Ahhhh, the post we have all been waiting for. This is honestly going to be the hardest post I have to write as this was probably the most challenging ordeal I’ve had to deal with in my life thus far. Before I begin, the way I thought dedicated would turn out to be vs how it actually happened is like night and day. This was because the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) stated that Step one would become pass/fail instead of being scored, with the score usually determining where people would go for residency. Since most people usually passed the exam the first time, I thought it would not be that bad. Boy, was I wrong. There was so much that I have learned about myself and I have grown from the time it started in February until now. This is going to be very loooooooooooooooooong (1-2 hour read) so brace yourselves and I hope you enjoy and relate to this whether you are studying for STEP or even the MCAT.
February 15th was the first day I had truly started dedicated. I was doing subject-related questions on Uworld (the most notorious question bank for STEP One) on heme/onc, cardiology, respiratory and renal before but I was also studying for the BCR retake. Now that the retake was behind me, I felt like it was game time. I made a calendar plan on what I wanted to focus on each day and what my sample day would be like.
I was scheduled to take the exam on March 11th, which was 3.5 weeks from when I started. Would I be able to do that? I did not know. But third-year Bootcamp would start on March 21st and I did not want to start that without having taken step so I was going to try the best that I could.
I was studying from home because the library near my house was not open for long hours due to COVID. I would wake up, do my UWorld flashcards, watch Pathoma and/or read FA and then start on the questions on Uworld. Doing the Uworld questions was fine but reviewing them would take FOREVERRRRR. I could spend 5 hours reviewing one 40-question block on UWorld. I wanted to make sure I was getting the content downpat and that I understood everything.
For the first couple of days, I was getting 30-40% on each of the question blocks I was doing. Every day I felt like I did not know ANYTHING. What was the point of the first two years of med school? I had spent so much time learning what I needed for class only to realize that learning for the board exams was a completely different ballgame. The questions on Uworld were long and convoluted making me question even the most simple concepts. I was very scared and I started to understand why STEP One gave so many people anxiety. I was just hoping that this would be the only month that I would need to study and pass it and then I would be home free to do whatever I wanted and start Third-year!!!
On February 22nd, our school has us scheduled to take a computerized basic science exam or CBSE which is a practice step exam from the company that makes STEP, National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). If you had read my blogs from before, we had taken CBSEs in the past but they did not really count like this one. If I did well on this exam, then that meant the school would allow me to sit for the real exam on March 11th. If I did not, then I would have to push back my exam, something that I was not trying to do AT ALL. I had a plan on what I wanted to do when I was done and I was not going to let the school make me push it. Therefore on Feb 19th, I bought a practice exam on NBME for $60 to determine how well I would do. I wanted to have a passing score and feel confident in taking the CBSE and then the real deal.
I decided to take NBME 30 at my local library because I did not want to take it in the comfort of my own home. I arrived at the library around 11 am anxious about how I would do. The exam was 200 questions long and would take 5 hours to complete. What if I do terribly on it? Well, I guess it’s time to find out. I started the exam and hoped for the best.
The exam was challenging but fair. Some of the questions I recognized and was able to pinpoint and get correct. Others left me clueless. Wow, this is harder than I thought. After each block of 50 questions, I took a break and ate some food or took a walk around the library. I was so scared about how I was doing but I was ready for it to be over. I was feeling myself getting exhausted. Finally, I reached the last set of questions and hit submit. I hope I did well. And….
I got a 164. That was 40 points lower than what I needed to pass the real thing. I texted all of my friends and mentors. I cannot take this exam on March 11th there is no way!!!!
I spent the next couple of days going over the CBSE exam and going over my weak points. I struggled in repro and endo, anatomy, and genetics, subjects that I did not review much. I wanted to do way better on the CBSE and maybe have a chance at passing the real thing. I started getting anxious about it and developed a huge cold sore because of it. But then I was not the only one who was not doing great on my practice exams. One of my friends told me she get a 166 on the Uworld assessment and that so many of my classmates were on the same boat. Hey at least we are all in this together, right?
Finally, it was the day of the CBSE exam. I packed my snacks and drove an hour to the school building, anxious about what was to come. It was so weird to see all of my classmates after being away from most of them for two weeks. Everyone talked about how they were preparing for the exam when they were taking it, and their plans right after the exam. Some people were going on road trips, others were going out of state and someone was even going to Tanzania! Wow, must be nice, I thought. I did not even know if I would get a vacation before Bootcamp.
We all got seated and began the exam. When I saw the first question, I just had a feeling this would be a terrible exam. Some of the questions were one-liners from the First Aid book while others were things that I have never seen before ever. This is insane.
After the first two blocks, we were given a 15-minute break to eat and talk with each other. “This is so hard.”, so many people were saying. Like what is the world?! Some of my classmates were taking their STEP exams a couple days later and I was looking at them like they had two heads. Others talked about how they were pushing their exams back to a couple weeks later. Man, I probably have to push mine too after this exam.
We all eventually went back in and finished the last two blocks. It was exhausting and I was fighting through my thoughts to just get through the dumb exam. I was ready to enjoy myself and eat lunch with my classmates afterward. I saw some of my classmates leave an hour before my exam time ended. Tryhards, I thought. I finally fought through the last set of questions and hit submit. Done. That was the hardest exam I have taken in med school so far. That was really, really hard.
After the exam, I went and picked up girl scout cookies that I ordered from one of the faculty member’s daughters and met up with my friends to get food at my favorite post-exam restaurant, Rusty Taco. “That was sooo hard”, I told them. But I was happy to see my friends again. Studying for step for a couple days was an isolating experience so to be surrounded by people and not having to study was an amazing feeling. I heard that I lot of people scheduled to take the exam in a couple days were thinking about pushing it to mid-March. Understandable because that exam was not it. We went and got bubble tea afterward and I hugged my friends, not knowing when it would be the next time I would see them.
I decided that instead of waking up at 11 am every day and studying until 1 am that I would wake up in the early morning, pray, study, and then finish studying by 10 pm. I was not a morning person at all but I wanted to try to get accustomed to it as all of these exams happened around 8 am. Also, I wanted to finish Pathoma and read all of First Aid so I could be super ready for the exam. So the next day, I got up early around 6am, and started studying with fatigue hitting me around 10 am. I thought about how my exam was set for March 11th, which was in 2.5 weeks and I was not ready. At all. I thought and prayed about it and I decided to push my exam back to March 18th, with March 19th being the last day to take it before Bootcamp. Please God, let me be ready by then. 🙏🏾
I received an email from the school that our scores had been released. This time the score report would be different to reflect the pass/fail nature of the exam as opposed to it being scored. In order to be passing, we had to have at least a 62% on the exams that we took. I was soo nervous to look at my score. I knew I did terribly but what if I did not improve from last time?
Finally, I clicked on the score report:
52%? With a 34% chance of passing the real thing?! That was not good at alll!!!!!! But did I improve from my last exam score? There was a conversion table that our school sent us to see what our original three-point score would be. When I looked at it I got a….175!
