Upon receiving some requests to write about my experience during comp attempt number 2, I decided to share my honest thoughts and feelings preparing for my exam, writing the comp for the second time and the aftermath.
I took my first comp January 19, as I previously shared here. I scored a 63%. To pass comp during that window I had to score a 68%. I was one week into my Becker prep course at the time that I wrote my exam.
After getting my score, I wasn’t too distraught because I knew I wasn’t ready to take step at the time. I didn’t expect to pass, but it would’ve been nice.
I was two weeks into Becker when getting my results. Through out the Becker course, my plan of action was to attend lecture and then try to spend a few hours after class doing UWorld questions and reviewing them. In reality, sitting through 8 hours of class and trying to do hours of work afterwards was quite difficult and wasn’t as productive as I had intended. There were aspects of the course I liked and some that didn’t mesh well with my study habits. I enjoyed the pathology and physiology sections of the course, however I don’t think I retained enough information to prove that it “worked” for me. I did not attend much of the pharmacology and microbiology sections of the course, because I have never learned those subjects well through a lecture setting. Instead, I prefer Sketchy Medical for these subjects.
Fast forward to the end of February. I completed the 8 week Becker program the last week of Febuary and then returned to studying independently for about 12 days before taking my second attempt at comp. I took a practice NBME to see where I was at, I didn’t see a huge improvement from my last comp exam. I set to work studying about 16 hours a day for the final 10 days. I watched all the Sketchy Micro and Pharm videos. I taught myself some concepts that just never stuck with me (yes I’m talking about you pharyngeal arches and brain lesions). I reviewed almost every section in first aid.
I honestly felt pretty good. I felt certainly more prepared than the first time. The day before comp, I got sick with a upper respiratory infection. I am definitely not using this as an excuse to my performance on exam day, because things like sickness and bad luck will always happen in our lives BUT we will still have to do our job as doctors. However, I didn’t feel my best going into exam day.
I felt confident that I studied all I could during my independent study time, but I was nervous. We had to drive three hours to the Prometrics center, because no other locations had room for both Denzel and I. We ate lunch at Whole Foods and headed to the exam center.
We were scheduled for a 1:00 pm exam like the first time, which was the only choice. I hate taking exams in the afternoon because I’m most awake and focused in the mornings. We looked at each other and said “do we know everything?” “HELL NO!”, just like our Becker coach advised us to do to calm our nerves. And then we walked into our exam.
My immediate thought going through my first block of questions was “Oh my gosh these questions are so damn hard”. You always tell yourself, “ok the next question will be better” or “next block will have the easy questions”, but after block two a lot of fear set in that I had definitely received the hardest exam ever.
Let me tell you why this test felt so much harder than my first attempt:
- I had so many questions with every value listed that could possibly be listed which took time to read and digest
- I had so many questions with statistics and math, which thank God stats are usually a strength for me, BUT these questions took a lot of time.
- I literally had two minutes at the end of block one to answer 10 questions. I usually have 20 minutes to spare in exams or at the end of questions blocks.
- I had barely any micro or pharm questions which are my favorite subjects.
- The pathology and physiology questions were absolutely third order… fourth order… fifth order (is that even a thing?!?). Maybe not, but that is how they felt.
Half way through the exam, I had my little 15 minute break and I was so nauseas and nervous I couldn’t even snack. I did not feel confident anymore. I tried to shake it off and go back into the test pretending it was a new exam. The remainder of the test was the same as the first half. I answered every question to the best of my ability and when we were finished I just broke down crying.
Comp is a hard exam. Sure, some people pass with ease, but like I said I am an average student and I have no doubt in my mind some of you reading this have gone through an experience like this as well.
After all was said and done, we had to wait for our results. We took our tests at the beginning of the testing window so we had a while to wait. If you read my blog or follow my social media you know we moved to Miami after comp and then we went on a week long vacation to Europe while we waited for our results. Maybe some people think this was a terrible choice and we should’ve been studying, but in all honestly when you’re waiting for test results it is so hard to concentrate on studying. I was so happy we went on vacation at that time, it kept my mind off of what would happen next and it was a good break from the long days of staring at the computer and my first aid book.
When we got home, we got our scores. You ready for it?
A score that would’ve been considered passing just 8 weeks ago, but now is considered a fail. To pass I needed to earn a 70%.
Yeah, getting a failing score SUCKS. But at least it wasn’t the step exam right?
So now I am back to studying the entirety of the day for my next attempt on May 8th. The big difference this time is I get to study on my own for the entire time. This is a relief and it’s also scary. When I look back, I feel like Becker was a “crutch” of sorts for me. I left it to professors to teach me what I needed to know, when in reality I think I needed to sit down and learn it myself through MCQs and studying.
My plan studying this time is exactly that, UWorld and review. Plus the four practice NBME exams I haven’t done yet. Is this the absolute best study plan of all time? I don’t know! And if you have any advice please feel free to let me know, especially in the comments section below so others can benefit from your advice.
If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have taken Becker right away. I would’ve independently studied as hard as I could’ve leading up to my first attempt at comp. I would’ve seen where my results were and then re-evaluated taking Becker or taking the 8 weeks preparing for the second attempt on my own.
If I had any advice to people who have to retake this exam again, no matter what attempt you’re on, do not be filled with so much doubt and despair. Comp is a test we’re given to assess our readiness to take USMLE Step 1. But it isn’t THE exam. Brush it off, and prepare again. It was another practice exam. Letting that score haunt your daily studies is a set up for distraction.
I am writing this blog post with my honest opinion at this specific time in my studies. I don’t know if my plan of study and my “don’t give up” approach will lead me to a pass on May 8th. But I sure as hell am going to do everything that I can to get to a pass. And no matter what attempt you’re on, don’t let it stop you from doing the same.