How Tutoring Can Help You ACE Your USMLE Exams

Tutoring for the USMLE Exams

Have you ever been frustrated with a USMLE World or other question bank question?  I know I certainly have. I remember studying for the USMLE and wanting to slam my computer down in frustration when a question that I was certain I answered correctly popped up in red as an incorrect. Fortunately, with time, patience, and dedication I was eventually able to work through the question banks and learn the ins and outs necessary for mastering the boards – but many students are not as fortunate – this is why I tutor.

Few things are as rewarding as using the knowledge and insight that I have gained to help another student master the USMLE and score higher than they could have dreamed. Unfortunately, many students are reluctant to pursue tutoring either due to stigma or misunderstanding of what a tutor can do for their score.

With a tutor, everything is individualized to the specific student – there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Unlike other review programs that are recorded and designed to fit most students, finding a tutoring program, helps develop an approach that fits your strengths and weaknesses. When I first meet with a student, I review their NBMEs, question banks, and coursework history to determine the best approach. Someone struggling with pharmacology and microbiology might benefit most from flashcards, whereas students struggling with two and three step questions should consider adding a second or even third question bank to their study plans. Individualized calendars ensure you are getting through the material at an effective and efficient pace while also giving you extra repetitions with material in which you struggle.

One of the most common reasons that students struggle to master the USMLE is a term that I’ve coined as resourcecytosishaving too many resources and, oftentimes, the wrong resources. As the co-director of medical education at Med School Tutors, I am responsible for our resource review committee that is constantly working to evaluate each new resource and to ensure that our students are using the best material available. By using a tutor, you are benefiting from their experience and will undoubtedly be using the best resources on the market. For instance, I can tell you that USMLE World and BoardVitals are the best question banks on the market; that Pathoma is a great adjunct for your Step 1 studies; and that Memorang is the best flashcard app.

Test Taking Strategy

Here are just a few things that I’ve learned by seeing tens of thousands of questions, reviewing every NBME, and talking to my students:

  • If a question features a patient with pancreatitis getting intubated, then the answer is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)
  • If there are your typical pneumonia symptoms (cough, fever, etc) plus GI symptoms then the answer is Legionella
  • If a patient underwent a cholecystectomy and they did not have an intraoperative cholangiogram, then the answer will be a retained gallstone or a need to perform ERCP

When you work with a tutor, you are allowing them to share their test-taking expertise with you.

We believe that the best tutoring session is one that addresses didactic needs (i.e. teaching someone how to recognize different murmurs) and then uses practice questions to reinforce that knowledge.

By looking at USMLE World or BoardVitals questions together, I can learn if someone is missing questions simply because there is a gap in their knowledge base or if there is a problem with their test taking strategy. From there, I teach them useful tips like how to break down a question and summarize key details, utilize process of elimination to hone in on the correct answer, and timing skills that will ensure they are never rushed. At the end of the day, knowledge is half the battle – learning how to apply that knowledge is what separates a good score from a great one.

Good luck studying!


Head ShotChristopher Carrubba completed his residency in Internal Medicine. In addition to part-time clinical responsibilities, he currently works as a Physician Consultant in the Quality Solutions Division of Healthgrades and as the Co-Director of Tutor Training and Medical Education at Med School Tutors.

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