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Tutoring FAQ

Is tutoring right for you?

 

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Tutoring for the USMLE, COMLEX, or Shelf exams is a major investment in one’s education and future.  Here are some of the most common questions I receive about tutoring:

What exactly does the tutoring entail?

The general goal of tutoring is to help you to use your time as efficiently as possible – to help you craft a personalized plan to most effectively strengthen your weaknesses, to teach you the things that would take you exceedingly long to teach yourself, and to help you to learn how to approach questions to maximize your knowledge.

Why it is better than simply studying on my own?

In my experience, most students struggle with identifying their true weaknesses, and are even worse at addressing them. Thus, they focus their time and energy on tasks that are incredibly low-yield, like repeating USMLE World for the 3rd time, rather than focusing on their true weaknesses (e.g. the application of knowledge, their approach to questions, etc.)

Even in the rare instance when I find a student who has correctly identified the things holding them back and is actively working on it, that all still takes TIME. When you work with me, there are only two kinds of subjects: subjects you can teach yourself without help, and subjects that will take you a disproportionate amount of time to learn. My job, in addition to tailoring a plan to your individual needs and situation, is to teach you the subjects you struggle with the most, so that you can get back to doing the things that you’re good at.

But Alec, your website is awesome - what else could I possibly learn from tutoring that I haven't learned from the website?

You are too kind! While it is true that I created this website so I could share my years of experience to those who were preparing for the biggest exam(s) of their life, there are still things that I cannot convey well to a mass audience. An example would be how to approach clinical vignettes in questions. An article on how to read through questions, analyze the meaning of each sentence, and how to figure out what the question is actually asking would be limited, given that it would be filled with generalities, and without the ability to give specific feedback to where each student is.

How long are sessions?

Sessions are 2 hours long, which students have found to be the ideal length.

How many sessions do students typically need?

Again, it’s hard, since every student has individualized needs and abilities. I’ve worked with students as little as once every couple weeks, although this is more common for students who contact me during their 1st year of medical school, to get an extra boost in their studies to lay the groundwork for when they begin in earnest. I’ve also had students who have found the sessions so useful that they request sessions nearly every day. While every student is different, I would say “typically” I meet with students 1-2x/week.

After I'm done with my test, then what? Will you forget about me? Will you return my calls??

Haha, that last one was a bit of a joke. But in all seriousness, I regularly get e-mails/calls from former students, asking for advice, extra tutoring, or just to let me know how they’re doing. And I know how valuable it is to get direct insight from those ahead of you. My high school had 3 counselors TOTAL, for all 1600+ students; getting advice, or even just a letter of recommendation for college, was a nightmare. I’ve also trained at some of the “elite” institutions of the world (Stanford, MGH, etc.), and realize just how valuable a mentor who cares for you can be. Mentoring students is one of my favorite parts of my work, and I will want to help you achieve success beyond your USMLE/COMLEX/Shelf exam!

Can tutoring help me beyond just my exam?

In one word, “yes!” I’ve seen students’ NBME scores jump by more than 10-20 points simply because they suddenly began to realize how to read questions. Every school I’ve ever seen (including Stanford and Harvard) focus on knowledge over application during preclinical years, and all students (including myself) struggle with applying that knowledge to clinical scenarios.

What has been most gratifying, though, is to hear from students after they’ve begun clerkships, many of whom really rock! Most students that memorize for their exam never learn how to properly analyze/interpret data, which hampers them for both Step 1, as well as clerkships. I knew a student who had scored >255 on Step 1, but who really struggled with presentations and getting asked questions on rounds, simply because they had put all of their efforts into answering multiple choice questions. Your ability to impress your attendings/residents on rounds (and thus your clinical grade) is directly related to your ability to analyze and interpret large amounts of data.

How you approach Step 1 can set you up for success or failure when you enter clerkships.

What do you mean by 'your approach can set you up for future success?' Can you give an example?

Literally 10 minutes after I wrote the previous section, I received this e-mail from a former student who is on her first clerkship of 3rd year, which also happens to be internal medicine (things like this make me so proud!).:

I wanna start working with you again ! Maybe 1x per week . Need help with pharmacology and dosing and just slowly starting to prep for step 2 .

Would it be possible to have a set date ? Like Saturday mornings or something like that ?

Pps literally killing rotations basically been offered jobs haha ! You trained me well :)

Let me know .

While I can’t guarantee job offers, I will say typically students feel very well-prepared for clerkships, as my teaching style is very similar to the style of teaching most commonly seen on wards, both for clerkships and residency.

Where does the tutoring take place? Do I have to travel to you?

99% of the time, I work with students via Skype, which the vast majority of students prefer – it allows us to share screens, for me to draw on the screen for demonstration purposes, and for us to conveniently work together while minimizing travel time. If you live in the Boston area, and would like to meet in person, I am also happy to accommodate requests to meet in person when possible.

Can I get a discounted rate?

There is a discounted rate for the first session, to give you an idea of what tutoring will be like, as well as for us to both assess for “fit.” After that, there are various discounts for pre-paying for hours.

What is a reasonable expectation of score increase over the time we work?

I’m very open about how my students’ successes, which you can read about here.  I will say that typically, students who develop the habits for success on these exams earlier tend to do better; I’ve seen students with score increases of 70+, although the average is closer to 35-40.  As in all things, however, your miles may vary.

