By Karolina Woroniecka, MD, PhD
Students who are studying for Step 1 often find themselves overwhelmed by the number of different questions banks (QBanks). Some students may start with one QBank only to find later in their studies that UWorld really is the tried-and-true best option for the USMLE Step exams. Other students may find themselves in a time pinch for a number of reasons, including the recent COVID-19 restrictions that resulted in changing test dates, rearrangement of preclinical and clinical schedules by medical schools, and family or personal matters.
In these situations, students may be wondering if it’s worth getting the UWorld 30-day subscription when their exam is coming in 30 days or less.
The answer to this question is invariably “Yes.” Even if you just have 30 days, UWorld can boost your USMLE exam score! At this point, there really isn’t much debate that UWorld is a fantastic resource. UWorld has risen to the top as the gold standard for USMLE QBanks because each UWorld question tests key concepts that come up again and again on the USMLE exams.
UWorld questions are known to allow students to practice critical reasoning skills, especially the so-called “two-step” questions that come up again and again on USMLE exams. The types of questions UWorld offers allow students not only to hone their factual knowledge but also to hone their critical thinking ability and practice applying the foundational pathophysiologic principles of medicine to scenarios that they haven’t previously encountered.
High-scoring students quickly recognize that it is impossible to be an expert in every facet of medicine, both for the exam and in clinical medical practice. Encyclopedic knowledge of facial neuroanatomy, synovial carcinosarcomas, congenital heart disorders, and liver transplant pathology is rarely (if ever) held by any single physician! Indeed, high-scoring students recognize that the USMLE step exams are much more than a test of factual medical knowledge; they are a test of critical reasoning. High-scoring students also recognize that QBanks such as UWorld’s help them sharpen their skills in applying the principles of medicine to unseen clinical situations.
Moral of the Story
If you have the option to use UWorld even just for 30 days, take advantage of the opportunity. The most daunting aspect of getting through UWorld in 30 days is the sheer number of questions. With over 3,200 Step 1 and over 3,500 Step 2 questions, students studying for either of these USMLE Step exams can feel easily overwhelmed. The trick to managing this volume is to make a schedule and stick to it. For most students, this means getting through three blocks of 40 questions per day, 5-6 days per week.
Reserving 1-2 days per week to take a UWorld self-assessment exam or NBME practice exam and review it is also important because students must get a sense of their scores. In this case, three blocks of 40 questions taken five days each week for four weeks will get students through 2,400 questions; while taking three blocks of 40 questions six days per week for four weeks will get them through 2,880 questions.
Students often hear that getting through the UWorld QBank twice is the “golden ticket” to a 270+. Therefore, students sometimes ask if they should attempt to get through UWorld twice in 30 days. Although this is an excellent idea for students with a larger time frame, for students in a short time frame, we recommend focusing on getting through the QBank just once. A single and thorough pass through UWorld is much more effective than multiple sloppy passes. In a condensed time frame, it is unrealistic to expect that students will be able to thoughtfully work through the entire Qbank twice.
On a 30-day time frame, the most important thing is to thoroughly review each UWorld question. For most students, this means annotating First Aid and generating flashcards to ensure that they don’t make the same mistake again. When UWorld is reviewed in a single pass, the review time and flashcards become even more important, since students won’t see the question again during a second pass. Taking three blocks of 40 questions per day amounts to three hours of question time.
A thorough review of those blocks usually takes students twice the length of the block, so in this case, it would take approximately six hours. Reviewing flashcards and other resources such as Sketchy or First Aid usually adds another 2-3 hours per day. Just in case there was still a doubt in your mind, with this intensive study schedule, it becomes clear that more than one pass of UWorld is definitely unrealistic in 30 days.
In summary, getting through the UWorld Qbank in 30 days is definitely possible! That being said, it is still recommended to start earlier than 30 days so that you can both move through the QBank at a slightly more relaxed pace and work through it twice, which is ideal. The two most important things to remember on a 30-day timeline are to thoroughly review each question, which includes annotating First Aid and making flashcards at minimum, and to make a schedule and stick to it!
If you’re a medical student preparing to take the USMLE, check out UWorld’s comprehensive USMLE learning solutions to help you ace the exams.