study tips: practice questions

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I’m currently studying to retake USMLE step one and while I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to pass this exam the first time around, I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity to hone my test taking skills and learn how to be a better physician with the wonderful people at Wolfpacc.

One of my biggest problems while taking multiple choice exams is being ‘seduced’ by some of the other answer choices so I’ve always felt that my exam results don’t always show how much I know about a topic. In undergrad, and now in med school, I’ve always performed better on free response questions because I have the chance to display what I know about a topic. In the past, I’ve tried to answer multiple choice questions as if they were free response (not looking at the answer choices) but I finally feel like I have a strategy I can use for the many tests I will be taking over the years.

People’s test anxiety presents in different ways. For some, the days leading up to the test they’re unable to sleep properly. During the exam they’re tachycardic and cannot focus long enough to get through a question. My problem, and maybe this isn’t even test anxiety, is never truly feeling sure of my answers and doubting myself easily. I’ve gotten into the habit of never changing my answer unless I’m 200% sure that the second option is correct. But often, even when I’m just thinking about what the answer can be, I question my instincts to the point that I don’t actually know which one feels more right to me.

Since arriving at Wolfpacc, I’ve changed my study strategy so that I’m forced to answer every MCQ question as if it is a fill in the blank and I don’t fall prey to any of the other appealing answer choices. Below I’ve shared the steps I’ve been implementing this past week for UWorld questions and aim to use for all MCQ tests I take in the future:

  1. Cover your answer choices. Don’t just say ‘I’m not going to look at them’ because you will. Use a sheet of paper or something to physically block you from seeing the answers.
  2. Read the last sentence of the vignette and summarize it. Most of the time there is a lot of excess information in the paragraph above. If you read the question before reading the paragraph, it’ll be easier to identify what information is actually relevant. So take the time to really understand and simplify the question.
  3. Talk to your patient and find hints. One of the professors here has encouraged us to think of the vignette as your patient. Some of the information they tell you will be very relevant to answering the question and the rest may be useless. You have to learn to distinguish between the two. As you do more and more practice questions, you’ll pick on some patterns.
  4. Answer the question yourself. Before you’ve uncovered the answer choices, write down what you believe the answer is. Sometimes you’ll remember some details about it but won’t remember the exact answer but you should write down whatever your answer would be if this was a free response question.
  5. Uncover the answer and pick whichever one matches what you wrote down. Even if one of the other answer choices starts to look more appealing, you still need to choose the one that matches what you wrote as your own answer. This is important for when you’re going over your question set afterwards and I’ll explain why later in this post.
  6. Move on. Don’t overthink the question or your answer. Sometimes you won’t really know why you think something is the answer but you need to trust your gut.

Because I’ve just started using this new strategy, I’m doing my questions in un-timed mode and actually writing down my thought process for each question so that I can get used to it. My paper looks like the following for each question:

  • Q: the question restated here in my own words
  • Pt: information from the vignette that is applicable to answering the question being asked – keep this short (5-6 words max)
  • A: my own answer to the question, without having looked at any of the answer choices.

Now, when you’re doing practice questions you have to remember that reviewing the entire test, including the questions you got correct, is just as important as answering the questions. This is when you correct both your technique and any holes you have in your knowledge.

For answers you get correct, make sure that the answer you wrote down matches exactly the answer choice selected. If it does, just move on – you don’t need to read the explanation or anything else from that question stem because you had the correct thought process and arrived at the right answer.

If you get an answer correct but your written answer doesn’t match the answer given in the options exactly but is generally related, you have a small hole in your knowledge and need to read the summary sentence at the end and add that to your written answer in your notes. If that still does not clarify the connection you missed, you should review more of the explanation.

If you get an answer incorrect, you repeat the same process as above but read the entirety of the explanation because this is a clear hole in your knowledge. The reason I’m recommending that you choose the answer that best matches the answer you’ve written, instead of choosing the ‘more right’ answer, is because it will be easier to correct that hole in your knowledge. If you change your answer and get it right, you’re less likely to take the reviewing process as seriously because you got it right but it’s still a hole in your knowledgeOn the real exam, if you’re 200% sure that the other answer is correct and the one you came up with on your own isn’t, of course you should pick the right one. But when you’re doing practice questions, you’re still learning and you learn the most from questions that you get wrong.