Question not answered on this page?

Feel free to e-mail me at alec@yousmle.com with any other questions!

 

Ready to invest in your future success?

E-mail me at alec@yousmle.com to get started.  Availability is not guaranteed, and spots are first-come, first-served.

  • Rahul Prasad

    I am in the final stretch (2nd year US Med student) before taking Step 1
    in early June and I was wondering if you have any advice for how to
    develop a focused schedule for studying?

    I find myself torn between how to balance using resources (Pathoma, First Aid), reviewing (Anki) and
    doing question banks in a progressive and organized manner i.e. do you have any suggestions on how to organize time to create Anki cards, review them, and doing relevant questions on a day to day basis?

    • yousmle

      Fantastic question. The biggest thing I would suggest is to focus more on trying to understand disease processes rather than having a set number of pages in a particular book that you want to read. For example, most students typically focus on learning everything in a particular book, then moving on to another. Instead, I would focus on learning the disease process, and using whatever resources you have available to do that. That way you can structure your day in a more predictable manner, focusing on learning a particular number of diseases or topics during the day, rather than trying to read some predetermined number of pages.

      Hope this helps!

      Alec

    • Yousmle

      I didn’t realize I never responded to this. But since we spoke subsequently, I hope I answered your questions!

      • Rahul Prasad

        No worries! I have a few questions regarding the HHMI fellowship you participated in – would you be willing to communicate via email?

        • Yousmle

          Absolutely – let me know.

          • Rahul Prasad

            Send me an email via your preferred address?

            09prasad@gmail.com

          • Yousmle

            Actually, I’m sure there are others that would be interested in our exchange – would you be willing to share your question here so others may benefit?

          • Rahul Prasad

            Sure thing!

            My questions were regarding the proposal and essays – what approach/format did you take in writing them?

            For the proposal, did you follow the NIH proposal formats?

            For the essay, where you more creative in describing your inspiration for pursuing the fellowship or more cut and dry, outlining your career goals and past research experience?

          • Yousmle

            Great questions. For the proposal, I don’t recall exactly, but my guess is I followed the proposal formats. I seem to recall that they are big sticklers for following their particular formats/rules, so I would recommend that. As for the essay, it was probably somewhere in the middle – I wasn’t particularly creative, but went into some detail regarding my passion for science/applied learning, etc.

  • Rhoda Franco-Noriega

    Hi Alec! I sent you a PM last night about your recommendation for anyone like me who had been out of med school for about 10 years now and still plan to take USMLE. My classmate had just started his residency this year in the US after working for years like me and his recommendation was to study just First Aid for step 1. However when I started trying to study it, I already feel overwhelmed. I think I have forgotten most of the nitty gritty details of basic sciences and I feel so inadequate. One of the suggestion was to go through the practice questions first to know your weak areas but I’d rather not. I think what I need is to go through the basic sciences again, like a major brush up before I venture to answering questions. Is it possible to do that? How much would it cost to do tutorials with you? I do not have a specific timeline yet but hopefully I can start residency within the next 2 years. Thank you!
    Rhoda

    • Yousmle

      Great question – I just sent you an e-mail.

    • belen

      that is a good way to say it….overwhelmed!!that is how I felt first time I tried to read (and I am not saying studyng) First Aid book. I think is a great book but not to start with step 1 and not to study using that book, maybe I am wrong!

  • belen

    Dear Alec, I write this email hoping you can help me. I am a Spanish pulmonologist. I finished my degree 10 years ago and now after 5 years working as pulmonologist I have decided to rescue an old dream and will try to go to USA to work. So I have left my current work to study the steps. I would like to pass the step 1 on first week of May. After I read tons of things in internet I don’t know exactly how to do it and how is the best way to start. I have some things clear, as I have purchased today your ankis deck (step 1 and step 2) and probably I will ask you to become my tutor. The second thing I have clear is I wouldn’t like to waste any minute or dollar since now.

    The second thing I have clear is I cannot wasted any single minute or dollar since now.
    I was thinking to make a kaplan course but the on-demand course is the only course I could make from here and I don’t know if it makes differences with using just the qbank.

    So I thought to do the next: to buy the kaplan books in internet and start studying Kaplan books combined with your anki cards while I learn to make my own anki cards (if necessary). I have first aid + costanzo + goljan as complementary material to kaplan books. Do you think is it right??or should I do something different?? the best thing is I could change program, because I have only two books (Gojlan and Fisrt aid), so I could change the things if you think I could make something better. I wanted to make a first lecture of all kaplan books and then start with the questions banks….talking about qbank, what do you think is better??kaplan qbank or Uworld?? Please I love the way you teach the things and Write your blogs and emails. Can you help me to select the right way to reach my aim??

    Thank you so much in advance for your time and your help.

    Have a nice day,

    Belén

    • Yousmle

      Thank you for your message. I’ve written about the subject here: https://www.yousmle.com/nail-fundamentals-usmle-step-1-nbme-practice-exams/

      As far as the Kaplan course, I’ve never used it specifically, but as you probably know, I’m not a huge fan of passive forms of learning, particularly sitting there while someone delivers a ton of information at you.

      Coincidentally, I may have another tutoring spot that just opened up, so if you are still interested, send me an email, since it is first come first serve.

      Hope all is well!

      Alec