I increased my score by 11 points in 2 days!!!!! While I knew I was not going to sit for the real exam anytime soon, I was proud to see the improvement. Ahhhh, thank God, that means what I am doing is working!!!!!
Even though I had improved, the school, of course, did not want me to take the real exam. I received an email with all of the school leadership cc’d in it saying:
It felt weird knowing that the school leadership was meeting about my scores. It kind of felt like we were a number almost. Many of my other classmates received the same email and were equally disheartened. Another CBSE? Ugggggh. One of my classmates who pushed her exam back because of the school reached out to me to study with her. Hmm since there are so many like us who have to push back, we should make a groupchat. And so the Step One groupchat was created.
I spent the next couple of days doing Uworld flashcards, watching Pathoma, doing Uworld questions, and reviewing them. I tried to read First Aid but it was not doing anything for me. I was slightly improving. My averages on the question blocks were still pretty terrible but I was learning a lot. One of my classmates who took Step One before it became pass/fail was kind enough to tutor me on subjects I did not know like heme/oncology and immunology.
However, I was getting exhausted and burning out. I would wake up at the crack of dawn and go to bed at midnight. At one point, I studied for 14 hours. This is not humanly possible. I slowly felt myself slipping away from family and friends and obligations. I went to bed with a crushing feeling in my chest. I felt the weight of the world on me because of this stupid exam. Whoever said that passing this would be a piece of cake was lying. It was terrible, I felt terrible and I just wanted this to end. It’s going to end soon, I kept telling myself. You will take it by March 18th and be done soon. Trust me, you will.
So, it was finally March. I was so nervous because in a couple of days, I would sit to take my exam. I was hoping and praying that I would take it by March 18th, start rotations and be on track as a third year. Studying at this time was pretty hard. I was spending 12-14 hours a day going through the material and doing questions. My skin started breaking out and I was developing major headaches. This is too much, I thought, this is waaay too much. The CBSE retake was set for March 11th so I wanted to pass that and then get the school’s approval to sit for my Step exam a week later. I just wanted this to be over. Some of my classmates had already taken step by this point and were living their best lives. Thank God I did not have social media to see what they were up to but just knowing that they were done and I was still in this predicament made me emotional. I made the terrible mistake of going on Step Reddit and my anxiety shot through the roof. Everyone was freaking out about practice exam scores, millions of resources they were using, whether or not they were ready etc. Some of my classmates were also stressing me out l with their anxiety and their own successes with their own studying. My close study mate took a practice exam a week after the first CBSE and passed it, setting her along the track to take her exam in the next couple of days. What is wrong me with? How come I am not feeling ready like that?
On March 5th, I decided to take a practice exam, NBME 29. I was so scared the night before because I wanted to pass it and then move on. This exam could either boost my confidence or crush it. I felt major Imposter Syndrome all throughout medical school and I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. So again, I went to the library, brought all of my snacks out, and set out to take another 5-hour exam.
I was shaking throughout the whole exam and I kept thinking, I need to do well on this, I cannot mess this up. After each section, I would try to breathe and calm my nerves down but I was scared. 5 hours turned into 4 then 3, 2,1, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute…Time. I waited anxiously as the score report appeared on my screen:
I felt my breath stop. 50%? As in…I did worse than the last time? And then I looked at the probability of passing if I tested within the next week…24%. Good Lord, I am not taking this exam on the 18th.
I went in my car frustrated and tearful. This was not fair, it was just not fair. I worked so freaking hard and I did worse than before. How, how, how? When I came home, my family gave me worried looks. “How was it?”, they asked. It was bad, it was just bad. I was so over it, I was so over everything. When I left the room I heard my mom tell one of my siblings, “I am so worried for her and this exam, when she is stressed, I feel it too.” Aww man, I did not want to make them feel bad but I had reached my low point.
I texted all my mentors the sad news. “It’s ok”, they told me, “it will be ok”. Some of them called me and gave me encouraging words which I appreciated. “You could still take the exam on the 18th if you want to”, one of them told me. Although I wanted to take the exam and get rid of it so badly, I knew that it would be unlikely that I would. One of them gave me a call and told me straightforwardly, “You are not ready for this exam. You have less than 2 weeks to take it and you need to get 24 more points than your practice exam to pass. I suggest you move it back after Bootcamp and study then. I have had classmates do that before and they were able to do it.” After I hung up with her, I just cried. She’s right. I have to move my date.
I talked with my advisors and I told them of my plans. One of them told me to not move my date just yet which was pretty bad advice imo. The other advisor told me to wait after the CBSE that Friday to see how I would do. Ok…I guess. I was sure I would do bad. But she told me that I was probably so exhausted that caused me to do terribly on my previous exam. “How much did you sleep the night before?”, she asked. Hmmm, like 5 hours. Yea, that makes sense. She might be right. I spent the next couple of days reviewing the practice exam I recently took and going over the mistakes I made. They were really easy and dumb mistakes. Oh well, now I know.
Finally, it was the day of the CBSE retake. I was sure it was going to be just a couple med students who would be sitting for it but I was wrong. There were at least 30 people in the room when I walked in. Huh? I thought a lot of people had already sat for their exams? I guess not. It made me feel relieved because I was not alone. I had thought that because STEP became pass/fail it would mean that most of my classmates took it, did well, and moved on that I remained. But we were all in this together 🤷🏾♀️.
We all got seated and typed the password in for the exam. Finally, we were allowed to start. When I was taking the exam, I thought it was easier than all of the other exams I have taken. I know this! The first two sections were pretty straightforward and for once I felt like the material I studied was on there. Wow, I could probably pass this, I thought. We had a break after the first two sections and I was talking with my classmates. “This is not too bad”, I said. “What?” Some of them looked at me like I had two heads. “This is actually pretty hard.” Honestly, their perspective was valid because sometimes an exam feels hard and sometimes it doesn’t, it just depends on the person.
I went back to complete the last two sections and man did I misspeak earlier. These next sections were HARD. I felt myself getting confused on a lot of the questions and second-guessed on answers. Wow, this is too much! I shakily clicked on the last answer with a couple minutes to spare, reviewed my answers, and clicked submit. Finally, it was over.
After the exam, I went and got food with my classmates and then went home. I really hoped that I was able to pass the exam and then hopefully sit for the STEP soon. I noticed one of my classmates did not come to the CBSE and I texted her, asking if she already sat for STEP. “Nooo”, she told me, “my dad passed away which is why I could not come to sit for the exam in person.” Subhanallah, I thought, that is truly heartbreaking. I could not believe that my friend was going through this, especially during this unpredictable time period. I cried for her and prayed for her and her dad. It felt like everyone was leaving this earth at a time when it was difficult for us students to cope and grieve. I was still not over losing my friend therefore, I could not imagine how my friend felt about losing her parent. What was this world coming to?
What was this world coming to?
On Saturday afternoon, the school sent us an email:
Oh man, scores are out, scores are out. I do not care anymore, I am going to push my exam back anyways, I thought. But I still wanted to do well. Finally, the score report was downloaded and…
Oh my God! I got a 59%!!!!! I was so close to passing!!!! Omg, omg, omg! My hard work is paying off!!!!!!!
