USMLE Success System That Never Fails
Have you ever wondered why some people constantly find success in life while failure continuously hound others? Is it just plain luck or is there a secret to it all? Is it possible somehow that some people know how to succeed while others don't?
In my own life, I have constantly tried to find the reason why some people succeed and others fail. I've read through dozens of self-help books, attended how-to-achieve-success seminars and studied the biographies of countless successful people, from businessmen, to athletes, to actors, etc. In my constant search, I have found one common thread, one common idea that seems to embody the principles why people succeed. And this common thread of success can be distilled to 3 simple steps that explains how successful people, well, succeed.
Even in my own life, whenever I apply these three steps or principles in any endeavor I undertake, I succeed. And whenever I fail to apply even one of these principles, I wind up falling short of my goals and even failing altogether.
When I decided to sit for the USMLE way back in 2004, my prospect was grim. I was at that time 15 years out of medical school. Although I was in medical practice, I have not opened a basic medical science book in over a decade. Remarks from others include: 'What, are you crazy?", "Old IMG's have no chance of passing." And the most generous one, " Granted if you pass, a 75 could hardly qualify you for a residency position. So why bother. It's a waste of time."
Initially, I was so discouraged that I almost gave it up. The fact that the first time I started reading up on anatomy again, I kept on falling asleep or get distracted even before finishing the first chapter did not help my confidence. Nothing seems to be registering. Therefore it was tempting to cave in to all those negative comments and just give it all up.
But then, I decided to apply the three-step success system to my prep. And the result speaks for itself. In April 2006, I sat for the USMLE Step 1 and got a 99/256. In November 2006, I sat for the USMLE Step 2 CK and got a 99/258. i passed the Step 2 CS in February of 2007. Lastly in July of 2007, I sat for the USMLE Step 3 and got a 90/219. Not bad for an old IMG 17 years out of medical school who was once told that his chance of passing the USMLE is nil.
Now how did I do it? What is this three-step success system that never fails? Read on and find out.
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The Three-Step Success System That Never Fails
Now the easiest thing for me to do is just to tell you outright what the three steps are. However, that is also the least effective and would not be good for you. People learn best if they figure out things themselves. When you just tell it outright, either it goes in one ear and out the other, or they fail to truly learn and remember them.
Another problem is that words mean different things to different people and the same words can have a slightly different meaning depending on who is saying them and who is hearing them. And different people have different words to say the same things. Therefore, it is best to describe the situation, tell a story if you will and let you figure it out for yourself.
It is also important to learn the principle in the proper order. The first principle is important because it is needed to get things started. Without the first principle, you can't begin your path to success. The second principle is important because it is needed to get things moving. Without the second principle, you can't move forward toward your path to success. The third principle is important because it is needed to finally reach success. Without the third principle, you can't reach the finish line on your path to success.
As I discuss each of the three principle, I will tell you two stories. One a story of success. The other a story of failure. One embodying the proper application of the success principle involved. The other, embodying the failure to apply the success principle properly. As you read through their stories, try to think why one person succeeded and the other person failed. Try to glean the success principle involved.
As you read their stories, understand that each of these stories is true and involves real people. Their names have been changed and certain details of their lives altered in order to protect their identity and privacy but the fundamental story remains the same. And that their story could easily be yours.
Now let's us begin.
The First Success Principle
The first success principle is important in order to get started on your path to success. Without the first principle successfully applied, the next two success principle are basically useless. Successfully understanding and applying the first principle is crucial to begin your path to success.
I will tell you the stories of two of my students. They both joined the course right about the time I was starting it, around 2008 - 2009. Both had sat for and failed USMLE Step 1 multiple times. One was an Old IMG, the other a third year American medical student. Remember, as you read their stories, try to deduce the success principle involved and understand why one failed and the other succeeded.
Barbara M. Is a 35 year old IMG who graduated from an European medical school way back in 1997. She immigrated to the US right after graduation and immediately sat for the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 twice and failed twice. This came as a surprise to her as she graduated at the top 25% of her class at a prestigious European medical school. Unknown to her, the reason why she failed then was due to her failure to apply the second success principle.
Now, fast forward to 2008. Barbara is now married a mother of 2, residing in San Diego, California. Determined to become a practicing physician, she decided to sit for the USMLE again. Realizing her earlier mistake, she know she needed help and so enrolled in not one but two live prep courses from two famous medical prep course companies. She took the USMLE Step 1 twice again, once after finishing the live prep course in New York and the second time after finishing the live, mentored course in Chicago and failed again, twice.
