What Are the Hardest USMLE Topics to Study and Learn?

USMLE Step 2 Test Prep

The United States Medical Licensing Exam, known as the USMLE or simply “board exam,” is by far one of the most difficult examinations in existence today. It covers several years’ worth of highly complex information that you must know in order to become licensed in your field. The following USMLE topics are widely regarded as the most difficult, so familiarize yourself with them early on and perhaps give them some special attention, too. 

Biochemistry 

Biochemistry is truly a paradox among medical students. It’s absolutely fascinating to explore the various chemical processes that keep human beings alive, but as part of gaining a firm understanding of the subject, there’s a lot – a lot – of memorization involved. You’ll find yourself learning about metabolic pathways, enzyme design and structure, and much, much more, so without a solid understanding of terms and their meanings, it’s difficult to understand much of anything. The sheer complexity of biochemistry makes it the most difficult topic on the USMLE according to the majority of medical students. 

Many doctors (who were once in your shoes) recommend that you take the time to study up on the basics of biochemistry whenever you have a chance. Simply understanding basic terms and processes will make everything to come much simpler for you. 

Microbiology

Medical students also agree that microbiology is the second most difficult topic you’ll find on your USMLE. In fact, it’s difficult for many of the same reasons as biochemistry. It’s the study of all living organisms that are small enough to require a microscope to see them, and that encompasses thousands upon thousands – even millions – of different organisms. The volume of information that students must retain in order to understand even the simplest concepts in microbiology is staggering. 

Getting a head start on microbiology basics (much like doing the same for biochemistry) can benefit you here, as well. The more of the basic concepts you learn now, the easier it will be for you to learn the more complex ones down the line. 

Pathology

Though it isn’t quite as difficult as microbiology or biochemistry, the topic of pathology presents challenges to most medical students at some point in their education. Pathology is a bridge between science and medicine, and to put it as simply as possible, it’s the study of diseases. There are more than 100,000 identified diseases across the globe, so it’s easy to see why so many students struggle with this particular topic. Fortunately, medical students also tend to find pathology interesting, which can make things a bit simpler. 

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a difficult pathology course involves reading your course syllabus and obtaining as much of the recommended material as you can early on. The more you can read and understand about pathology before your course even starts, the more the lectures, your textbook,  and other materials will make sense. 

Biochemistry, microbiology, and pathology are the three most difficult topics on the USMLE according to medical students from around the world. In all three cases, the complexity lies almost solely in the volume of information you’ll need to retain and very little on actual comprehension issues. As such, start studying these topics as soon as you can and consider scheduling some extra study time for them as needed, too.

5 Tips for Practicing Social Distancing while Studying for Medical Exams

medical-students-studying

If the social distancing guidelines for COVID-19 prevention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as from the World Health Organization (WHO) have left you scrambling for new ways to study for your medical exams, you are certainly not alone. Even with these measures in place, though, it is possible to continue your studies uninterrupted. Here are five tips for practicing social distancing without sacrificing your study time.

#1 – Study Alone

Most students benefit a great deal from scheduling solo study time into their daily calendars, but as with all things, moderation is key. Studies have suggested that group study is the best way to reinforce previously learned material, so when it comes to review sessions, visiting a fellow student’s dorm or meeting up at the library is ideal. However, with COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions in place, this is simply not possible. To make the most out of your solo study time, try saying things out loud – even if there’s no one there. This simulates a group setting and may help you recall more of your studies later.

#2 – Make Use of Online Groups & Rooms

Now that social distancing is occurring on an almost-global scale, numerous companies have provided access to online meeting rooms and chatrooms that provide a simulated group meet experience. Some of the best options include Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform, as well as Facebook, which has recently implemented its “Rooms” feature, available via Facebook Messenger.

#3 – Use a Question Bank Frequently

One of the best and most underrated ways to study involves utilizing question banks that mimic the questions that you will be asked on your placement or licensing exam. However, not all question bank platforms are created equally, which means you’ll need to be sure that you know what to look for in a quality platform. Similarly, the platform you choose should come with numerous customization options – and perhaps even room to compare your mock exam scores to others to see if you’re on the right track.

