Study Tips

How to use USMLE® Question Banks Efficiently on Osmosis

Caroline Rundell
Published on Nov 13, 2019. Updated on Jul 8, 2020.

Learn how to efficiently utilize USMLE question banks, like those found on Osmosis.org, to maximize your study time and test scores.  

If you’re at medical school, chances are you’ve used a question bank or two in your time. And if you’re reading this, chances are my use of the word "efficiently" has lured you here, as you too seek out methods to maximize your time spent studying in order to free up more time for socializing, exercising, or crying about studying. Well, you’re in luck! While I’ve always been a big fan of question banks, my ability to use them efficiently has significantly improved over time. Here are my top tips. I hope you find them useful!

In general, try not to...

Place too much weight on your USMLE question bank score. 

People can get very fixated on their overall score or percentile and end up avoiding questions because they don't feel ready or able to receive a score they're not happy with. In my opinion, that's a big mistake. The only score that actually matters is the one you get on the exam. In terms of percentile, you don't know how other people are using the question bank. Are they looking up answers? Are they using it having never covered the material to get an overview of the topic? Not exactly a standard for comparison.

By all accounts, getting a score you're happy with is great, but getting a score you're unhappy with shouldn't be a reason to avoid questions. If you’re still feeling hesitant about starting a question bank, the Osmosis USMLE Question Bank lets you select the level of difficulty, so you can build up your confidence with some easier ones first. No judgement.

Save questions. 

This refers to not doing questions until you’re sure you’ll get a good score, or saving them for closer to the exam to get an idea of how you’re doing. Doing well on questions has a lot to do with practice, so that you can hone your technique and practice seeing the same piece of information presented in different ways (see below). Therefore, it’s fine to save questions, as long as you’re sure you’ll be able to go through enough before the exam. Saving questions also precludes using questions as a way of learning (see below). Questions that are formal past papers or endorsed by the exam board can clearly be used as a proxy for how you would do on the actual test, but any other material is very difficult to make an accurate prediction from.

In general, try to...

Hone your technique. 

I tend to read the final line first because either you can answer the question from that alone, or you can read the stem knowing what the final aim is e.g. do they want a diagnosis, an investigation, a risk factor etc. If I can answer it from the final line alone, I’ll try and answer it before looking at the answer choices. I’ll then read over the stem to double check I’ve not missed anything.


Otherwise, I read over the whole stem, and try and answer it in my head before looking at the answers. 


However, it really doesn’t matter what technique you use, as long as you find one you’re confident using. The best way to find your technique is to practice as many questions as you can.

Some additional suggestions...

Make a corrections document. 

I made a document with all my corrections from questions on that I could then refer back to and skim over closer to the exam. This meant I could get all the information for the question banks I’d used without actually having to do the questions again. It’s also a friendly safety blanket to know that all the facts you’ve maybe learnt but also maybe have forgotten are written down somewhere.

View USMLE question banks as a way to learn new information, rather than just a way to test yourself. 

It’s a nice break from reading or memorizing information, and it’s even something you can do with friends when exams are coming up and you can no longer engage in meaningful conversation about anything other than medicine. If anything, it’s a fun way to study. This technique doesn’t work for very large topics (e.g. all of biochemistry if you’ve not even covered it in lectures) as the information listed in the answer section won’t be in enough detail for you to properly understand it. However, for smaller chunks of information, particularly those that don’t require extensive understanding, it’s very effective. 

Complete as many as you can. 

There’s a finite amount of information you can be tested on, and if you’ve seen it from several angles or applied it in different ways, examiners are going to be really pushed to present it to you in such a way that you miss the point on the day. Don’t lose your mind if you haven’t done 1 million questions before your exam, just start early and try and get through as many as you can. 

So in summary, get through as many questions as you can in order to find a technique that works for you, make a note of your corrections as you go, and don’t agonize over your score or use that as an excuse to avoid doing questions. I hope you find these tips helpful, and that they allow you to use USMLE question banks efficiently! 

About Caroline

Caroline is a final year medical student at University College London, UK. She is interested in OB/GYN, Anaesthesiology, and Dermatology. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys cooking, boxing and traveling. She has a Golden Retriever named Berkeley. 

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