This blog was updated on 9/17/21
Whether you're studying for a step exam, certification, or recertification exam, it may seem like burnout is just part of the process. Guest blogger, Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, details her experience in evolving her study plans for step exams and board certification and her 4 best tips for avoiding study burnout.
My approach to studying for my USMLE step exams evolved over time. In preparation for my first exam, I created a schedule to study over a six-week period. I used several different resources, but ultimately I did not perform competitively, which told me that my approach had not been effective.
For my second step exam, I decided to use a different preparation program and an entirely different technique. I wrote out flashcards and held myself accountable for actually remembering the high-yield information. I dedicated a shorter period of time to studying—these changes worked out better for me.
I made sure to nail down the areas in which I felt weak, but also strengthened my knowledge base in disciplines in which I felt confident, to achieve the best results possible.
Fast forward to recently studying for my general pediatrics board exam. Preparing for this exam was like nothing I had experienced before because there was no set study period.
I didn’t have 4 weeks off from work to simply prepare for this massive examination. Instead, I had to find time early in the morning or late at night to fit in studying. This definitely was challenging and it was tough to always stay motivated.
Several of my weekends leading up to the test were solely dedicated to study time, which was much needed after some weeks when I barely found any time to study during the weekdays.
This approach was working, but there was a key piece here that I want to share: taking breaks. Taking breaks when studying is so important to avoid burnout. Without actual scheduled breaks, I would find myself naturally taking them anyway by simply focusing on things outside of my examination materials. Breaks became key for me. Even in the last three to four days leading up to the exam, I made sure to take breaks.
I made sure to schedule five days without work immediately prior to the exam, and I would recommend that anyone taking this test try to do the same. In addition to this, I traveled to my home in the suburbs so that I was less distracted. I was in a space that had a nicely set-up desk where I could concentrate with little disturbance.
During this time, I would set aside 1–2 hours during which I would leave the house or run errands or go out to eat with a family member or run on the treadmill. I would take these breaks with very little “guilt,” which is something that I was unable to do previously.
I find that it is so important to completely disconnect from the material, so when you jump back in, you do feel fully refreshed. I definitely built up my endurance during the study period, which also helped me to avoid burnout.
I started by answering questions in an untimed “study” mode and worked myself up to 84 questions at once in a timed “test” mode to better prepare myself for the actual exam.
Ultimately, taking scheduled breaks (without feeling guilty) and building up endurance became two key strategies to avoid “studying burnout.” As a result, I felt that I was much better prepared on test day!
To read more from Cherilyn Cecchini, MD check out her blog, Bag of Pediatricks.
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