Repurposing old rules for a new test

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Words to live by -- and take a test by.

Words to live by — and take a test by.

Becoming a physician tests you. Your intellect, patience, determination, resolve, and inner strength. Your humanity. This testing happens every day — in the classroom, in the clinic, in the hospital. Part of this process also occurs during actual multiple-choice tests.

More than three years ago, on May 23, 2013, I took the MCAT — the gate-keeper exam for entering medical school. A little over four months from now, on Feb. 10, 2017, I take the next exam in this sequence toward earning my M.D. — the USMLE Step 1 board exam. It’s an 8-hour test, with more than 250 questions probing “whether you understand and can apply important concepts of the sciences basic to the practice of medicine, with special emphasis on principles and mechanisms underlying health, disease, and modes of therapy,” according to the official United States Medical Licensing Examination website.

The stakes are high — I have to pass this exam to move forward. But focusing my thoughts and energy on how high those stakes are is a sure path to test anxiety. After classes end on Dec. 16, I have until my exam date to prepare (minus a trip to Chicago to see my family for Christmas). That’s plenty of time to review and solidify my understanding. It’s a matter of perspective, and directive. Which is why I think it’s time to repurpose the “rules” I developed for the MCAT. They apply here too.

Lorien’s USMLE Step 1 rules:

1. Take a breath.
2. Trust your gut.
3. Take this seriously.
4. Focus.
5. Maintain tempo.
6. Think NOW – not ahead, and not behind.
7. Read every word carefully: passages, questions, and answer choices.
8. Eliminate wrong answers.
9. Estimate.
10. Guess and move on after the allotted time.
11. Keep calm and carry on.
12. Think positive, not negative thoughts.
13. Channel confidence, not fear or doubt.