#4 – Visit Online Libraries

Libraries – and especially reference libraries – often become second homes for medical students. They spend countless hours poring through piles of medical journals and texts to understand the most complicated parts of human anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Though students cannot simply go to the library every day like they did before the pandemic, they certainly can explore most (if not all) of what the library has to offer online. What’s more, some libraries even offer prerecorded lectures that you can access if you feel like you need a little extra help.

#5 – Ask Your School’s Faculty

Finally, if you are unsure of which resources are available to you in your local area or through your school, the best way to discover them involves simply asking the faculty. Contact the school’s library or perhaps even your professors to ask them about digital study materials that may be available to you, any Zoom study groups that may be taking place, or even opportunities for phone or video tutoring for students who need some extra help.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way most of us go about our daily lives, it doesn’t have to put a complete damper on your studies. You can study alone with a question bank or through an online library, or you can study with groups through video conferencing apps like Zoom or social apps like Facebook. The possibilities are limitless – just like your potential. All you have to do is embrace them.

 

How to Stay Motivated to Study Despite Shorter Days and Colder Weather

winter-studying

With the end of daylight savings time comes shorter days and colder weather, and that means even the most ambitious students could find themselves struggling to stay motivated. Some studies suggest that 10% to 20% of the population suffers from some sort of winter depression. Fortunately, there are a few ways for students to keep themselves motivated.

Consider Using a Light Box

Light boxes are commonly used among people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD – a condition that causes mild to severe depression that sets in like clockwork almost every single fall or winter. Even if you do not have SAD, when it gets dark outside at five o’clock in the afternoon, and when the sun doesn’t come back until seven in the morning, it can be difficult to do anything except yawn. A light box is designed to mimic the sun with a bright, warm light. If you choose to go this route, use it for about an hour, and ideally before 10 in the morning.

Get Some Sunshine

When it feels as if you’re spending all your time studying and trying to find time to sleep and eat, getting outside everyday may seem like a challenge. What’s more, experts have shown us that anyone living north of Atlanta simply cannot get their daily dose of vitamin D from the sun in the winter months because the sun simply doesn’t climb high enough in the sky. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go outside at all, though; spending 15 to 30 minutes outside in the sun – or even going out when it’s overcast – can help you feel much better.

Modify Your Diet

Eating enough as a medical student can be tough, and even when you feel as if you are getting the sustenance you need, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting the right kind of sustenance. Try adding foods to your diet that help to reduce inflammation, give you energy, and provide brain-boosting vitamins and minerals. Good options include cinnamon, which has been shown to enhance cognitive ability, and pumpkin seeds, which are known inflammation fighters. Swapping simple carbs like white rice and white bread for their complex whole-grain counterparts can also help keep you energetic throughout the day.

Simplify Your Studying

Of course, when days are shorter and temperatures are colder, going out to study groups or libraries can be difficult to say the least. Utilizing software like the excellent CanadaQBank platform is a great idea for those days when you just don’t feel like getting out – or when you only have a few minutes to study. It’s packed with features designed to help you customize your mock exam or your study session any way you’d like, and the best part is that it’s affordable enough to fit even the most frugal student’s budget.

Keeping yourself motivated to study when it seems dark more than it’s light can be difficult. In fact, as many as 20% of the entire population suffers from some sort of depression triggered by the changing weather. The tips above are sure to help you feel better throughout the day so you can stay motivated to study and pass your licensing exam with flying colors.

Study Session Preparation and Advice from Doctors and Surgeons

medical-students-studying

For every single student just starting medical school or getting ready to take their medical licensing exam or boards, there are dozens of doctors out in the big, wide world who have been in those shoes. Below are some of the best tips and hints for getting the most out of your study sessions from surgeons and doctors around the world.

Classical Music is a Good Study Aid

Though it may seem as if you need perfect quiet to really concentrate on what you’re learning, there are actually studies and articles showing that classical music can help you absorb, retain, and recall more information if you play it at a low to moderate level while studying. Even if you don’t like classical music, think about using Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, or another streaming music service to curate a playlist for you for your next few sessions. You might be surprised by the results.