Also, I usually use a different color pen to add my notes for questions I get correct (usually blue) and questions I get incorrect (usually red). If I’m ever reviewing this notebook, I usually focus on the notes I’ve written in red since those indicate the biggest holes in my knowledge.

Don’t get hung up on how many you get right or wrong. Focus on improving your technique and finding the holes in your knowledge. As you get more comfortable with the new technique, you should not have to write out as much and start doing the question sets in timed mode. And, of course, this technique may not work for everyone. It’s just something that I’ve been trying and feel more comfortable with. Happy studying!

on ‘failure’ and detours


Since I was a kid, I always did my best to do the ‘right thing,’ especially when it came to my education. I was never that straight A student but I always worked hard. I felt like I had to work harder than everyone else to be average and it was difficult to feel the imposter syndrome from such a young age but I found ways to push through it, with the support of my incredible parents and some of the most amazing teachers in the world.

In high school, I signed up for classes strategically to ensure a good GPA when I applied to colleges, trying to find the perfect balance between between taking enough IB/AP classes and having the time to do my best in them, while juggling ECs. I chose to go to UC Irvine over more prestigious schools because I was thinking ahead to applying to medical school. I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of overly competitive premed students and not reach my goals. I took my classes on a schedule that allowed me to do my best, not the ‘traditional’ one that most students took because I knew I couldn’t handle that. I took an even lighter load the quarter I was studying for the MCAT. My schedule was ‘nontraditional’ but also ‘traditional’ in that I went straight from undergrad to medical school. I got married that summer in between and, two years ago, started this new life adjusting to being a wife & partner and working towards my professional goals. I paid attention to where I needed extra help and did my best to arrange my schedule so that I could be successful.

But then came medical school, and we were back to our schedules being decided for us like in elementary school and I couldn’t adjust it to make it more manageable. Instead, I had to adjust my study style and do the best I could to set myself up for success. And for the most part I did. Out of the ten blocks that make up our preclinical education, I passed eight of them on my first try and two of them on my second (and knocked them out of the park the second time, if I may add). And I am so very proud of myself for making it through two academically, mentally and emotionally difficult years. Many times I thought about quitting, more often that I’d like to admit. I thought about taking time off to center myself and make a schedule that allowed me to succeed to the best of my abilities. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to ‘fall behind’ or be forced to take a path different than my peers. I often wondered why I couldn’t handle a schedule and plan that the majority of medical students go through. Why wasn’t I strong enough? Why wasn’t I smart enough? Why is it so much harder for me?

And then I failed step one. Part of me saw it coming and another part of me was just wishing for a miracle – ‘please God, just let something work the first time.’ I know I’ve done everything I was technically supposed to do, or at least what works for most people. But it didn’t for me, as it hasn’t for most of my life. And that’s so much more than okay. Because this is my journey and each detour I take helps me become the person I’m meant to be. And I truly believe that, at the end of all this, I’ll be a better physician for it.

I’ve taken a leave of absence from medical school until January. During that time, I will be doing some traveling, reconnecting with the people I love, with God and with myself, taking a class to help me prepare for step one and knocking this test out of the park – on my second try, because sometimes that’s what it takes. 

Thank you for your company on this journey. Thank you to my village that keeps me going – I’d be lost without you. And thank You for all the blessings, especially the ones I’m so privileged to not even be aware of.

lessons from pre-clinical years

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I recently wrapped up my first two years of medical school, essentially my entire pre-clinical education. I still have to get through step one before I officially move on to rotations so I’m not letting myself completely celebrate yet but I do want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far on this journey. Most medical schools in the U.S. have two years in mostly in the classroom, learning the ins and outs of the human body and all the ways it can quit on us. The third and fourth year are done in a clinical setting: hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc. As with most people who want to go into medicine, I’m here for the interaction with patients and helping them to better their lives – not to sit in classrooms and at our desks for hours on end trying to cram as much information in our brains as possible. But as with anything worth having, we’ve all gotta struggle a little. So below are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the many, many hours spent studying and trying to get through the madness.

