Hello there YB to MD fam and welcome to the my very first blog take over. To start this blog off, I want to say thank you for all the love and support you have given Yas and I as we course this journey through life and med school. We are officially able to advance now and continue chasing our dreams. So, no more of those “House Husband?” questions (maybe that is just an inside joke).
Anyways, now its time to talk about my experience dealing with repeated failure and conquering the NBME Comprehensive Exam. I apologize in advanced for how detailed my story may be, but I want to paint y’all a picture- so bear with me.
…Let’s start on Tuesday May 22, 2018 at 6:47 pm EST at the Cinemark movie theater men’s restroom.
Ten minutes prior, Yas came into the movie theater full of joy and tears, I knew that she had just gotten her score and that it was a success. She immediately came up to me and said “Babe I passed, that means we passed…I know you passed, because I passed”. At that moment, a chill came over my body. It was like butterflies, but not the nervous, happy ones you get right before opening the last Christmas present that must contain the gift you have been waiting for. No. This was a feeling of “damn I forgot to do the dishes” and you hear the door opening and you know it’s your mom. Straight fear. Yas asked me to check my email again; it had to be there. I checked it and there was still no email. Nervously waiting for my email, I could no longer focus on the movie. Fast forward eight minutes and I am walking into the men’s restroom. I felt the vibration of my phone and I knew that this must be it. I opened up my inbox and there was the email I had been waiting for. I looked and I looked and I could literally feel my heart drop and there it was the message I felt was coming “We Regret To Inform You…”. I paused and immediately said to myself “this can’t be, how will I tell Yas?”. I walked back into the theater and as I walked up the stairs she could see the disappointment in my walk. She asked “did you get your score?” and I said “yes, I failed”.
On the ride home I felt numb. Was this happening again? I had been studying day in and day out since March. I felt like I deserved to pass. I put so much effort and time into studying and preparation so I could destroy the exam and finally move on, and yet again I had come up short. I was in such disbelief. I called Ross to asked if it would be possible to request a regrade, because I just felt like I knew a lot of information on the exam and that there was no way I didn’t pass this test. I felt inferior. Yas had just passed with an amazing grade and I literally felt like I was a dummy and not capable of passing. I will be honest with y’all, I got a 67. While my score did increase from the last two exams, it was still not enough.
Yas started shooting off ideas about what we could do differently. She talked about how this is not going to stop us from moving on and that whatever I needed she would be there by my side to make sure I had the best environment and space to focus and zone in for my next attempt. While I sat there nodding my head, on the inside I still felt like a complete failure. I felt like I was the one holding us back, like I was messing up all of our plans and our lives together.
Later that night, we got home and Yas started to create a study checklist/calendar that would allow me to cover all the material from First Aid (FA), Pathoma and Sketchy multiple times before my exam. She designed the study plan to focus on my weaknesses (biochem, pharm, cardio and micro). I felt like that is what I was missing from my study process.
THE STRATEGY THAT FAILED ME
First, I want to talk about what my study process was like before and how that held me back from unlocking my true potential and then touch on how I changed my approach to increase my score by almost 10%.
Previously, I would do UWorld questions on tutor mode to start the day off- this would take almost half the day. While this was effective in quickly pin pointing concepts I didn’t understand and potentially use the info on other questions that were similar in the question block, it did not allow me to get the full picture of the concept and what I needed to know to be able to distinguish between the concepts. It was like I was constructing a jigsaw puzzle and I had all of the border pieces matched up, but none of the middle completed. To supplement the UWorld question blocks, I would read about the topics that I got wrong in FA book and annotate my book with in depth info from UWorld. Once again, adding to the puzzle around the border but never filling in the middle void.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt like I knew things; at least, way more than I knew from the time before that. I felt that this process was working, but in the end it didn’t. What was ultimately missing was solid foundation of material and knowledge, what I like to call the meat and potatoes.
THE STRATEGY THAT HELPED ME SUCCEED
So now, for all of those carnivores out there- let’s talk about that meat and potatoes and what I did differently this time that allowed for me to zone in and tap into a knowledge stream that I didn’t know I had.
The key factor was having a study schedule. Thank GOD for Yas, her Microsoft skills and her ability to whoop up an effective schedule in no time (“She da Plug”, if y’all need one, stay tuned). I feel that this made the biggest difference in my approach. My day consisted of waking up around 8 am, eating breakfast while watching a leisurely video or two on YouTube. After that, I would start with a timed block of 40 questions on UWorld. I would review all the questions from the block, referencing FA and annotating in things that were important. I would then switch over to watching Pathoma. My study plan spread each high yield organ system chapter over two-three days depending on the length and amount of detail. Here is an example of what my schedule looked like:
This schedule allowed me to take my time and rewrite things that I hadn’t mastered. There is something about writing things out that allows you to pick up on those little details that you would normally miss when you speed read, or in my case slow speed read. While reading First Aid and writing out the details, I started seeing details that had been asked in previous questions. The most important notes I made were distinguishing physiology and pathology features, even the most minute details, between different diseases. This was key to being able to utilize the process of elimination.