You would think that someone who spent so much, time, effort and money on this endeavor and failed four times would finally give up. But not Barbara. When I first talked with her for the course, I was impressed at how determined she was to get this exam over with. She just needed to know what to do and that is exactly what she learned in the course. As the course progressed, she studied diligently, following the program faithfully. While others took their time, she followed the schedule as closely as possible and made steady progress. While others complain that the course was too tough and some dropped out, she persevered.
On the fourth month of her prep, she came to me with some bad news. She had to stop working in order to concentrate on her prep. She had to rely on her husband and close relatives to take care of her children aged 8 and 6 respectively. After all the money she spent on those live prep courses, money was tight. Now her husband is asking her to stop her prep and go back to work. He has stopped looking after the kids and she has to rely more on close relatives for help. She was so upset at his lack of support that she thought of kicking him out of the house (which she owns, by the way) and file for separation. She then told me she has to sit for the exam in two months and get this over with.
I told her it was possible for her to pass in two months but not to get a high score. She needed to get a really high score to offset the fact she failed 4x before and she is an old IMG. She needed at least 3 or 4 more months in order to get a really high score. However, she wanted to finish the exam before things come to a head with her husband. And she was determined to get it done in two months. And when Barbara is determined, nothing it seems, can stop her. Two months later, she sat for the USMLE Step 1 and passed it with a score of 88/218.
Before we move on to the next story, let's take a while to reflect on Barbara's story. Why do you think Barbara finally succeeded in passing her Step 1 despite her numerous failures before and the astronomical odds she face as a working mom? What success principle do you think is at work here. You may be tempted to go to the end of the chapter to find what the success principle is, but please don't. Think about it on your own, then read the next story and take note of the difference.
Jim P. is a 28 year old third year medical student in a medical college in North Carolina. He failed step 1 twice and was unable to continue his third year medical education until he pass step one. Meanwhile, saddled with US$ 250,000 in student loans, he enrolled in a Master's degree in Biology in the same University to prevent the loan from coming due. He also worked part-time as a student assistant to help make ends meet.
' I need to become a doctor or I will have to spend the rest of my life just paying off these student loans.' Jim said when he first joined the course. 'Everyone in my family are expecting me to become a doctor and the pressure is tremendous.' He was determined to succeed and like Barbara, he judiciously followed the program, attended the chat sessions regularly and made steady progress.
However, four months into the program, he started missing the regular chat sessions. When he did attend, he was always slow in reporting his progress. After a one on one chat session, he confessed that he had a new girlfriend. a girl he met in the class of the professor where he was a student assistant. And that has kept him a bit busy. I reminded him that he needed to devote a tremendous amount of time to his studies in order to pass this exam and that it will be for at most 3 to 4 months more and then he can continue his medical studies. He promised to get back to his studies and explain to his new girlfriend why he needed to spend more time studying.
Three weeks later, still missing chat and no progress report, I emailed him to find out the reason. He replied that he was stopping his prep. His girlfriend was complaining that he spends too much time studying and she feels ignored. He does not want to lose her. He plans to finish his Master's degree and teach biology in college. I asked him how he expects to pay off his student loans on a teachers salary. He said, he and his girlfriend will find a way.
Now reflect on Jim's story. Contrast it with Barbara's. Why do you think Barbara succeeded where Jim failed? What do you think is the basic principle of success involved?
Some call it 'motivation', others 'determination', for some 'desire' for others 'heart'. By whatever name it's called, it all boils down to this question, 'How badly do you want it?' Or, 'What are you willing to do to get it?'
It's not enough to just want it or be motivated or determined to get it. You must want it more than anything else in the world. You must be willing to do whatever it takes to get it. In competitive sports, it is called the hunger to win or the heart to win. It's never giving up.
Both Barbara and Jim were motivated and determined to pass the USMLE Step 1. The difference lies in how motivated they are, how badly they want it. Barbara just wanted it more. She was willing to do anything, risk anything to get it done. She spent so much effort and money into it, risk her family life, even. And she eventually won out. In contrast Jim wants it, but only until something he wants more comes along. In this case, love and romance. The great tragedy of the whole thing was, 3 months later, he emailed me to say he broke up with his girlfriend. I asked him what he planned to do. He never emailed back.
So Desire, Motivation, Determination, Heart. By whatever name you choose to call it, is the First Success Principle. It is what drives you to start doing something. It is what keeps you going when things start to go wrong, when the odds are stacked against you. The greater, the desire, the determination, the harder it is to slow you down or stop you altogether. Without motivation to drive you, you can't start your path to success.
