This is written specifically for the board exams (Step 1, 2, and 3) but you can apply these tips to most exams. Remember to get in the habit of applying these tips when using practice questions so that when you are taking the real exam all of these strategies come naturally.

  1. Arrive early enough that you so that you don’t get stressed out about being late or getting stuck in traffic, etc. Try to clear your mind of everything but taking the test.
  2. Read the last sentence or two of the question vignette (the actual question) first, then quickly look at the multiple choice answers to figure out what your options are, and finally read the rest of the question vignette. This will help you know what to look for in the vignette to answer the question.
    • Also, there may be a long vignette but the question at the end is a basic recall that you already know and doesn’t require reading the entire question to answer. This can save some valuable time.
  3. If really don’t know the answer try to narrow the answers down as best you can and then just pick one. With these types of questions your first inclination is more likely to be correct than if you spend a lot of time agonizing about which answer to pick and change your mind multiple times. If you are not sure, just pick one and move on. None of the questions on the USMLE will be trying to trick you so take the question and possible answers at face value.
    • If you don’t have a clue what the correct answer is employ basic test taking strategies:
      • If there are multiple answers that are very similar to each other – they are probably all incorrect.
      • If there are two questions that are essentially the opposite of each other, one of those is probably correct.
      • If multiple answers appear correct remember that on the USMLE there can be multiple responses that seem technically “correct.” However, only one of them will fully address the question AND be the most likely. The most likely answer is the correct answer.
  4. If there are images involved, look at the image first and try to figure out what the image is showing you before reading the question vignette.
  5. Try to think about one question at a time, and one block at a time. If you are having trouble focusing (it is a long test, it will probably happen) at the end of that block, take a 5 minute break, get a drink of your favorite caffeinated beverage, forget about what you have already done, and re-focus on the next block.
  6. Stay positive and do your best. You will probably feel like you are missing tons of questions – this is normal, almost everyone feels that way, even people who end up doing extremely well!