Even though I did not pass, I had a drastic improvement from my previous exam. My second advisor was right, resting up helped me feel more confident for the real exam. I was so happy to see my score jump!
After the happiness wore down, reality sank in. I still haven’t passed a single practice exam and it would be risky for me to take the real exam without seeing that. Therefore, I would not sit for the exam on March 18th. This meant that I would have to study for this exam while being in Bootcamp, where most of my classmates will have already taken the exam. This also meant that I would have to take this exam in April. And in April was Ramadan!
I emailed one of the deans about whether I should push my exam back and he recommended that I push it back to April 19th, which would be the latest deadline to get my scores back for sure before May. They did not want us to take the exam after that because every year the testing center closes for a couple of months and instead of getting scores in 2 weeks, you would have to wait 2 months to get your scores back😱😱😱. Nope, I need to complete this exam ASAP. All I needed was a couple of weeks of studying and I was sure I would pass. But unfortunately, I would have to study less because Bootcamp was starting the following Monday and for two weeks, I would not be efficient…ugh.
My friend who I started out this STEP journey with was prepared to take her exam the next week. Although I was happy for her, I felt pangs of sadness. She would be able to move on and enjoy life again. She would be able to move on with rotations and not have to worry about STEP. What was wrong with me? What couldn’t I be like her? I made so many prayers for her as she took her exam but later on, I felt a sob escape my throat. I cannot believe I have to keep studying for this exam. I cannot believe I am not done. I just cannot believe it. I went to my couch and just spent the rest of the day crying. I was tired of this process, I honestly and truly was.
Because I was in such a terrible mood, I spent the rest of the day reviewing videos and doing passive learning. I could not bring myself to doing questions, I could barely get out of the couch. I felt like such a failure. I don’t deserve to be in medical school, I thought. I just don’t.
I spent the next couple of days reviewing questions and material while I felt my heart getting heavier and heavier. Many of my classmates who sat for the retake CBSE had now taken their STEP exams. As I heard about another person who took the exam, I felt even more like a loser than before. I talked with my advisor and she told me to take the next couple of days off before Bootcamp. “You have so much you need to catch up on, just focus on that.” I also had to meet with the deans at my school about pushing my exam back. I was so scared because I thought they were going to judge me for needing more time but they were so kind to me. “You will be ok, we are not worried about you.”, they said. “You are improving so much.” Their words made me feel better but I told them I was scared. Scared of seeing my classmates without having taken step yet. Scared to study during Bootcamp. Scared of the future. I was not prepared.
One of the things that gave me the most anxiety was realizing that people could FAIL step one. One of my classmates who took the exam early told a couple of us about failing the exam. Ohmygosh, nooo. It made me scared to think that all of the hard work and effort that was put into this exam could be for nothing. It made my stomach turn thinking about it. What if I fail? What if I have to sit for this exam again after going through all this the first time? I would see youtube videos of people talking about failing STEP, with one student changing her whole career plans because of it. I cannot fail this exam, please God, I cannot.
Bootcamp was in about 2 days so I went to work preparing for it. There was so much paperwork to fill out and virtual coursework that needed to be completed for rotations, especially at the VA (the veteran’s hospital). The school sent us our rotations schedule but I knew that I would not be starting with neurology on April 1st because I had pushed my step one date. I also had to go and complete my BLS training in person at school on Sunday. So many things were going on and I was not ready for Bootcamp.
If you read the last blog, I mentioned that every 2nd year had an OSCE that we had to complete and we needed a 70% to move on. If you did not get a 70% then you would have to retake it during bootcamp. When I was studying for my BCR NBME retake in early February, I received an email from the school:
Oh nooo. I had to retake the OSCE. 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭. I was sooo crushed and I started feeling even more terrible when I saw my final score….69.3%.
WHAT????!!! So I was retaking this OSCE because I missed the passing mark by 0.7%?! I was honestly so over it. Therefore, I was not looking forward to Bootcamp at all.
On Sunday morning, I went to complete my BLS training with some of my classmates attending. It was nice but also a little nerve-wracking seeing them. If this is how I feel seeing a few of them, what will tomorrow feel like? I got myself some Taco Bell and went home, trying to sleep off the anxiety. Bootcamp meant I would be entering 3rd year and I did not know if I could handle another year of med school after what the first two years showed me.
Bootcamp Kick-off started at 8 am on March 21st. It was a full day and I was going to be done by 5 pm. 😩😩😩. I had to dress up because I was going to do a bad news standardized patient exam (SPE) at the end of the day and I was so scared about that. When I saw all of my classmates, my heart kind of sank. I cannot believe I was back, I forreal cannot believe it. I have not seen them all in a month and it was a weird feeling being back in person and talking with them.
The orientation session could have honestly been an email. It was 4 hours long with talks of occupational exposure, clerkships, castlebranch, and more. I was fighting the urge to fall asleep. Afterward, I met up with some of my friends and we ate lunch outside while enjoying the sunshine. Many of my classmates had already taken step and were talking about how their dedicated time period went, which rotations they were starting on and what they were going to do during their free time in Bootcamp. Hmm, cannot relate. I had to study with every free minute I got and just thinking about opening up First Aid during my break made me want to cry.
I went to the library and did some Uworld questions before I took my drug test. Ah yes, I forgot, the school requires that we take a drug test before we start rotations. I did not have anything to worry about but the thought of some random drug being positive during the test made me so scared. Fortunately, nothing turned up positive so I headed back to the school to do my SPE.
At the school, I put on my white coat and went into a small classroom full of my other classmates. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Donnelly, gave us a guide on how to deliver bad news to a patient and how to support them. Then we got the chance to do it on standardized patients. It was nerve-wracking walking into the room knowing that I could potentially ruin someone’s day and life because of news about their health. Even though the scenario was fake, it felt real, especially when the standardized patient started crying when I shared the news. I felt helpless and I just wanted to completely erase their “condition” so that they could lead the lives that they wanted to have. It was truly an eye-opening experience and it made me feel a little better about delivering terrifying news to my patients in the future.
After the SPE, I decided to go home. While I was in my car, I started choking up. I have to do all this while studying for Step. How is this even possible? Tomorrow I had to prepare to give an oral presentation and I had homework to do for it. So many things were happening and I felt like I was drowning.
The next day was for motivational interviewing, oral case presentations, and a “how to clerkship” workshop. This time I would be at school from 8 am until 7 pm. Ugggggggggggggggggh. When will I have time to study? I came to school again dressed up in my white coat again. By the way, for everyone who sees med students on social media with their white coats and thinks, wow that’s so cool, they must love to dress like that, trust me, we don’t. I would rather come into school with my comfy sweater and sneakers than dress up and try not to ruin my white coat. And for most of Bootcamp, we were seeing patients meaning I had to dress up. Bummer.