  • Remember why you’re here. So much of why I blog is to stay grounded and remind me of how far I’ve come and how much further I still have to go. I often read my personal statement to remind myself of my journey thus far. I have the oath we took the day of our white coat ceremony taped on our bathroom mirror to remind me what a privilege this is and what a huge responsibility I have to learn as much as possible.
  • Have perspective. Remember that you’re spending endless hours of studying because you will one day be the responsible for caring for people during some of the most difficult moments in their lives. This is a huge responsibility. You, of course, need to do everything necessary to take care of yourself but remember that people are depending on us to know what we need to know to care for them.
  • Maintain balance in your life. Your entire life cannot be about medical school, especially in the first two years when you actually have a lot of free time if you plan your days well. It’s important to do things to retain your sanity and take care of your own health. Eat well, exercise, read, watch movies, etc. Do everything you want and need to make sure you’re centered and ready to learn. When you invest time in taking care of yourself, your studying will become much more efficient and you won’t have to spend the entire day going over the same lecture.
  • It’s okay that every day doesn’t feel good. There will be (seemingly too many) days when you’ll question why you’re paying thousands of dollars to spend your days studying. But there will also be days when you’ll realize how amazing the human body is. Days when you see patients and they’re so grateful that you’re spending a little extra time trying to figure out what’s going on with them. Days when you learn something in lecture and then go to clinic later that day and see someone surviving, with great quality of life, the same illness because of the work done by those who came before you. You’re entering a noble profession but path to getting there won’t always feel noble.
  • Reflect on your intentions and your happiness often. While it’s normal to have days or maybe even weeks of feeling like you’re in over your head, make sure you check in with yourself every month or so and reflect on how you’re doing. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious or just plain unhappy with where you are, please talk to someone. There is absolutely no reason for you to continue feeling this way. Medical students are at much higher risk for depression and suicidal ideation than the general population.
  • Find mentors you trust. This is something that I’m still working on but you have to realize that in every professional setting, you will not click with everyone and that’s okay. Finding a mentor to talk to about a certain issue is kind of like knowing which friend to go to depending on what you need out of the conversation. If you want someone to tell it like it is, go to the person you know will be honest with you no matter what happens. If you’re looking for someone to remind you why you’re working so hard and that you can do this, go to the person who will be be supportive and compassionate. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll find a mentor (or a few) who can do both and know when you need which. Mentoring relationships should never start with the question ‘will you be my mentor?’ I’ve never asked that question of a single person I consider a mentor. Instead, ask a question regarding their life or work or something you need advice on and based on the way they respond, you’ll know if this person is a potential mentor. This type of relationship should unfold naturally.
  • Find your village, hold them close and thank them often. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it: it takes a village to raise a doctor. It takes a village of people who love you, support you, remind you of why you’re doing all this – that the sacrifices are worth it, and understand why you can’t always be around. I truly believe that God puts something special in the people who support doctors in training. This, unfortunately, also means that you’ll likely lose some people in your life because they may need more attention than you can provide at this moment in your life and that’s fine. It’s difficult but it’s honestly a part of growing up. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever. But those who do choose to go on this wild journey with you, hold them close and make sure they know how much you love and appreciate them.

Medical school is no joke. So many people told me beforehand that the hardest part is getting in. And it’s completely true that I worked very hard to get to where I am today, but it’s also true that the ‘hardest part’ varies from person to person. Some people thrive in the first two years because they have studying and exam taking down. I’m not that person so the past two years have felt nearly impossible and I’ve thought about quitting more often than I’d like to admit. But I truly believe that all of this is worth it, that my aspirations will be confirmed next month when I’m back in clinical settings and spending the majority of my day with patients. And it’s entirely possible that I may be wrong but I’ve already put in several years towards this goal so what’s another couple months?

I’m taking step one early next week so positive vibes and prayers are greatly appreciated!

