June 24, 2008

Test taking strategies

There's a few basic strategies when approaching questions. This works for any sort of multiple choice examination, but your results will vary. I suggest swiftly adopting one that works for you. If you run into a question where it doesn't work (and you will!) then slow down, reread the question and use a different strategy.

I've become fond of a few methods as I studied for the USMLE Step 1. I'd recommend using them in the following order:
  1. Stop. Think. Predict.
  2. Question-directed searching.
  3. Answer-directed searching.
Stop. Think. Predict. Start at the beginning and highlight the important clues/buzzwords. Blot out the negatives. Think about the diagnosis (and some of the evident treatments.) Predict what the question will be and what the answer is. If you anticipate the right answer and it's there, BOOM! You're done. You should still review the other answers just to make sure that there isn't anything better. I love this strategy because it MAKES YOU THINK. It's exactly what you'll be doing for the rest of your life as a doctor... might as well get used to it!

Question-directed searching. This strategy is the preferred method by Drs. Walker (Tips for Taking the USMLE) and Dimov (How to Do Well on Boards). Basically, read the question first and look for clues to help guide you. This spares you the frustration of a "bait and switch" question where you read a long stem only to discover that the question is asking you about a basic science topic that's minimally relevant to the stem. I've never ran into this particular scenario myself, so I prefer to read something the way I read a novel -- skipping to the end cheats you out of the pleasure of figuring things out.

Answer-directed searching. Sometimes, you have no idea what the question is asking. Sometimes you have no idea how to guess what the answer is. I've learned a little lesson from Sesame Street. It's called "One of these things is not like the others." :) This proves that ignorance is bliss. Sometimes you can get the right answer even if you totally ignore the question and just look at the answers, isolating the one answer that's different from the others! It might be a drug from a different class than the others or a diagnosis that accounts for that one weird physical finding noted in the stem.

If you've got any other ideas, let me know. I can't think of any other ways to read a question and answers other than top-> bottom, bottom->top->bottom or just bottom...

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