From 8-9 am, I sat in class as the professors went over how to do motivational interviewing. It was really informative and I knew that it was a skill I wanted to perfect with my future patients. Afterward, I had a short break. Instead of studying, I had to prepare for my oral presentation. I looked over my “patient’s” case and watched a YouTube video on how to do it well (if you want the link just lemme know). I practiced it a couple times, talking out loud and portraying some confidence while going over the case. I was not going to embarrass myself in front of my teacher and classmates, no way. Afterward, I had to go back to school and do a motivational interview on a standardized patient with two of my classmates. It was a great interaction and I learned a lot about the key factors in someone’s life that could pivot them to change a habit that is harmful to their health. When the physician in the room asked us which rotations we were starting at, both of my classmates said they were doing while I said “I don’t know.” After that session, one of my classmates came up to me. “I thought I saw your name on a rotation where I was going. I thought we were rotating together.” “Nope”, I said with shame. “I still have not taken STEP yet.”
It was disheartening having to tell everyone this and I felt behind but I knew I was not alone. I knew that one day I would be done with STEP and put that and Bootcamp in the past. I was really praying for it.
It was finally time for the Oral Case presentation and I was going first. Of course, I was. My professor called on me to start. All of the group members gathered around in a circle while I stood in the middle with my laptop. Ok, I thought, here goes nothing. It took every ounce of confidence from the pit of my soul to start presenting. I started acting like I was some top-shot resident from a medical TV show, a pure know-it-all. At one point, my professor took my laptop from me so I had to present from memory. It took everything in me not to give up and quit but I was not going to look like a fool. My classmates looked at me in shock; they all seem surprised by how well I was doing in maintaining the presentation 😂 . After I was done, I received a huge round of applause and the professor told me I did an amazing job. I was so elated. Maybe I do have a place in this field.
After my presentation, the day started to end more smoothly. I did not have anything to work on and got to watch everyone present after me. We all did great and our professor taught us an important lesson afterward. We then had oral presentations with a different professor and then the clerkship panel. Because I was not going to start clerkships anytime soon, I decided to go home in the middle of the panel. I was excited because Wednesday was going to be a chill day and I did not have to dress up. Woohoo.
I came in at 9 am the next day ready to relearn documentation skills, something really important to master during rotations. During the class, some of my classmates received their STEP scores. Oh, wow, I would have felt terrible the whole day. Most of the people I have talked to passed and I was truly so happy that they were able to move on. Step is honestly a terrible experience and I would not wish it on my worse enemy to go through studying for it again.
After the documentation skills course was the procedure skills course which would last for a couple hours. I was really excited about this class because I could utilize my experience as a phlebotomist to insert fake IVs and take fake blood. We were also learning how to suture and put in catheters. In the suturing portion, we were all given pigs feet and were told to follow the instructors. It was kind of like sewing but whew I had a lot of work to perfect it. As we were learning how to put in IVs, sirens started to go off. Oh no, what is happening? There was a tornado warning happening and we had to take cover.
Dayton is known to be hit by tornados. Just a couple years ago, many students were affected by one that destroyed buildings in the area. I was nervous about it destroying the school. How would I get home? What would my family say? All of the students and staff huddled in the room watching the breaking news, hoping that the storm would pass. I tried my best to study during the chaos but it was hard. I listened in on some conversations in the room to try to reduce my anxiety. After a while, the tornado warning was called off. We were allowed to leave the room! When I looked outside, the sun was shining, and it was crazy to think that a couple minutes ago the sky was dark and grey. Alhamdulillah.
After I finished the procedure skills, I said goodbye to my classmates and headed home. Thursday would have been a chill day for me but…I had the retake OSCE. Which one? The one I failed by 0.7%. Ugh, Bootcamp was not even halfway over and it was kicking my behind. I stayed up past midnight trying to review all the practice scenarios I could encounter the next day. I am just praying for the best at this point.
After all of Thursday’s classes, I headed upstairs to sign in for the OSCE. Ugh, I just really wanted to pass this. I was sooo freaking nervous. To my surprise, there was a good amount of people taking this retake. Huh, and I thought I was one of few. Before we started, I got the opportunity to talk to my friend who recently lost her father. Just hearing about what she went through made me emotional and made all of my complaints feel small. She just lost her dad and she’s still here. I have no excuses.
Finally, the staff placed each student in front of a door with the case written on it. “Good luck”, they said. A couple minutes later a voice on the intercom said “You may proceed”. I said a little prayer and knocked on the door hoping and praying that I would do well.
And…I felt terrible afterward. The cases were not bad at all but I had let my nerves get to me. When I was doing the post-encounter questions, I felt like I did not know anything. Oh no, I am sure I did not pass. My classmates and I decided to get food when it was all over and I kept telling them how I thought I failed. “Oumou, you need to have more confidence in yourself.” How could I have confidence when all this system does is deplete it?
Finally, it was Friday and it was pretty chill. There were no exams, presentations, or OSCEs I needed to do. But boy, was I exhausted. Even though four days had passed by, it felt as long as a month. And tomorrow was a big day too. We were going to have a student clinician ceremony to honor our entering third year of medical school. All of our friends and family could attend and it was special, especially because our white coat ceremony was virtual. But did I feel like I deserved a clinician ceremony? Not really. I struggled to make it to this point. I still haven’t taken Step yet. And I did not know if I passed the dumb OSCE retake I took the day before. Ugggh.
On Saturday morning, I waited anxiously for my parents to arrive home from their last-minute trip to New York. I was being dramatic, but for some reason, I thought that maybe they would not arrive in time for the ceremony. But thankfully, they came and we all drove together to the ceremony. When we arrived, I was in awe of all of my classmates in their white coats and maskless faces. Wow, I have never seen some of these people’s faces before. It truly felt unreal. I could not believe I was selected to be apart of this class full of incredible people. I just could not. We took our seats and they called us one by one to get our badges. When I heard my name, I felt myself getting emotional. I heard a roar of applause as I got up on the stage to sign the honor code. We made it, we forreal made it. I knew that all of the struggles I went through these past couple of years were worth it for me to see this day. It was such a privilege and I knew that any future obstacles I went through would give me even more to celebrate as it all comes to an end.
I was finally entering the last week of Bootcamp. This week was pretty chill and I could come to school around 1 pm instead of coming at 8 am. But of course, I was not free. During Bootcamp, there is an OSCE that counts toward your ranking as a third year. I did not even know if I passed the retake OSCE and now I had to focus on preparing for the Bootcamp one. However, as I was walking the library I received an email from the school with retake OSCE scores being released. Omg, did I fail? I checked my score and I got……70.5%!!!!!!!!!! Wooohooo I passed!!!!! Barely. One OSCE down one more to go!!!!!!!! 🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉
However, my happiness came crashing down when I received an additional email:
Bruh what???? 07:40 am in the morning? My original time was set for 2:55 pm which would have given me a lot more time to prepare. Hmmmph. I tried to debate with my school they told me that I needed to be flexible. It’s amazing how students are expected to make changes in certain situations while usually, the opposite is not true in schools. Oh well, at least I will get over it earlier.
I spent all Monday preparing for the OSCE with my partner and then going home early to get a good night’s rest. Ok, they can switch up on me but I still need to pass this thing no matter what. I set out my white coat and equipment so that I could easily leave the house and make it time for the OSCE.