Eat Before You Study

Other studies and articles have shown that your memory is not as sharp as it should be when you are hungry. Just as you might not remember your fourth grade teacher’s name when your stomach is rumbling, you probably won’t retain or absorb as much information during your study session if you spend much of it wishing you had a taco.  Hunger is triggered by a hormone called ghrelin, and like any other hormone, ghrelin needs a receptor to trigger in order to make you feel those pangs of hunger. Some scientists believe that the ghrelin receptors in your brain exist to augment how your memories work rather than play a metabolic role. Eat before you study if you want to retain more of what you learn.

Dehydration has a Tremendous Effect on Your Brain

If you feel thirsty, then you’re already at least partially dehydrated, and that’s bad news for your brain. Per a study out of the Georgia Institute of Technology, being dehydrated for as little as two hours can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate, thus rendering your study session useless. The best way to combat this is the same thing you’ve heard since childhood – try your best to remember to drink roughly 64 ounces of water each day – more if you feel thirsty or perspire due to strenuous activity, and less if you are in a humid environment performing sedentary tasks.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff & Move On

Every single medical student since the beginning of time has struggled to understand a specific concept, topic, or group of topics. The reasons for this are many, but despite what your brain might try to tell you, it isn’t because you are incapable of learning. In fact, when you’re really struggling with something at least semi-specific, you may just need to see it from a different perspective. Don’t get upset if you find that you cannot understand a concept during your study session; instead, flag that concept and set a reminder on your phone to ask a professor, mentor, tutor, or fellow student – or to perform a Google search later to peruse forums. All of these are great ideas.

At one point, every licensed surgeon and doctor in the world today – even the most successful ones – were in your shoes, and they were able to pass their exams and go on to enjoy the careers they dreamed of. Whether you try classical music during your study time, make sure to eat a good meal and drink some water beforehand, or do your very best to move on when you’re “stuck” on a topic, each of these things will make your sessions far more productive.

 

3 Unconventional Studying Techniques that May Just Work

Unconventional Studying Techniques

When it comes to being a university student, one thing dominates all areas of study – studying. Students are always looking for new, better ways to study. This is especially true for medical students, who must sustain an admittedly ridiculous amount of knowledge in an extremely limited amount of time.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the numerous basic studying techniques that dominate schooling. But how about trying some slightly unconventional techniques? Here we discuss a few that just might work for you.

1: Fifteen Minutes of Cramming Before Sleep

Science tells us that the brain processes its day backwards. In theory, this means whatever you did last will hold a stronger place in your memory. Using this idea, you can get the most effective studying done in the fifteen minutes before you go to bed.

This doesn’t entirely replace all other times of study. But, if you’re having difficulty remembering something in particular, take fifteen minutes just before you tuck in for the night to read as much information on that subject as possible.

Many people say that using this technique has helped them master the subject areas most difficult for them. If nothing else, it gives students an extra fifteen minutes of studying each day – which can never be a bad thing.

2: Make A Song

Songs get stuck in your head for a reason. They’re catchy, lyrical – all the things your brain is “hooked” on, so to speak. You can leverage this when studying for an upcoming test by turning your notes into a song which can be memorized.

If you look on YouTube, you’ll find that a lot of people have created study songs already. You could luck out and find one that pertains to the subject and/or test you’re already studying for. If not, just get creative and lay a few phrases over your favorite song’s rhythm.

Word of warning, however: don’t randomly burst into song during your test. Instead, sing it in your head and/or quietly (very, very quietly) hum it to yourself.

3: Make it a Game

The last unconventional method of studying is to turn the dull, boring act of studying into a game. This works especially well for people who have naturally competitive personalities. Compete against yourself or a study partner.

A few ideas for study games which will help you to memorize your coursework (while having fun at the same time) include:

  • Who can name the most anatomy parts in three minutes?
  • How many definitions can you accurately recite in five minutes or less?
  • How quickly can you complete a fill-in-the-blank sheet of pharmaceuticals and their definitions?
  • Who can complete a worksheet quickest, with the most accuracy? (Create your own worksheet or find one online)

There is a good chance that one or more of these unconventional studying techniques will work for you. Some students swear by these, while others prefer more conventional methods. The key is to figure out what works best for you.