each block and it worked well for me.
  • Don’t think that the day is going to be long and stressful. Think one block at a time. It’s not difficult. Block after block will go very smoothly and before you know, you will be in the last block.
  • Wear very comfortable clothes on the day of exam. Don’t wear a totally new clothes or shoes for exam. They may ruin your day. Select semi-old dress that you are very comfortable in and keep them ready in your bag. You have to wear such clothes and shoes that you are comfortable for 12hrs. Eye glasses may be better than contacts.
  • Exam hall may be very cold. Take clothes to keep you warm. If it is not very cold you can always remove and throw them in your locker provided to you. Sweatshirt helped me.
  • Answer all the questions. There is no penalty for making mistakes as far as I know.
  • Save time once or twice by guessing an answer to very long question or very difficult question. I did it and it helped me. I think I wrote the question number on the paper if I guessed the answer and tried to go back to them if I have time at the end.
  • Do not rush through the blocks. You have to pace yourself well and keep an eye on your time. I usually made four parts of each of my block. I keep checking if I am finishing 1/4th questions in 1/4th of the time, half the block in half time, etc. Try to use all the break time. Rushing makes you tired earlier.
  • Be extra cautious but not extra anxious.