By God’s grace, I made it on time for the Bootcamp OSCE. As we were about to begin, I said a prayer and asked for confidence. I forreal just wanted this to be over so I could move on with my life. Please, God, make this better than the retake OSCE.
And it was!! I came in with so much confidence, asking all the pertinent questions I needed for each case and knowing a lot of the answers to the post-encounter questions. There were about 8 stations making the OSCE last for almost three hours but when I finally finished at the last station, I could feel myself breathe again. Thank God this is over!!! I decided to get brunch with my friend afterward to celebrate. No more OSCEs until another couple of months. Yayyyyyyyy!
The next couple of days after that were pretty fun. My classmates and I got to go to the nursing school and participate in different activities with the staff there. We also had EKG classes, ultrasound practice, and different ethical scenarios that would discuss in our new groups. Bootcamp was coming to an end, but that meant my step date was getting closer and closer.
The last day of Bootcamp was April 1st and the first day of Ramadan was April 2nd. This meant I would not have time in between to catch my breath. We were going to take an exam going over everything we learned in Bootcamp. I ended up doing pretty well which was an exciting feeling. I am done, I am done!!!!! It was the hardest two weeks I have been through so far and I was just so happy that it was finally over.
After the exam, I got food with my friends to celebrate. Literally, all of my money goes to eating out because food is what keeps me going. I was so happy for my classmates because they had all passed STEP and were going to start rotations on April 4th. Man, that must feel so nice. I felt a twinge of sadness. They were going to move on into being true 3rd years while I would be behind studying for Step. Just the thought of going through UWorld with no food in my system made me emotional. But I tried to not focus on it, soaking in every minute before my freedom would be taken away from me.
When I got home, I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep but it would be the first night of Tawareeh, the nightly prayers for the month of Ramadan. I did not want to miss that at all. When it got to the mosque, it felt surreal to be surrounded by all of my friends and family in prayer. I have not seen these people since last year. It was as if we all hibernated and came out once a month to connect with each.
The next morning, I woke up around 5 am to start the first day of Ramadan. I ate my suhoor which is the early breakfast we eat to start off the fast, prayed, and then went to bed. I woke up a little later and decided that this time around, I would study at the library. Early on in dedicated, I spent time in my house and although it was nice to be in a comfortable environment surrounded by food, I had to switch it up. It was getting more distracting and I just wanted to be in the best study spot that I possibly could. Plus, I would be fasting while I was studying so I did not need to worry about food and the library extended their hours.
I decided that my goal would be to get through most, if not all of Uworld by the time my exam rolled around. So I spent the first day at the library getting through 80 Uworld questions and reviewing them. My eyes hurt reading over the explanations and finding the corresponding page in First Aid but I was being productive. Around 7 pm, I headed home and then broke my fast an hour later. Whew, the first day of Ramadan is down! I went with my family to the mosque for the nightly prayers, studied a little after, and went to bed. If I kept up this routine this won’t be bad at all.
For the next couple of days, I went to the library, studied, went home, prayed, and repeated. The ability to not eat while studying was not too bad. I was so focused on my Uworld questions and making sure I did well that it did not bother me. The third CBSE retake that the school offered was going to be on April 8th and I wanted to make sure that I would be doing well enough to take my exam on the 19th. I was scared about taking my STEP exam during Ramadan but I thought hey, it won’t be too bad. I will probably be too stressed and nervous to think about food anyways 🤷🏾♀️.
I decided to take a practice exam on Tuesday to see where I was. At this time I was 70% through Uworld and had completed watching all of Pathoma. I felt like I was doing more than what most of my classmates have done who had already passed. If I could pass this exam, then the exam on Friday, I would be set to sit for my STEP exam. I am ready, I thought, I am doing all that I can.
Again, I got my supplies to sit for the exam at the library. I was going to take NBME 28 and I hoped that it would be easier than the exam I took in the past. Btw, each NBME I took cost me $60, so I have already spent $180 just on practice exams. Combined with pushing my exam back twice I have already spent close to $400. Expenses upon expenses upon expenses. Anyways, I found a study room and clicked to start. Bismillah.
The exam was harder than I thought. There were so many one-liner questions that I did not know. Oh no, I don’t think I will pass this one. I felt my hands getting shaky as each section was completed. Oh, God, please let me pass. Finally, I submitted the last question and waited for my score report to load:
Oh no! I did worse than the exam I almost took a month ago!
I tried to not let my emotions show when I went home. I felt bad the last time I did because my family was affected by it. They did not even know that I took an exam because I did not want them to ask me about it. I tried to be positive about it. Oh well, all I needed was 4% more to pass. I decided to review the exam the following day and just prayed for the best. I just want this to be over. I just want to move on.
Finally, it was the day of the CBSE retake. I could not believe this was the third consecutive one I was taking in such a short amount of time. I hoped this would be the last time I was taking it. There were a good number of students taking it with me, not as many as before but still a good amount. There were some there that I did not even expect. Wow, who knew? We all got seated and as we were waiting to start the exam, people started to have conversations. “You know there are no more dates to take the exam if you want to move it back.”, someone told me. WHAT?! Why???? This was because all the medical schools in Ohio were starting dedicated too, meaning that the spots were filling up quickly. So this meant I truly had to pass this exam. Or else I would have to take STEP outside of Ohio.
The staff gave us our code and we started the exam. When the saw the first couple of questions, I just knew this exam would be an L. It was harder than the first two CBSEs I took from the school. Where the heck are they getting these questions from? I started to pray when I reached some questions because I did not know the answers at all. Oh God, please, I don’t want to push this exam back!
During the break, I talked with some of the other test-takers about the exam. This is hard, this is really hard. One of my classmates told me, “It doesn’t matter how long it takes me, as long as I pass that’s all that matters.” Of course, they were right but how long would it take? A couple more months? A year? I could not keep doing this forever.
I went back to the exam and tried to complete it. These last two sections felt harder than the first. I finally got to the last question and hit submit. I could not have passed this exam, I thought. I could not have.
I went into my car feeling numb and sad. As I started driving, the tears started to flow. When will I pass a practice exam? When? When will I get to take STEP? My tears turned into body-wracking sobs. I was sooo tired and exhausted and I just wanted to be done.
I went home and tried to distract myself by doing other things. I was not going to start studying again until I saw my score from that CBSE. There was just no way. I will focus on what I need to do after I know.
On Saturday afternoon while watching food videos (yes I develop this need to watch food videos while I am fasting lol), I received an email from the school. Scores are going to be released around 4:30 p.m. Uggggh. I felt my anxiety hit the roof and my stomach hurt from the pain. Each minute ticked by slowly until it finally reached 4:30. I saw my score report and hit download. It’s ok if it’s bad, I told myself. It’s ok. Then I saw it:
Ohmygosh! I passed! I passed! I passed!!!!!! Tears of relief started streaming down my cheeks. I could not believe it, I could not believe it!
I ran downstairs and told my mom. I passed!!!!!! Alhamdulillah! Now, I could sit for my exam on April 19th. I had 10 days until the true exam date and I knew I would pass it when I took it. I got this!!!!!
