USMLE Step 1 Experience: Avoid This Mistake!
On test day, I woke up at 6:00 a.m., drink some coffee, walk my dog, and leave for the test center at 7:10 a.m. My USMLE Step 1 test was scheduled at 8:30 a.m. I had checked out the route a day ahead, but even then I had to take some detours due to construction work. Still, I reached the venue by 7:30 a.m.
I saw many candidates who belonged to my school. At 8:00 a.m., we were allowed inside. We were then called into the test room one by one. I had a long wait and was called in to start my test at 9:30 a.m. I did not let the delay mess me up.
I placed my belongings in the locker provided, furnished my driver’s license, and placed my signature in their book. My fingerprints are taken, my pockets are turned inside out, and my pants are raised to check my ankles and shoes. I was also scanned with a hand-held metal detector.
Once I was given a computer, I began the USMLE Step 1 test immediately without going through the tutorial. I wanted to add that time to my 45-minute break later.
The USMLE Step 1 test consists of seven blocks, each lasting one hour. Each block has 46 questions. Therefore, candidates have around 78 seconds for each question. Some questions need only 10 seconds because they require you to recall information. Other questions have several paragraphs, figures, tables, and lab data and need greater focus. A good strategy is to attempt the smaller questions quickly and not waste time trying to figure out the answer to questions you don’t know. You can use this time to work out the longer questions.
I was able to finish the first block 14 minutes ahead of time. While reviewing my answers, I was able to catch and correct an error.
My USMLE Step 1 mistake:
My plan was to work through the first few blocks quickly while my mind was still fresh. However, halfway through the second block, I was interrupted by an employee of the test center. She mentioned that I was wearing a wrist watch and that it was not allowed. According to the USMLE website, analog watches were allowed. I had to lock my computer, leave the test room, and explain to her why I was wearing a watch. She mentioned that the rules differed from center to center. However, she apologized for missing it during my security check. The watch was photographed and I kept it in my locker in her presence. I asked her if this incident would cause my test to be nullified. She mentioned that she was not sure how USMLE would consider it but she would say in her report that the candidate did not intend to cheat and it was a genuine mistake.
I was very worried because I had spent six weeks studying hard for the test. I wasn’t sure how long this incident took. I tried to get back to answering the questions quickly on the test but found that I could not focus properly. I was re-reading sentences without understanding them.
When I finished the last question of the second block, I had 40 seconds left so I could not review my answers. I took five minutes to gather my concentration and keep away negative thoughts. I was worried that if I didn’t do well on the test, I would have to move after completing medical school and my wife’s career would be jeopardized.
I was still stressed but I began to attempt the third block. I had two minutes left after I completed it. Several times, I wondered if all this effort would go to waste because my test was nullified.
I took a long break after the third block. I went to the restroom and washed my face. I spoke to the same employee again and that made me feel better. I should have spoken to her after the second block. Although I was able to attempt the fourth block with greater confidence, I wasn’t as energetic as the start of the test. There were four minutes left after I finished this block, which I used to review questions and change answers.
I took a 20-minute break after the fourth block. I had lost my appetite so I could only eat a small portion of my sandwich.
I completed blocks five through eight with around 5-8 minutes left and again, I used it to review my answers. I remember that I used to have 14-18 minutes to spare during my practice tests, but I guess the circumstances were different here.
After the test was over, I wasn’t feeling good. But I realized that most candidates feel that they have guessed the answers to a majority of the questions. It has been five days since the test and I have taken a vacation with my wife. I will know my score in July and by that time, I will have begun my clinical rotations. Perhaps my broken concentration helped me move through the test slower than I would have and caused me to change fewer correct answers to wrong ones.
Most importantly, never wear a watch to a standardized licensing test, even if you read that it is allowed.