Med School Done Right

Med School Done Right: What Bowling Can Teach You About Studying for USMLE Step 1

By Luke Murray

Allow me a bowling analogy to illustrate the importance of feedback in studying for Step 1 (or acquiring any knowledge or skill).

Imagine you care about being a really good bowler. You want to bowl strikes as often as possible and pick up spares no matter how awkwardly arranged the remaining pins are. So, you purchase the best shoes and the most expensive ball and head off to the bowling alley where you square yourself up a handful of steps away from the end of the bowling lane, ready to roll your first game. As you step towards the lane, swinging your ball arm back and bending over so that your release will be close to the ground, eyes focused on the head pin, a screen suddenly falls down from the ceiling, stopping just a couple feet from ground, exactly midway down the lane. It completely blocks your view of the pins and everything else beyond that midpoint screen.

Because you are a completely cool and calm rookie, you don’t allow this to break your stride or your concentration. After all, you know the pins are at the end of the lane, and there are some arrows at the proximal end that you can see, indicating where the “center” is. You release the ball, following through with your arm straight. You even let your leg swoop to the side behind you, just like the pros you’ve seen on television. Then you hear the sound. A cluster of collisions, then silence. You look up at the electronic score board, but it’s blank. Nothing.

You don’t know how many pins are left and where those pins are.

You approach the owner of the bowling alley and ask him, “Hey, what’s the deal with the screen?” He matter-of-factly replies that when you’re practicing, they don’t let you see the pins or the score. You only get to see the scores and the pins during real competition.

So you just roll another ball in the direction of the pins and hope for the best. Maybe a little more to the left this time, since the other one looked like it was fading right, but other than that you’re going to have to guess your way to greatness if this is how your bowling experiences go.

It’s important to read First Aid consistently. It’s important to “just roll the ball down the lane in the direction of the pins” every day.

But if you’re not getting feedback just as consistently in the form of using question banks like USMLE-Rx, or First Aid Q&A for the USMLE Step 1, or making your own set of flashcards, you have no guarantee that you actually know the material. You need to be able to study and then test, study, test, study, test over and over, focusing on what you don’t know, on what pins are still left standing. Without this feedback it’s tough to get a 300 on step 1…or at the bowling lane.

Categories: Med School Done Right

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