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r & r in redlands 

The past few months, pretty much since 2016 started, have been nonstop studying – exam after exam. And it also felt like the stakes were getting higher and higher as time went on. Now, I’m in independent study time for USMLE step one and the pressure is on. This exam is known to be the most difficult of many licensing exams and also plays a huge factor in what and where you’ll practice medicine.

I’ve always prided myself in understanding that test scores do not define me or my ability to be a good physician. When struggling with the MCAT, I knew that somehow things would still work out because this was my calling. But the step one boogie monster got to me and I started doing all the wrong things: not taking breaks, staying up too late to finish my study ‘to-do’ list, focusing on quantity instead of quality, comparing myself to others and making this test my life.

Earlier this week, I performed pretty terribly on a practice exam and after crying & wallowing and talking to one of my best friends, I realized that I was essentially setting myself up for failure. So I decided to take a couple days off and remind myself of the life I live outside of this exam. I went to a neighboring city and just explored. I dusted off my DSLR and just roamed around eating great food, shopping at local stores, hung out at a local coffee house and drank delicious coffee while reading and journaling.

Going to be back at it tomorrow, while fasting for Ramadan (which I’m nervous about but also excited that I’ll be taking this exam in such a blessed time). I’ll have even less ‘chill’ time between starting third year and taking this exam but pushing it back was just so necessary for my own well being. I’m committing myself to doing my best on this; I won’t sell myself short but I’m also not going to look at what others are doing (especially if they’re vacationing while I sit here stressin’ out).

This is my journey. It’s had a lot of twists and turns and loop-de-loops but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m going to be caring for actual people one day very soon and I can’t wait. But this is just something I have to get through until then. Thank you all for accompanying me on this journey – you all push me to constantly renew my intentions and better myself.


med sisters series: Brittany, MD

The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.


Brittany is a fourth year medical student (and will be an MD in days!) in Kansas City. You can follow her journey, as she starts her intern year in pediatrics, at her Instagram.

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Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days? 

A: Deciding on medicine was sort of a natural choice for me. I was infatuated by science growing up and was fascinated by my first anatomy and physiology class in high school. There are no physicians in my family, but it was my parents that really gave me the confidence that I could pursue such a career. They both have had careers in healthcare and I loved the thought of being so intimately involved in other’s lives and being able to do what I love and help those who need it. What motivates me on the difficult days is that I absolutely cannot imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life. There are days I walk out of the hospital with such satisfaction, such a sense of calling, that I know this is where I was born to be.

Q: How do you balance being in a relationship, planning a wedding and medical school? 

A: It’s quite the task! I live in Kansas City and my fiancé lives in Ft. Worth, Texas so there’s a lot of plane flights and traveling when we get free time. Fourth year of medical school provides lots of flexibility with your time so I’ve gotten to come down to Texas for a few months which has been such a blessing. I am very lucky to have a man that supports me 100% in whatever I decide to do and is continually my biggest cheerleader. He understands my hectic schedule, can tell when I’m a little stressed, and knows when he needs to remind me to breathe! He’s not something I have to worry about balancing… he adds balance to my life. I think that’s how it should be. With Match Day coming up in March 2016, we currently have no idea where I’ll be located for residency. For that reason, we’ve decided to postpone wedding planning until we at least have a city to plan around! I have started looking at dresses though, which of course is the most fun part! 🙂

Update: Brittany matched to her top choice pediatrics program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersberg, FL!

Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult part of your journey in medicine? How have you coped? 

A: The most emotionally difficult part of the journey has been seeing first-hand the heartbreak in medicine. The look on your patient’s face when they find out they have cancer or when the 6 year old finds out his mom has passed away are images that never quite go away. As physicians, we will be constantly immersed in the most difficult parts of people’s lives. They will never forget moments like this. But, the beauty of my journey in medicine has been seeing how people respond and recover from these types of events. Sickness and death have a startling effect on people. They quickly realize what is truly important to them. The love shown by family has often brought tears to my eyes. Our society focuses so much on the negative. I wish the cameras would come into the hospital to see the incredible love, the undying faith, the unwavering will to live that I have the blessing to see each day. The difficult parts of our lives really provide us the opportunity to grasp on hard to what means the most to us. Witnessing this has been incredible and is one of the many reasons why I love medicine.

