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Prometric Closures through May 31 – Will Your USMLE Be Canceled?

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by Alec Palmerton, MD in Plan

Prometric has just announced the closure of N. America sites until May 31, 2020. Before you panic, note that many USMLEs will still take place despite the closures. This is due to the USMLEs “essential program” status. Despite, this, however, some USMLE-takers will still have their appointments canceled. (More below).

Here is the announcement:

North America (U.S. and Canada)

In accordance with the changing local and federal governance and advice from the CDC and WHO, we have determined it is necessary to further extend the closure of test centers in the U.S. and Canada through May 31. This applies to all testing programs, with the exception of a limited set of essential services programs. Prometric is actively working with test sponsors to determine whose programs meet the criteria for “essential workforce” as defined by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

If your exam appointment is impacted by these closure extensions, you will receive an email notification informing you that your appointment has been canceled, and instructions for how to reschedule for a future date. No rescheduling fees will be applied, and we are working with your exam sponsor to ensure all program requirements are met. Please note that if you choose to contact Prometric for assistance, hold times may be extended due to the volume of individuals we are attempting to support. We thank you for your patience.

For those of you following the news, this was not unexpected. Many states had pushed back re-opening to mid-May already. Prometric’s prior expectation of re-opening test centers by May 1 seemed unrealistic.

Table of Contents

What is an “Essential Services Program”?

Prometric doesn’t define which programs are “Essential Services” in the announcement. However, USMLE.org confirms that it is an essential service, and that “certain centers” will resume testing May 1, 2020.

What About Social Distancing?

If the USMLE being an essential service is good news, there is still uncertainty. Namely, the chance your test could be canceled due to social distancing guidelines. USMLE.org says:

To conform with social distancing guidelines and keep separation between examinees, there will be a reduction of active workstations in Prometric testing rooms. To do this, Prometric plans to cancel a significant number of upcoming scheduled appointments. Their statement explains that random selection of canceled appointments will occur, and impacted candidates will be notified by Prometric starting today.

In other words, in the interest of social distancing, they may still cancel appointments. From a public health standpoint, this is understandable. However, it is unlikely to relieve peoples’ stress/uncertainty around their test date.

If you want to take your USMLE at the scheduled time you can hope that enough “non-essential” programs are canceled to meet social distancing requirements. This would presumably reduce the number of USMLE appointments they need to cancel.

Will My Testing Permit Expire?

Probably not. The USMLE has announced they are extending all unexpired permits to December 2020. Here is their announcement:

The USMLE program extended eligibility periods to December 2020 for all examinees who had a USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK, Step 3, or USMLE Practice Session scheduling permit with an unexpired eligibility period with an end date in 2020, regardless of the country in which they are testing. We will continue this process for any newly issued scheduling permits. Eligibility periods will be extended automatically, requiring no action from examinees.

How Will I Know If My Test Appointment is Canceled?

Per the USMLE:

Prometric plans to cancel a significant number of upcoming scheduled appointments. Their statement explains that random selection of canceled appointments will occur, and impacted candidates will be notified by Prometric starting today [April 23, 2020].

In other words, your test might be canceled, even if your center opens on May 1. If this occurs, Prometric will notify you.

What Do I Do If My Test Was Canceled?

I didn’t see an announcement on whether students with canceled tests would get priority for rescheduling. Therefore, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Presumably, you will have the opportunity to reschedule your test. Do this as soon as possible.

How Should I Study in the Age of COVID-19?

I’ll write more about this later, but my quick thoughts are this:

Any time we are making a decision about the future, we should ask two questions. Specifically, is it:

  • Important?
  • Knowable?

Is it important that your test might be canceled? Absolutely! However, is it knowable whether it will happen or not? Unfortunately, no.

Prometric is canceling appointments at random. Every COVID-19 model depends on assumptions and our actions, which change by the day. In our desire for certainty, the certainty of smooth curves of a normal distribution is comforting. However, just because they are comforting doesn’t mean they predict the future.

You’ll note that for many (most?) things in life, it’s difficult/impossible to know the odds of something happening.

How to Position Yourself to Succeed in an Unpredictable World

So if that is true, what should you do? Position yourself so that regardless of the scenario, you can still succeed. In other words, act so that if you take your test sooner or later than you expect, you have still prepared your best.

We’ve discussed how to best prepare so that your short AND long-term results benefit. Suffice it to say, though, that you should:

  • NOT cram, now more than ever;
  • Consider using spaced repetition;
  • Not follow statements like, “in the X weeks before your test, do Y…”
  • Give up using a calendar where you write out everything you’ll do in advance

I will highlight this final point. Most students’ dedicated study plan involves a daily grid. They lay out every question, page, and resource they’ll use.

When I was at Stanford, most students had these elaborate tables. Some color-coded them. They’d apportion 3 days for one organ system, or 5 days for another.

In the pre-COVID 19 era, students rarely, if ever followed through on these plans. Why? Daily grids laying out your pre-USMLE plan run afoul of some powerful psychology.

Don’t Rely On Your Ability to Predict the Unknown

People are bad at planning, especially if they lack repeated experience. (Think cost overruns for house remodeling, your friend who will be “5 minutes late,” or even self-driving cars!). As such, people grossly underestimate how long things will take. That beautiful calendar goes unfollowed. It’s such a common phenomenon psychologists call it the “planning fallacy.”

Instead, focus on the keys to USMLE success: mastery, retention, and application.

What does it take to do well on the USMLEs? The NBME has gone on record saying they want you to master – not memorize – material. So any plan should start with giving yourself enough time to understand something.

This is, however, not how most students operate. Most students, if left to their own devices, think, “oh, I need to cover 10 pages of FA today!” They may know in theory that learning the material well is essential. However, when push comes to shove? They rush to cover the 10 pages, rather than take the time to master a smaller amount.

Rushing Feels Faster but Ends Up Much Slower

The results are predictable and tragic. Cramming material FEELS faster. You will “see” more pages in a day, and can brag to your friends about how many questions you’re doing. However, it ends up causing you to take much longer, since everything you cram you’ll have to re-learn.

The worst learning you can do is the learning you’ll have to re-do.

Had you, instead, mastered it and made useful Anki cards, you’d be much farther ahead. Even though you had “covered” less, the things you’d learned would be substantial.

Mastering material and retaining it using spaced repetition is faster. Yet it feels slower. It’s doing the slow work now so you can move faster later – a philosophy echoed by many philosophies and even nature.

However, especially during COVID-19, are you cramming/feeling rushed? If so, I’d recommend re-evaluating your plan. Especially if that plan involves a detailed daily grid trying to predict your exact day.

To schedule a free consultation and see how we can help you master more in less time, click here.

Concluding Thoughts

COVID-19 is unprecedented in the modern era. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to live in fear and stress. Remember to differentiate between what is important and what is knowable. Plan such that you can succeed regardless of what happens to your test appointment. And always keep in mind that gradual mastery – while it feels slower – is, in fact, the fastest path.

What do you think? How have your test preparations been affected by COVID-19? Let us know in the comments!

For more information, see:

Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored 270 on the USMLE Step 1 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.

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