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Why is it that some people finish an exam early, while others can’t even get through all the questions in the allotted time frame?

Consider the following scenario. Student A reads each sentence of the vignette in great detail. They highlight each and every piece of information, including every symptom and physical exam finding.

How would you describe Student A’s approach?

Student A is assigning equal energy and time to each sentence in the vignette as they search for clues that point to an answer. While this may not be the most time-efficient approach, Student A believes this approach will help to ensure that no information is missed.

But just because we read every word of every sentence doesn’t mean we understand the relevance or the significance. We need to have a strategy.

Student A is not using any specific strategy, but still hopes to arrive at the correct answer. This approach might work for straightforward questions, but it will prove less useful for questions that require application of knowledge and problem solving.

Not only is this approach unadvisable from a strategy perspective, but it requires more time and energy. In my experience, this time and energy expenditure does not translate into better results.

The key is to use an approach that will increase your probability of answering the question correctly while also maximizing your time and energy efficiency on exam day.

Should student A read every word of the vignette with the same energy?

Student A should devote disproportionate energy to those aspects of the vignette that will lead them to the correct answer through practice and pattern recognition. They should learn how to avoid wasting time on those aspects that are redundant or misleading.

Many, if not all, of the test-taking skills described in this text should provide you with skills to generate a road map for each vignette. This road map should help to determine how to allocate a disproportionate amount of attention and energy towards certain parts of the vignette while neglecting others.

As your skills develop, you may even find that you can arrive at the correct answer after only reading a portion of the vignette.

This may seem counterintuitive.

Shouldn’t not reading the entire vignette reduce your chances of scoring higher?

There is a fine balance between reading too much and too little of a vignette. On one hand, reading too much may predispose to certain pitfalls like second guessing, while reading too little may predispose to missing key information.

The USMLE Step 2 Exam is approximately nine hours long. You need enough time to answer all those questions and perform just as well on the first section ...

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