I don’t know about y’all, but Biochemistry and Immunology are my arch enemies. In other words, their colors are maroon and their mascot is an Aggie (for y’all that don’t know, I am a UT Longhorn Alum). Knowing that these two were my weakest subjects, I made up my mind that I was going to master them and the best way to do that was repetition. Biochem, Immunology and Micro were sections in First Aid that got the most attention on my study schedule. The schedule allowed me to get through all the material in First Aid twice and my weakest subjects up to four times.
I also incorporated anatomy concepts from a document called 100 Anatomy USMLE Concepts. Anatomy has always been my strong suite, but adding these concepts into my study schedule allowed me to review the high yield anatomy (like that Colles fracture we all forget about).
Yas suggested creating flashcards by hand for high yield details I missed often and I got hooked (you will be amazed at what can happen when you listen to your fiancé). The last two weeks before my exam, I created flash cards for some of the High-Yield General Principles and pharm I still struggled with. I had never done this before. I would usually just grab someone’s Quizlet deck, add it to my study folder and never use it. The process of putting it in my study folder made me feel like I was learning it (WRONG). I took my flash cards with me everywhere and during any downtime I was reviewing them. This was the first time in my NBME Comp prep career that I was able to recite info, visualize pathways and understand sometimes overlooked concepts. The benefit of this effort started to show when I would do question blocks- I was finally able to differentiate between ALL the answer choices and explain why one is right and the others are wrong.
I was now able to fill in the middle void and complete my puzzle.
Mind you, there were definitely times during my dedicated studying that I took days off to catch up on material that I fell behind on and some half-days that I would just relax. Since this was my last attempt to take the NBME Comp, the most important thing to do was to make sure I wasn’t letting my anxiety overwhelm me. Mental health was crucial. Every Tuesday, Yas and I would go on a date to the discount movies. We would go to Orangetheory Fitness every day of the week except on Tuesdays. After I finished all of my assignments for the day, I would be done for the day. No looking at anything else study related or starting on the next day’s schedule. By the time I was finished, it was already 7:00-8:00 pm and my brain was done anyway. It was pertinent that I kept my physical and mental health a priority, because it would have been easy to fall into a funk where there is doubt and the urge to give up. However, the mental breaks and the study schedule suppressed those negative thoughts and showed me that I have time to get through everything I need to. I began to trust the process!
It is Friday July 27th, 2018 at 2pm EST and I am done with my fourth attempt at the NBME Comp. I don’t feel complete. I got in the truck with Yas and started to go over questions with her and I started to get upset. As I look up some of these questions that I was in-between on, I was seeing that I was missing them. Now I am starting to feel the stress and the worry. In my head I count 20 questions that I know that I got wrong. My rule-of-thumb when it comes to tests is that the amount of questions I think I got wrong is most likely doubled or tripled in reality.
I low key started to panic…
The only way to get my mind off of the questions I missed was to occupy my mind with some other kind of stimulus. What better stimulus is there than Netflix? Over the course of the next three days, Yas and I (and Lulu the cat) binge watched TV shows, movies, cupcake challenges. We enjoyed some comfort food and a few games of 2K. The gloomy, rainy weather made it very easy not leave the house.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH AKA JUDGEMENT DAY
Tuesday finally came. The day I knew would be either a day of cheer and joy, or a day of sadness and dismay. I woke up, showered and while I was showering I had this moment of peace. It was in that moment I said to myself “you passed”. Doubt made its way out the door. After breakfast, Yas and I had planned on going to Starbucks to try and do a UWorld question block and then catch a movie for our traditional discount movie Tuesday date.
As I finished putting away the dishes from breakfast, something told me to check my phone. I opened my email and there it was:
I couldn’t believe it, I had to read the email twice because I didn’t think it was real. I ran to tell Yas and she burst out in tears. We both read the email again to make sure it was saying what we thought it was saying. We then called all the parents and told them that I had passed. Everyone was so relieved and excited to hear the news. We spent the day celebrating by going to some foodie spots in Wynwood and going on a boat tour in Biscayne, and, of course, our Tuesday discount movie date night.
I can honestly say that the past seven months have been a humbling journey. From taking the Becker course for eight weeks (total bust in my opinion, as Yas has probably discussed), to moving to Miami and staying 5 months longer than anticipated. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can bounce back. I learned to not compare myself to others and to focus on the end goal. I also learned to never give up, even when faced with failure over and over again. If its something worth having, its worth working for, because that feeling of succeeding is like no other.
WE CAN RELATE…
I want to thank you all for your time and letting me do this blog take over. I hope that this is of help to some of y’all. We both understand the unrelenting pressure that comes with being a Caribbean med student, taking and passing the comprehensive exam with a limited number of attempts, and having no financial stability during the dedicated study period. We to feel the stress and anxiety that has resulted after the hurricane-the constant relocation while still striving to pass. We know how hard it is to try and flourish in a relationship while maintaining the majority of your focus on studying. The purpose of this blog is to connect with people like us by telling our stories honestly.
Do you need help creating an effective study schedule? Do you just need someone to talk to who understands the struggle?