Where should I study for my boards?
August 30, 2014 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I have always been picky about where I study. I might be making this way more complicated than it has to be, but... help me decide where I should study for my boards (USMLE Step 1)!

The USMLE Step 1 exam basically determines the rest of my career, and everybody in medicine in the US takes anywhere from 4-7 weeks off to study for the exam full-time. It's going to be super draining and stressful; the exam basically covers the first two years of med school, which is, needless to say, an insane volume of material. My schedule for studying will be more or less studying 6 days a week for 10-12 hours a day, with 1 day break / catchup if I fall behind schedule. (This is a previous AskMe that isn't about the same thing, but gives you an idea of how important and demanding this exam is.)

I know that the general advice is to study where I have always best studied, but I'm not sure where that is. I have two (possibly three) places I could study, but both of them have drawbacks. Possibilities:

1) At school.
I'm not a fan of my school environment. I find it isolating and lonely; whenever I return to school, I become unhappy and angsty. It's far from home, in a part of the country that doesn't have much in the way of diversity, and the microaggressions I have since experienced have made the place a stressful environment for me. My classmates are generally fine, but I find it incredibly stressful and irritating to listen to people (especially my roommate) nervously talk about how much they have or haven't studied, how other people are doing with their studying, who did well or poorly last year, and the like. I always feel sort of ... policed ... at school. I am an independent studier and usually get my thing done at my own pace.

One positive aspect of studying at school is that there is an awesome gym that all students are given free membership to. There are gym classes and everything, which is amazing for my wellbeing and could help me study more effectively.

2) At home.
I am generally happier at home (although I may be biased because when I'm home, I'm usually on break). My boyfriend is around! Yay! (I don't foresee any issues with that-- he is always supportive of me and respectful of my time). Food at home is better; I probably wouldn't have problems with keeping my food down because that has only ever happened when I was at school and promptly disappears when I leave my school environment. The main drawback is that my home environment can be somewhat chaotic-- sometimes my parents argue or yell at my little brother; my brother's piano practicing can also get loud if he's working on Beethoven or something. I have less privacy at home in some sense, and I don't have a nearby gym (I have one further away that I don't have membership to yet, and it would be very expensive for me to join). That said, I do have some space in my house that I could make entirely my own, and I can always run around the block for exercise or learn how to work out indoors... so that's not an impossibility. My parents could probably tone it down, and on the weekends when the household is more lively, I could probably just study at my boyfriend's place (which is very quiet).

Third possibility that might not be a possibility:
I could study at my undergraduate campus, which is about three hours from home. The main appeal for studying at my undergrad campus is that I can specifically envision where I would study best-- maybe this sounds neurotic, but I know the exact library, the exact spot where I could study. It was where I studied well all throughout undergrad, and I know I can get things done there. The problem with this plan is that I don't have housing there, and while I suppose I could sublease a place for a month or two after extensive digging on Craigslist, there's no guarantee because housing in that area is tight. I also wouldn't have a car, which limits where I could go / makes buying groceries potentially annoying. Plus, it would probably be stressful if I had to move into a new place right before hitting the books.

There's a nice, new gym that my school gives out discounted alumni memberships to. It's close enough so that my family or boyfriend could visit me or I could go home for a weekend during a study break.

I know this is all very specific information, but I need to decide on a place and register for my exam soon. I will probably "test drive" studying/focusing at home during Christmas break. Is there anything I should be considering or doing? Given this information above, does one location seem like a better option than the other? Thanks!
posted by gemutlichkeit to Work & Money (8 answers total)
I haven't gone through Step 1 directly, but I lived with my boyfriend while he was studying for it, and I think you should go wherever you have the most social support, which sounds like home. You could maybe look for specific exercise classes that interest you, like an 8 week yoga class or similar, even if joining a gym is too expensive there, to cover the exercise thing. My perspective is that studying for Step 1 is stressful and it's easy to become discouraged in a "oh god I can never learn everything I need to know, my practice scores aren't where I want them to be" which can spiral into a "I can never be a doctor, what am I doooinggg with my lifeeeee" sort of thing. Although obviously, YMMV, having the support of your family (if they're the supportive type) and boyfriend could help you ride through those moments and keep going. Also just having the food/care support of your family could be helpful. Anyway, that's my vote, based on secondhand Step 1 studying experience.
posted by MadamM at 9:51 PM on August 30, 2014

I was in school in Houston, studying IT courses. It was totally new to me, I'm easily distracted anyways, so I had to find a good place to study.