For the next couple of days, I decided to use pdf questions from NBMEs 25 and 26 as question banks. I could not do Uworld any longer, I mean the creators of the test were not Uworld, they were NBME. I just felt so elated and that my hard work was paying off. I was doing well on the NBME sections, getting 58-64%. I was ready to take STEP. I really thought so.
One day as I was studying I received an email from the school:
WHAT?! 😱 What did they mean I have to take another CBSE? I literally am taking my exam next Tuesday?! Why are they sending me this now????????
Because I barely passed the last CBSE the school wanted me to push my exam back and take another CBSE on April 21st. But…I had an 83% chance of passing my STEP exam if I took it within the next week. Was that probability of passing not enough for them??????
In anger I sent them my response:
My whole day was ruined. Everyone I talked to about what the school sent me felt bad for me but they did not understand. I was tired of the pity. I was tired of living this. The school was making my life a nightmare by consistently telling me to push my exam back. I thought I was never going to take this exam. I would be studying for this FOREVER.
The dean set up a meeting with me to discuss my concerns. “We just want you to be prepared”, he said. I understood that, but why did they wait last minute to tell me this? I got my score from the CBSE on Saturday and they waited until Tuesday when my confidence was through the roof, to shatter it. It was very irritating.
I prayed about it and decided to push my exam back to the 25th. The only problem was…there were no dates in Columbus or even Dayton to take it at. Ugggggh. I spent days studying with a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty about my next steps.
Every other Friday, the school requires every third year to meet for a 3-hour course that covers different topics. I tried to get out of the first class because I thought I would be taking STEP that following Tuesday but my school said no. So, I, unfortunately, had to come. When I entered the school and saw my classmates in their scrubs, I felt inadequate. Many of them were talking about the rotations they were on and doing cool things like scrubbing into surgery or helping deliver babies. They were beaming with pride, finally doing what they came to medical school for: to be with their patients. And here I was, not having taken step yet. It’s just not fair, I thought. I tried to be cheerful as they told me about the residents they worked with but it was hard. I know I am going to hate these classes. But one day, hopefully, I will be done and get to work alongside them.
After the class, I got food with my friend Temitayo and told her about how I felt. She was so kind and supportive, telling me that I could do it, which I truly appreciated. She also warned me about taking another school CBSE. “Those exams are hard and do not feel like the real thing”, she told me. But I told her that I would still take it. I always tend to do better on the school CBSEs than on the NBMEs I did on my own. So I was hoping I would do better on the next one. After we ate, I went home to try to enjoy the rest of the day study-free. Tomorrow I was going to take NBME 27, the last NBME that I could take, and I was really hoping I passed.
I knew what I needed to do like clockwork. This time I was able to have snacks because I was not fasting (iykyk) and I went to my favorite study table in the library. This is it. I know I can do this. I have passed before. I can pass this too.
And I clicked start. The questions were not easy, but I knew what I was doing. I have done over 1000 NBME practice questions so I should know this. After each section, I did a little prayer. Please God, let me pass. Please. I found out that the library was closing earlier than I expected. Oh no, I thought. I might have to finish this exam in my car. There was no way I would finish this at home because I wanted to see my score ASAP.
I went into my car and started finishing the last section of the NBME. Oh my gosh, please, I need to pass, please. I said a prayer before I clicked submit and waited for my results to load. Please God, please.
LETSSSS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! I passed, I passed, I passed!!!!! I have a 92% chance of passing the real thing! Thank you, God!!!!!!! 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾
I was sooo happy! The sun was shining, there was a smile was on my face and I felt like everything was going right. I can pass this, I can fr pass this!!!!
The next day I kept checking to see if there were dates available for me to test. Unfortunately, there were no spots. Finally, a place from Cincinnati for the 25th popped up. Omgggg?! Lemme get this spot real quick! I immediately started filling out my information. Suddenly, my card got declined. Oh no…I put the wrong expiration date in. I checked my bank statement and it showed that the testing center had already taken my money. What??!!!!!! They did not even change my test date and now they are taking my money? No way. In a split-second decision, I canceled my current test date altogether. I started freaking out because if another date popped up, I would not be able to get it unless I called the testing center. I sent frantic emails to my dean to which he said I would just have to talk with the testing center the next day when they were open. Oh no.
After I ate suhoor and prayed Fajr the next day, I could barely fall asleep. The testing center call hotline opened from 8-5 pm and I wanted to get this fixed. When 7:45 am hit, I leaped out of bed and went downstairs with my laptop in hand, ready to get my testing license reinstated. I called them and they said because I canceled it, I had to pay an additional $128 to make it active. What….ugh. These people are taking my money and buying a yacht from it! Ugggggggggh. 😩
I finally got it activated! I went to the library to finish reviewing NBME 27. Reviewing these exams took forever and they were giving me a headache. Every hour on the dot, I would check the testing website if a spot opened up. Suddenly at 4 pm, I saw a date open up in Columbus. This date is mine, this date has to be mine!!!! I immediately clicked to confirm it and made sure all of my information was correct. A couple seconds later I got the confirmation email. I secured a date!!!!!!!! I am taking STEP one next Monday!!!!!!!!!
I emailed the school to let them know. They told me they got the confirmation too and that the CBSE retake would be in 2 days instead of 3 days. Yay! I can take that dumb CBSE, do some more review and take Step on Monday!
Finally, it was the day of the CBSE. I can pass this, I have already passed two exams already, and this is just another hurdle to get through. When I went into the room, there were a good amount of people who were there. Some people had ignored the school’s email and decided not to show up. Probably a smart decision. I sat down and got ready to start. This is the last time I have to do another one of these dumb practice exams. At least, I hoped.
The CBSE was HARD. Even after doing so many practice questions and exams, I felt myself not knowing anything. Oh no, this was supposed to be easier. My mind hurt and my stomach grumbled because I did not eat enough food during suhoor. I was sooo exhausted. I struggled with so many questions and tbh many of the questions were pretty dumb. Man, I really hope I passed this. I got through all of the sections and clicked submit. This is it, this is forreal it.
On the way home, I teared up. Temitayo was right, I should not have come. I should have just used the NBME score that I took a couple days ago to prove that I could take the exam. The school requires that we send in weekly progress reports, I should have just used that. This is soooo dumb. I hate this!!!!
The school was taking a long time to get our scores back. I decided to do a little studying the next day and focus on my weak points. I am still taking this exam on Monday, I thought. I don’t care how I did. I am not using this score to prevent me from taking the exam.
On Friday, I went to the mosque to attend Jummah prayer and then went to my car to go to the library. It was a nice day and someone even complimented me. But my mood changed when I suddenly got an email from the school. “Scores will be out at 3 pm”. Oh no!!!!! My stomach churned and my anxiety went through the roof. I needed to pass this one so I could prove to the school that I was ready. I texted my friend who also took the exam and we were so nervous. “I have never passed a practice exam”, she told me. Wow, I thought, I am blessed to have passed two. Each minute passed slowly like molasses. I felt myself shaking as each second went by. It was finally 3 pm. I clicked on the score report to see my score and I saw:
A gasp escaped my mouth. 58%?! I did worse than the previous two CBSEs and three NBMEs I took! Oh my God. No! Please this cannot be real. Please.