However, motivation is not enough to succeed. If it is, then more people should have succeeded than actually have. Then every person who wants to lose weight would have done so already. Every person who wants to pass the USMLE would have done so, too. And Barbara should have passed the USMLE in her first try. Motivation is just the First Success Principle, there are two others. Without motivation, you can't succeed. But with only motivation, you can't succeed either.
The Second Success Principle
The second success principle is important in order to get things moving forward. Without the second principle, motivation will get you nowhere. In order to fully understand the second success principle, we will again illustrate with two contrasting stories.
Toby G. is a 32 year old graduate of osteopathic medicine from Los Angeles, California who failed the USMLE Step 1 the first time he sat for it. Determined not to fail a second time, he decided to enroll in my course. He was a graduate from a reputable medical college and was at a lost why he failed his first try. He suspected that he was prepping the wrong way and that is what led him to enroll in my course.
He listened intently during the various lectures and discussions on what topics need to be studied, various study methods to help in remembering and recalling what have been studied, as well as test-taking skills that needed to be improved. He identified his main weak points as inability to recall what he has studied fast enough for the exam, as well as weakness in dealing with distractors. He also had problems with speed in answering questions. We worked on these weak points through out the course.
Six months after starting the course, he sat for step 1 and got a score of 97/238.
Before we continue, reflect on Toby's experience. Why do you think he failed the first time he sat for the USMLE? What did he do to correct this problem? Can you guess what is the second success principle based on his story? Now hold that thought. Again, read the next story and notice the sharp contrast between the attitudes of these two persons,
Jorge A. is a 26 year old medical graduate of a Caribbean medical school who failed his first try at Step 1. I first met him in 2006 in a forum when I had just finish Step 1 and was prepping for Step 2 CK. He had posted that he had failed step 1 before and that he, with the advise of friends and other people he knew, had concluded that his problem was he did not study enough. And so he decided that he will study the same way he has studied before except do more of it.
At the time of his posting, he had been studying the same way for 5 months already (compared to the 3 months he prepped for his first try). He had just taken an NBME assessment with a predicted score of 179 (which is failing). He was asking people for assurance that if he continued studying the same way for 3 more months his score would improve. Most of the comments were reassuring.
'Yes, just continue doing q banks and your score will go up.'
'Do one or two more reading of First Aid and you will surely improve.'
I on the other hand posted that he will probably fail the exam if he continues what he is doing. I advised that he should restart his prep from the beginning and do it right this time. I even gave him a link to the same forum where I wrote an article telling people how I prepped for the USMLE step 1 and aced it.
However, instead of taking my advise or even just remaining silent, he made an angry rejoinder. He insisted his method was working and he does not need any advise on how to prep from anyone, let alone me. He did everything correctly the last time except he did not do enough of it. So by reading First Aid a few more times and doing qbanks a few more rounds, he would be just fine.
Albert Einstein once define 'Insanity' as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If he has been studying correctly from the beginning then he would already have passed step 1. Although to him, what he is doing is correct, to me what he is doing is like what Einstein said, Insanity.
Now reflect on Jorge's story. What is his main problem or the reason he failed the exam? Do you think his determination will help him pass this one? A postscript to this story. Three years after the above incident, when I already started my prep course classes. Jorge emailed me to ask for help. He had sat for the USMLE step 1 five times already and failed all five times. He never lacked for motivation as far as I am concerned. He just did not know how to prep properly. He had no money and ask me to help him for 'old times sake'. Anyway, I put him on the program and 5 months later he passed Step 1, barely.
I call the second success principle 'Knowledge' or 'Know-How'. You need to acquire the knowledge and skills you need in order to do what needs to be done. Doing the wrong things, or doing the right things the wrong way, will not help you get any closer to your goal. You can have all the heart in the world, but you are not going to make it if you don't have the tools to make it work.
Both Toby and Jorge were prepping the wrong way. Not in all areas of their prep, just some. But it was enough to make them fail. The difference is that Toby early on recognize his problem while Jorge did not. The same with Barbara when she first took the steps. She had heart from the beginning and was very motivated, but was studying the wrong way. In her case, she was not studying enough details to be able to answer the question being asked. After learning how to prep properly, they all eventually passed the exam.
Knowledge, Know-How, Skills. These are the tools you need in order to be able to accomplish whatever you set out to do. It will allow you to move forward because you now know what you need to do and how to do it in order to succeed. Without the second success principle you are like a ship lost in the middle of the ocean, not knowing which direction to go or how to get there.
