5 most common causes of wrong answers (and how to fix them!)


Below are the 5 most common causes for incorrect answers during a
® test. Read on to find out what they are, and what you can do to improve your score.

  1. Just forgot – You must review the material again with active learning. Remember, repetition (and repetition and repetition) increases recall!
  2. Carelessness – You are moving too fast. Slow down! Here’s a technique that has worked for students before: breathe in through the nose, out the mouth about 7 times to help relax and refocus. To guard against carelessness, practice block pacing: do a time check at question 25 and 35. After 25 Q have gone by, 25 minutes should have gone by. Same at question 35; at this point, 35 minutes should have gone by. If it only takes you 10 minutes to answer 25 questions, you may need to reassess your answers to guard against carelessness. Doing both the breathing and timing technique has shown to reduce errors.
  3. Didn’t understand – this is true for many with English as a second language. The real fix for this is review the material again and again if needed. Repetition does increase recall and the recall will help with understanding. Practicing by talking about the topic (in English) with other people also helps.
  4. Mis-read the question – There is a proper way to read a question for the USMLE®: PERIOD.STOP.PARAPHRASE. After every PERIOD, STOP, and PARAPHRASE what was read. If there is an age and a gender, picture a person in ones head and begin to put each paraphrased sentence as a puzzle piece with the patient. Once all the puzzle pieces are together, you will find that it is now easier to answer the question correctly. Not reading a question slowly and properly is not good. Odd but true: the slower one goes, the faster they will finish the exam because they are not reading questions twice. Reading the question stem multiple times is the number one time waster on the exam.
  5. Guessed wrong - This is a confidence issue. Most of the time, students like to do the debate. In their mind they are thinking, “Is it A or C, A or C? Well I think the professor says A if we saw it this way, but the video says C in this case… hmm… A or C, A or C.” You as a student may get a lot of internal payoff for the debate, but it doesn’t help with you finding the answer. Go with your gut feeling, inner self, intuition, spirit – whatever you call that internal part of yourself that will get you the right answer – and ask it only once: is it A or C? LISTEN for the answer, mark it and move on. This does take practice. Be confident in your abilities! Listen, Mark, then Move On.