Q: What drew you to pediatrics? 

A: Come on…kids are so much better than adults 🙂 ! When I got to dress up in costume for Halloween, play with toddlers on a daily basis, and help walk new parents through both the scariest and most exciting part of their life (new parenthood), the decision became pretty easy for me. It was the only rotation I had in medical school that I would work 12 hour days, work nights, but when I went home each day, I was genuinely happy and couldn’t wait to go back! Kids bring me so much joy. They’re resilient, they’re honest, they’re always wanting to get better…. and most of the time, they do! I also had a great pediatric allergist that helped me control my asthma as a kid and that allowed me to go on to eventually becoming an All-American track athlete at Baylor! The world is yours when you’re a kid, the possibilities are endless. I’m thrilled to be apart of their ever-changing lives. The field of pediatrics isn’t for everyone. You’ll get spit up on, sneezed on, temper tantrums, and adolescent mood swings. But, there’s nothing else in this world I’d rather be doing.

Q: If you could go back and be a premed student again, what would you do differently

A: This is a tough one. I don’t think I’d do anything differently honestly. I was a premed student-athlete so my experience was a little different. I was a Health Science Studies major with a minor in Medical Humanities. I took all the core science courses required for the MCAT along with courses that showed me the ethical dilemmas of medicine. I took a mission trip to Mexico where I got to work with a physician to provide care to underserved villages and created hypertension screening clinics in my hometown of Kansas City. My best advice would be to get a well-rounded idea of what medicine is like. Volunteer at your nearby hospital. Get out in your community. If you can, get out of the country and view how healthcare is done there. This will help you form your own ideas and opinions about how you’d like to provide care. Also, have fun!!! Medical school is a full-time job and you’ll find yourself reminiscing on your fun “college days” while you’re stuck on night shift lol.

Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why? 

A: Although not a physician, I have always looked up to my mother. She is a chief radiation therapist for cancer patients and has a way with her patients that I strive for on a daily basis. She is personable, intelligent, and her spirit is so incredibly contagious. She’s a multi-tasker, a leader, and always finds a way to get the job done with a smile on her face. She has worked so hard to get where she’s at and both her and my dad have provided me with all of the love, support, and motivation a daughter could ask for.

Q: As a woman in medicine, specifically a woman of color, have you faced any discrimination (either blatant or more subtle)? What advice do you have for women who go through similar challenges?

A: Being a minority woman in medicine, you often will be either the only woman in the room or the only minority in the room. Sometimes, both. Towards the beginning of my medical education, this was a little daunting. But, as I progressed though medical school I realized I am more than capable, equally intelligent, and just as deserving to be here! Now, I don’t think twice. I am no longer focused on myself, but on the care of my patient. Many times, minority patients will pull me aside or while I’m alone in the room with them tell me how proud they are or how they want to go to medical school one day. No matter what discrimination we may face, we must realize that the picture is so much bigger than that. We must continue to climb, to motivate, and to care for others the only way we know how. There’s should be no room for negativity in our minds. There will always be those who discriminate whether it be race, gender, body size, social class, anything! Unfortunately, that’s not going away anytime soon. We can either let it bring us down or continue to fight in pursuit of our dreams. I choose the latter.


Thank you so much for stopping by our corner of the internet Brit! We wish you the best on your journey.

Past Interviews:

all members advocacy meeting

When I first found out about the All Members Advocacy Meeting, I was immediately intrigued. As someone who is very passionate about social justice and being an advocate for her future patients, I made attending this event a priority.

One of my biggest fears with progressing in my journey to become a physician is becoming complacent and apathetic towards the needs of those in my community and the world at large. So many times I’ve come across physicians who believe that because they practice medicine, they are excused from paying attention to the injustices in this world. So to avoid this, I try hard to put myself in spaces of critically thinking healthcare providers such as AMAM.

Read More »

med sisters series: Anjum, OMS3

The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.


 

Anjum is a third year medical student! You can follow her journey at her Instagram and blog.

Read More »