Primacy or recency effects seem most pronounced when the beginning or ending information in a question stem is something with which you are unfamiliar. We all have a special tendency to fixate on unknown content.

If you suspect that primacy or recency information is distorting your reading of a given question, try changing the order in which you read the question. Skip the initial content, read the rest of the question first, and see if this changes your perspective. Simply, if reading the question forward seems confusing, try reading it backwards. Remember, no one single piece of information is the key, you must deal with each question as a whole. Avoid fixating on one word or concept you do not know, and focus on the parts of the question you do know.

USMLE Tips & Trends Strategies for Best Exam Performance

Be cautious about changing answers. In general, your odds of changing a correct answer to a wrong one are so much higher than the reverse that it is simply not worth the risk. If you change an answer, you are most likely making it wrong! Your first impulse is usually the correct one. Stay with it unless some clear insight occurs to you. If you are not sure, leave your answer as you first marked it.

If you finish a question block with time left over, go back and "check" only those answers that you have previously marked. Checking almost always leads to changing and tends to reduce your score. If you have a spare moment, make sure that you have entered an answer for every question in the block and then, relax. Sit, take a break, and mentally prepare yourself for the next block of questions. Focus on the questions to come, not the ones that are past.

Segment your time so that you know how much you have left, and so that you do not find yourself hurried at the end. You have just over one minute per question (72 seconds). Some questions will take more time and some less. Work on your pacing from the beginning of the question block. Check your watch every 10 questions to make sure you are on the correct pace to finish. If you pace yourself throughout the block, you should not be squeezed by time at the end.

Do not spend a lot of time on individual questions. Research has shown that students spend the most time on questions that they get wrong. If you find yourself spending a lot of time on a question, this is your indication that you do not know the answer. How will you know if you are spending too long on any one question? If you find yourself thinking, "Gee, maybe I’m spending too long on this question," you are. As soon as you think this, stop, mark your best guess, and move on to the next question!

During the breaks between question blocks, try to relax and not think back over the exam. The desire to recall questions is strong, but not helpful. Those questions are in the past for you; you will never see them again. Focus on relaxing and making the most of your break. Remember, you will always tend to remember those questions you got wrong. Thinking back over these questions will just convince you that you do not know anything. This puts you in a bad frame of mind and leads to negative thoughts that only make the remainder of the exam more difficult. Be glad one set of questions are behind you. Forget about them, and think about something else more pleasant.

Copyright 2001, Kaplan, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Kaplan is a registered trademark of Kaplan, Inc.

USMLE is a joint program of The Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, Inc. and the National Board of American Medical Examiners.

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