In the USMLE you need medical knowledge that is tested in the exam. You need study skills that will enable you to master and recall the medical knowledge you have acquired for the requirement of the exam. And you need test-taking and analytical skills to enable you to answer the tougher questions in the exam. For some, you may need to improve your reading speed and memorization skills. What skill and knowledge you need to have depends on what you already have and what you don't. Most prep courses presume your deficit is in medical knowledge. In reality, if you passed your medical school's academic requirements, you probably have the medical knowledge you need to pass this exam. What you need to train are all the other skills needed to do well.
So now you are motivated to pass this exam. You have learned how to prep properly for this exam. You have applied the first and second success principle in your preparation. Is it enough to succeed? I think you know the answer is no. There are three success principle not two. Without motivation, without knowledge and skills, you won't succeed. But with the two alone, you can't either. You need the third success principle, which will allow you to reach your goal and succeed.
The Third Success Principle
Where the first success principle is important for you to get started and the second principle is important for you to know in which direction to go and how to get there, the third success principle is important for you to reach your destination.
For this success principle, I will tell you my story. In 2004, I decided to sit for the USMLE steps. Despite all the negative comments and discouraging remarks, I decided to continue with the exams and proceeded to research all about the steps and how to do well in the exam. It was hard going initially. Information was scarce. Knowing where to begin was difficult. Worse, lots of wrong informations and deliberate misinformation was out there.
Fortunately, by September of 2005, I found the forums. There were a lot of good information there but also a lot of bad ones. In one of the forums, I met a woman which we shall call Ann H. I know very little about Ann, except what is in the forum, since she never became my student. I found her very knowledgeable about the USMLE. In fact, she gave me a lot of very good information on how to tackle this examination. Ann has been reviewing for the USMLE for the better part of a year. She has been a permanent fixture in the forum, helping forum members with their prep. Encouraging them when they are down. Rejoicing with them when they pass or score high. Mourning with them when they fail.
She helped me get started on my journey to USMLE success. By March 2006, I took my NBME assessment test and got a 740 or a predicted score of 265. I immediately scheduled my exam in April of 2006 and got a 99/256. When I reported my score in the forum, Ann was one of the first to congratulate me. I thanked her and ask when she was sitting for the exam. She said very soon, she was just not completely ready yet. In the next 15 months, I completed the rest of the USMLE Steps and scored pretty well.
Fast forward to 2009. I have already started my prep courses. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Ann congratulating me about my new blog and prepsite. After a couple of exchanges, I asked her how she did in Step 1. I was surprised when she said, she had not taken it yet but would probably schedule it within a few months. I wished her good luck and ask her to email me once she had finished her steps. She assured me she would, but I have not heard back from her again.
Try to reflect on my story and Ann's. Can you glean the third success principle from our story?
Ann does not lack for motivation. I can't imagine myself prepping for 6 years for an exam. If it takes me that long to get ready, I probably would have given up already. She does not lack knowledge on how to prep for this exam either. Her years in the forum, helping people to pass this exam proves that. But in order to succeed you need to apply the third success principle, and that is to act on it. To, as the Nike ad would say, 'Just Do It'.
The third success principle is to act on your desire. Getting all hyped up about success, knowing what you need to do to succeed are all just good intentions, until they are transformed into action. Do you know how many people out there have been studying forever? Too afraid to sit for the exams. This is the reason why fat people remain fat. And unsuccessful people remain unsuccessful. The failure to act.
So there you have it. The three success principles. Three simple step to success. The success system that never fails. Motivation, Know-How, Action. Seems simple but at the same time very hard to apply consistently.
Take the time to reflect on yourself.
We know you are motivated. You are enrolled in this lecture seminar. But how motivated are you, really? How badly do you want it? What are you willing to do, to give up in order to get it? Only you can answer that.
Obviously, you have or will soon have the know-how to achieve your goal. That is why you are enrolled in the course. To learn how. But all I can do is show you the way. You must still walk through the door and travel the path yourself. You would be surprised at how many people enroll in the course, barely take the time to study and sit for the exam expecting to pass. Enrolling in the course will not assure success. You need to acquire the knowledge being taught in the course too. And even then, it only addresses the second success principle, not the first or the third.
Lastly will you take action? Will you do what needs to be done to succeed and sit for the exam in the end? We will find out soon enough.
Post-script: September, 2015. I just got some new information via Linked-in about Barbara M. She is now an anesthesia resident in a large university hospital in the East Coast. Not bad for an old IMG 17 years out of medical school who failed both Step 1 and Step 2 CK 4 times before finally passing it. As I said before, when Barbara Is determined about something, nothing can stop her. And nothing did.