Med student choosing the right multiple choice answer with the words: Med Students: STOP Trying to Get the Question Right Reduce the pressure on test day with this strategy

Med Students: STOP Trying to Get the Question Right!

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Reduce the pressure on test day with this strategy

Photo: David LaSalle, Instructor at STATMed Learning

By David LaSalle, STATMed Learning Instructor

A client I was working with recently, we’ll call her Mary, had a revelation, and it showed in her face, her voice, and perhaps most importantly, in her scores.  In our first two meetings, she had been anxious and hesitant, feeling like she was stumbling around in the dark as she was working on questions. But somehow, when she came back for meeting three, everything had changed. She was more relaxed and confident, and the newest batch of questions she sent in showed huge growth. 

I was excited for her and asked what had happened. “I realized,” she told me, “that I had to stop trying to get the questions right.” And that made me want to dance around the room.

The insight that Mary had gained comes to some people right away, while for some med students, it can take significantly longer.  You see, Mary was trying to simultaneously accomplish at least seven different discrete tasks. 

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Try This Test-Taking Strategy for Med Students

Here’s a good way to think about it: imagine yourself in front of an overwhelmingly crowded storage locker that you just inherited from a long-lost relative.  Floor to ceiling, this thing is packed with old fans, mannequins, suitcases, soggy cardboard boxes, something that appears to be a stuffed ostrich, and on and on. 

Now imagine telling yourself that you have to have that storage locker clean, sorted, and organized ALL AT ONCE. It’s incredibly overwhelming– enough to make you want to throw your hands up and surrender. So what do you do? The first thing. Maybe you pull out those cardboard boxes. And then the next thing. You make a suitcase pile.  And then the next thing, and then the next, and by the time you’re done doing exactly one small task at a time, your storage unit has been Marie Kondo’ed. 

That’s really at the heart of Mary’s realization. You cannot focus on getting an entire question right all at once. The very first thing you need to do is make sure that you are reading the prompt correctly.  And only after that micro-task is complete can you worry about reading the passage and observing any potential clues that might arise. Only when THAT micro-task is complete… well, you get my point. 

So, seriously– stop trying to get the question right. It’s not helping, and it’s probably stressing you out.  To maximize your chances of success, focus on the exact next step in your test-taking process, do it to the absolute best of your ability, and only when that’s done move on to the next micro-step.

Looking for more advice for passing medical boards? Check out our STATMed Boards Workshop!

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