Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Pass Your Standardized Examination in Biostatistics: Fear and Reward

Pleasure and fear are primary human motivators. You will need to learn how to use these properly in order to pass your statistics examination.

First, lets take a close look at your fears.

Fear isn't a weakness, but rather when used properly it is a gift. Fear can paralyze you, or it can motivate you to take action. Usually, paralysis comes from when we do not face our fears head-on, and let them simmer in the recesses of our thoughts. So take a good inventory of your fear. In the case of a standardized examination, the fear is obvious: it is the fear of failure.

The fear of failure is very real when it comes to standardized examinations. In order to pass classes, graduate, and become licensed, students need to pass and do well on standardized examinations covering epidemiology and biostatistics. It is an essential part of medical training because the basic concepts do not change over time, and nearly all general standardized examinations contain at least a few questions on epidemiology and biostatistics.

As a practicing physician in the United States, I was required to pass multiple standardized examinations in order to pass my medical school classes, graduate from medical school, get a medical license, and become Board Certified. Now, with the new Maintenance of Certification requirements, I am required to continue to take and pass standardized examinations. Doing well means I can continue to work. Not passing an examination means in many cases a loss of Board Certification and subsequent loss of hospital privileges. And what do all of these examinations have in common? First, they are all structured in a similar manner, and secondly, they all contain questions on epidemiology and biostatistics.

The first step in doing well on these standardized examinations is to really understand at a deep and personal level just how important it is to do well. Yes, it is enjoyable to learn and master epidemiology and statistics, but you must do more. You must be able to apply your learning, and pass your standardized examination.

For medical students, achieving a high score on the USMLE Step 1 examination is critical in the determination of where students will end up doing their residency program. Those who score well will be much more likely to get into their number one residency choice. Those who score poorly and those who fail face a much greater challenge in getting into the specialty of choice, their residency of choice, and even getting into a residency program at all. Understanding at a fundamental, personal level the great importance of this examination helps motivate you to study and prepare properly. Would you like to take Friday night off to go dancing? Maybe that's okay, but maybe you need to study instead. First, think about how important the USMLE examination is, then decide if it is in your best interests to go out or if you should stay in and prepare for the USMLE.

So, we know one thing quite clearly. Failing your standardized examination in statistics will be painful.

The second great motivator is pleasure. In the case of numbers and statistics, it may be difficult to understand at first, but upon really understanding the concepts a great pleasure results. It's the pleasure of learning, the pleasure of knowing, the pleasure of realizing that your hard work ultimately will result in you helping people better and more effectively.

Understanding basic concepts in epidemiology and biostatistics means you won't be fooled by sales reps that want you to use their product. You will know better, and see past their sales pitch. Your mastery of statistics will help you view one of the greatest things in this universe --- the truth.

A great pleasure of learning statistics in a manner that will help you pass your standardized examination comes from passing your test. Passing your test with flying colors means more recognition, more options, and greater control over your future. A high score means more job opportunities, more residency opportunities, more options.

Be smart. Understand the basic motivations of fear and pleasure. Use the fear of failure to motivate you to study more, and study better. Use the pleasure of learning to motivate you to study more, and study better. Most of us respond better to either fear or pleasure. Use both if you can, but at least be sure to tap into your primary motivation source. Use this to light that fire in your belly in order to learn statistics, pass your test, and help your patients.

Proper preparation for the USMLE exam requires that you get started on day #1 of medical school.