I looked toward the library entrance and said nope. Not today. I am done. I immediately turned my car on and headed home.
This is not fair. I worked so hard. I thought I was improving. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy???????
I called my mentor and told her what happened. “Yea, Oumou it’s not worth it, you need to push your exam back. You do not want to fail.”
I clicked on the testing center website and just canceled my exam. I felt the tears streaming down my face. I worked so hard for this. I sacrificed so much. I missed out on events and meetups because of this. What more did I have to do? What more????????
I spent the rest of the day crying and moping. I just felt like a failure. Some people told me that I should have just sat for the exam, but I could not. My friend who I was texting told me that she passed her exam! I was happy for her that it was her first pass but I felt even more like a loser. I decided that I was taking the whole weekend off and not doing a lick of work. I need to enjoy the last days of Ramadan before it came to an end.
And so I did. I helped my mom cook food for family and friends and I observed my religious obligations. It felt so freeing to not have to think about the exam. I knew I would get back to studying on Monday so I wanted to use this time to be free and rejuvenated.
It was back to studying on Monday. I felt sad entering the library. I should have been taking my exam during this time. Not being back here in this sad place.
Dr. Bennett decided to set up a meeting with me to discuss me pushing my exam back once again. “How are you feeling?”, he asked me. I’m annoyed. I was ready to sit for this exam and now I cannot. He told me to not beat myself up about it and to just focus heavily on my weak points, which is what I planned to do. He asked me if I wanted to look into tutoring services. Um, no thanks. Tutoring costs at least $2,000 and the school would only pay for a portion of the costs. I am just going to have to do this on my own. He told me that I will have to set up a formal meeting with him and the other dean to officially move my exam past May. This was because scores would come out in July, meaning that I would have to sign an agreement to take my exam at a certain time to start rotations with a passing score in July. Uggggggggh. At least I would not have to take another CBSE, and even if they were having another one, I was not coming. But this was too much. I finished the call feeling uncertain about my next steps and just wanted this obstacle to be over.
I spent the next couple of days going over my weak points and trying to study efficiently. I decided that I would try to get through Sketchy Micro since it was a weakness for me and do the best that I could with Uworld. Uworld was hard and so far my percentage was around 40%. Which was not good at all. The questions were taking me out and I was getting tired of it.
I also reinstated my testing licenses again. Because I was testing outside of my normal testing period I had to pay $75 in addition to the $128 for canceling my exam. At this point, it felt like my money was being thrown into the air.
On top of that, Ramadan was ending. Not only were there the nightly prayers but there were also prayers around 2 am. I wanted to attend all the early morning prayers and I felt like I could not do that while studying for step. Fasting was also getting more difficult and I kept daydreaming about all of my favorite foods. I also had so many religious goals in mind for the month and I had not completed them yet. I did not know what to do.
Finally, on Wednesday, I broke. I cannot do this. I was tired. Broken. Defeated. Ramadan was leaving, in fact one of the most important nights of Ramadan was happening. I am going to do the best that I can with this month. I am not studying until after it’s over.
I did not look at a single thing after that. I physically could not. I tried my best to complete my religious goals and attended all of the prayers. I also told the school that I would not attend any more of the Friday classes until I took STEP one so that I did not feel terrible about myself. I felt at peace and that I regained some control of my life. I could not change all of these events around me but I could change what I did in response to them.
On Friday, I met with the school deans to discuss pushing my exam date back. They said that I had to take my exam by 05/28 to still be apart of my class and still have time to pay back when 4th year came around. They also said that I might have to pay back rotation time even after I graduated 😩😩😩. I tried to understand why I could not start rotations after I took my exam back. Why do I have to wait until July to start? My school said it’s because they require a passing score which differs from other medical schools that allows you to start rotations just after taking the exam. It just did not make sense to me and I was heartbroken thinking about it. My classmates started in April. I was going to be three months behind all of them by the time I start. I am so late.
I felt numb throughout the whole day. I did not know what to do. I did not have an exam date. I did not know when or how I would take STEP. I was lost.
Around 6 pm I received a text from a 3rd year at a different school. “Hey salaam how are you doing?”. I immediately texted her back telling her how lost I felt. “Do you want to call me?” Yes, please.
I called her the next day and just told her everything. I told her how I felt like a failure and how I did not know what to do and how I was dealing with Imposter Syndrome. I felt my emotions building up and I started crying. She told me that she felt the same way when she was taking Step but she told me that I was smart, amazing, and deserved to be in medical school. “This field was made for white men. The fact that you are here just shows how capable you are.” Man, she did not know how much I needed to hear that. I told her how I felt behind compared to my classmates because I would be starting rotations 3 months after them. “Girl, you do not know if they are enjoying it. I wish I could have a break right now. Just enjoy it as a vacation.”, she told me. Hmmm, she’s right, I could sure use a break from all this nonsense. She helped me decide when I should take my test in May and all the goals I should set for myself. “You have to have confidence when you are taking STEP and you can do it!”
After I hung up with her, I felt so light and free. I truly felt like God was giving me hope through her and to help me get out of my sadness. I decided to pray about the test date I wanted to choose. I cried out, Please God, help me. Please. 🤲🏾🤲🏾🤲🏾 May was right around the corner and I needed to make a plan. I was going to take this exam, no matter what.
It was finally May. Tomorrow was going to be Eid and then I had to go right back into Step studying. I spent the time cherishing the last day of Ramadan and doing the best I could to fulfill the religious goals I had for the month. I went to the last early morning prayer and I felt myself getting emotional. I truly could not believe it was all going to end. I was going to miss this month and I wish I could have done more during it but unfortunately, step studying was in the way. I just prayed that all I did during the month was accepted and that all of my struggles would diminish. When it was iftar time, my family gathered around to commemorate the end of fasting and we were cheerful that Eid was right around the corner.
The next day, we woke up around 6 am to get ready. The Eid prayer was packed, with the masjid being more full than even the last ten nights of Ramadan. It was so nice to be surrounded by all of my family and friends during prayer and I knew I was going to miss the mosque being like this. I went outside and took pictures with everyone, wishing them all an Eid Mubarak. My phone blew up with so many sweet messages to celebrate the holiday. It was a happy day but there was still a tiny thought in my head. After all this is over, I am going to have to start studying again. 😞
It was back to the library for me the following morning. I dreaded going back to my table and opening up my laptop and book to study again. I did 40 questions with mixed subjects on Uworld and got a 43%. Uggggggh, I am never going to improve 😭. As I was doing questions, one of my classmates gave me a call to give me advice on what she did to study. After we talked, I decided that I should try to make it my goal to completely finish Uworld since I was about 80% done and also take a Uworld exam since I have already taken all of the exams that NBME had to offer. Ok, let’s do this. After I finished reviewing the Uworld block hours later, I then did some more questions on subjects that I struggled with. I also decided that for each question I would write down what went wrong when answering it and see where I could fix some loose ends. I still did not have a test date, but I was going to be cautious this time around when selecting it. I wanted to be 100% confident with it because I was not going to push it anymore.