I found two libraries that totally were great, one a plain old public library but really set up beautifully, with librarians who were totally down on noise. It was great.

The other library was in one of the med schools in the med center there in Houston, it was *so great* to be surrounded by people who did not have time to play any games, people totally intent upon their work. It was great to catch their energy, and utilize it as my own; I studied there a lot.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:34 PM on August 30, 2014

You mention the expense of a gym as being a downside for option 2, but it's probably still cheaper than option 3.

Look around for places near option 2 where you would be able to study so you have some choices if it's loud or distracting at parent's house or boyfriend's house. Even if they are fine now there could end up being construction nearby or something when you want to study. Some options would be public libraries, academic libraries if they are open to the general public, coworking spaces or other shared office spaces, quiet coffeeshops, etc.

It seems like you have a little bit of money to spend on helping you have a good place to study. Don't be afraid to invest in your future by giving yourself the best environment you can, even if the gym is more than you would usually spend. Also, consider a pair of active noise reducing headphones to cut down on hearing the arguing and piano.
posted by yohko at 10:51 PM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It seems like you're combining two questions--where should you live and where should you study. I think if you split these apart a bit, then you may have a better idea of what you should do.

For my 2c., I think you should live at home, and study at a public library or a local college/university library or in one of those rent-an-office spaces or... you get the idea. Possibly all of the above, on a schedule--1.5 hours at home in the early morning, break for food and stretching, 4 hours at place b, break for food and stretching, 4 hours at point c, break for food and stretching, study at home in the late evening...
posted by anaelith at 11:31 PM on August 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Going home seems like a no-brainer to me. Not having to maintain your own household will lift a huge weight off of your shoulders and free up time for you that can be spent both studying and maintaining your sanity. My brother moved home to study for the bar exam, and like anaelith suggested he split his study time between the public library and a quiet spot at home.

It sucks that you haven't had a great experience at your med school and don't have a go-to study spot there, but given that it's a place that you associate with negativity and stress already, I would definitely take the path of least resistance and go home.
posted by telegraph at 11:02 AM on August 31, 2014

The answer is: junior college! I didn't do this but I had several friends do this for the Bar and it worked (or, at least, they passed).

It's very likely there's a community college within a short drive of your parents house, and it will have a library with nice long hours where you can stake at a nice quiet carrel every day.

It will probably be a 3 minute walk from a student gym with similar hours.

Can't speak to microaggressions but odds are there will be very few other people taking their Boards or otherwise freaking you out.

Total cost: somewhere between nothing and a very small amount (might actually be cheaper to register for a single class than to pay non-student joining fees). Eat and sleep at home, exercise and study at the school.
posted by MattD at 11:17 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can only tell you what I did that worked well. I studied for the boards at school, in the health sciences library, surrounded by my very quietly agitated peers and the stale sweat smell of the place. Same comfy chair with my laptop for as long as I could stand it each day.

I think had I been at home it would have been much more difficult. The structure provided by being in the library every day at the same time, surrounded by like-minded folks doing the same thing, was crucial for me. There is nothing that is going to make Step 1 studying a pleasant experience.

As an aside, you are just using USMLEWorld, right? Because most other study modalities are a waste of time IMO.

Oh and please do hit the gym every day!

Feel free to memail me with any questions.
posted by killdevil at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2014

My favorite was a hospital library. It was open all-night, had great chairs (for physicians), private booths and the feel of studiousness.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:29 PM on August 31, 2014

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