The next couple of days were challenging. Completing the questions was difficult and I was tired of reviewing them. But my Uworld percentages started increasing from 40% to 50% to 60%. I was learning and I felt like I knew everything like the back of my hand. I even knew which page to check for a certain topic in first aid without searching the index for it. One of my classmates, Ashley, came to Columbus one day and it was nice to study with her. She told me all of the resources she was using and how she was studying. She also encouraged me when I felt myself getting tired from doing all those questions. There are definitely benefits to studying with others, however, I find that I am maximally efficient on my own. That kinda sucks because step studying can be a very isolating experience.
Many of my peers who tested in April when I was supposed to test received their scores and passed! I was honestly so proud of them but I still felt a little sad. If I had ignored the school, I could have been done too, I thought. But I just tried to keep studying and reach my goals, even with those lingering thoughts.
When I went home one time, I saw that Cheslie Kryst’s mother did an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith. For those who do not know, Cheslie was the former Miss USA pageant winner who took her own life. Her story haunted me and I constantly tried to update myself on it throughout my step studying. During the interview, her mother talked about Cheslie’s life and their relationship. When her mother read the last text that Cheslie sent her, I broke down. No one could have never known that she was feeling the way she felt, and through learning about her story, I continuously remind myself to be kind to myself and not take life for granted, even when times can be challenging.
I decided that for this study attempt, I was going to add life events to my schedule. I was not going to miss out on anything like I did in the past because I did not want step to completely take over my life. My younger sister was graduating from college and I wanted to be there to support her. Her graduation took place on Sunday and it was a VERY hot day. My family and I gathered at the Ohio State stadium with thousands of people, waiting to see when our graduates would walk across the green field. It was crazy that a couple of months ago, I did the same thing, though it was unconventional due to the changes that COVID had brought. The ceremony was very loooong and the heat made me want to leave and fall asleep in my car. But it was an exciting day and I was so proud of my sister for her accomplishment. When I went home, I was able to finally complete all of Sketchy Microbiology which took like 15 hours in total to do. Alhamdulillah, everything was going perfectly.
Every hour or so, I would refresh the testing website to see whether a spot would come up. I saw a date on May 23rd in Columbus a couple days ago but I chickened out when I saw it. Should I choose it? But I did not think quickly enough and the spot was taken. Ugggh. Therefore, I told myself if I ever see a date from the 20th-28th, I would choose it right away. So as I was looking on the website, a date for the 21st showed up. Omg, omg, omg. I immediately clicked on the date and put in all of my correct information. I then received an email a couple seconds later. I am testing on the 21st!!! Let’s gooooooo!!!!! 🥳
This time around, I did not tell anyone when I was going to take my test. I made the mistake of doing that for the first four dates I was supposed to test on and it was detrimental. Why? Because people would text me the night before wishing me good luck for my exam. And it was soul-crushing to let know that I was actually not taking it. I kind of felt like a failure for constantly having to push it back. Yea, I am not going to go through that again.
I finally felt like I was on the right track. I had my test date secured, I was almost 90% done with Uworld, I completed every NBME and I finished Sketchy micro and Pathoma! Everything seemed to be going well. I was also going to take the Uworld practice exam in a couple days. I was hoping that a few days before I took Step, I could take a practice exam at the same testing location I would take my real test. The practice test is called the free120 and most people advised me to take it a couple of days before and to score above a 70% on it. Of course, that’s more money to put down but hey, this testing company has taken so much from me, what’s ~$70 more gonna do? 😭
However, one day, before I entered the library, I felt myself having a mini panic attack. Even though things were going well, I was still traumatized by all the times I had to push back my exam date and change my plans. This is too much. I cannot do this. I remember the rain was hitting my window and the intensity matched the tears flowing down my face. I felt like studying for this exam has reduced me from someone with some confidence to someone who was on edge. I tried calming myself down and reminding myself that everything happens for a reason. I actually can do this. I can.
It was finally the day of my Uworld practice exam. I just wanted to do well and pass it so that I could move on and pass the free120 and then Step. I decided that I was going to take UW1 over UW2. In the past, UW2 has been the best exam to predict how well one could do on Step but this year, I heard conflicting information. Some people did terribly on it but passed the real deal. So nope, I was not going to take it. There was no way I was going to take another practice exam that would ruin my confidence for the real one. So even though UW1 was better, I was still scared. I did not want to fail. I prayed and asked God to make me pass. If this exam is not going to go well, then please do not let me take it. 🤲🏾🤲🏾🤲🏾
I set up my computer and prepared myself mentally to take the exam. After some time, I finally clicked start. Bismillah.
The exam was really hard. I say that with every single one of these dumb exams but this one was even more difficult than the NBMEs I took. The questions were way longer and just hard. It was like Uworld questions as an exam. There were barely any gimme questions. I thought it would be easier since I was almost done with the Uworld question bank but nope. Man, I just want to pass. Time went by slowly but I finally reached the last question and hit submit. Done! I waited for my score report to load and saw:
I passed, I passed! Even though I barely passed, it was still a golden ticket to me! The Uworld exam was hard anyways and I was sure that by the following week I will be set to pass the real thing!!!! I did not eat properly before the exam so afterward, I went to Brassica to celebrate. One exam down, two more to go!!!!
The next day was my sister’s graduation party and I was excited and nervous to see some of my friends and family. I was scared that people were going to ask me when I would take step or if I have already taken it. But I prepared myself to dodge those questions in the best way possible. As I was getting ready, I refreshed the testing center website to see if I could find a date to sit for my practice exam. As I got to the page, a spot for 05/18 opened up! Yes, this is my date!!! I quickly put in my information and got the confirmation email minutes later. Alhamdulillah! I was going to take the free120 in a couple days and then my real test date would be next Saturday!
At the graduation party, I really enjoyed myself. I was surrounded by food, family, and friends, my favorite things in life in that order (jk 😅). Some people did ask me about step but instead of telling them an actual date, I told them I would test within the next week. “After I take it, I will text you”, I told them.
The next day, I took the time to review my Uworld exam and go through any uncertainties I had. I could not believe it. In just 7 days I would be taking the real exam. At least, I hoped so. There were still two things I wanted to finish: Uworld and the free120. By this point, I was 95% done. I did not have to finish it to fully know everything but it would be such an amazing feeling because never, ever, ever did I think something like this would be possible for me. Never.
After I finished reviewing my exam, I spent the next couple of days going over topics that were difficult for me (cough, cough, Anatomy) and trying to finish Uworld. I would also take a piece of paper and write down everything I wanted to have on my test sheet so that on exam day, I did not have to worry about forgetting about random equations. I was tired and exhausted and I just wanted this to all be over. But I was so close to being done. This was it and I was going to do everything I could so that I could take this exam. I was ready.
On Tuesday, I finally finished Uworld.
When I saw the 100%, I started tearing up. I could not believe I finished it. Sure my stats were pretty low (45%) but I still remembered the first five questions I did in September. Now, here I was, finishing a qbank with more than 3,000 questions. I was truly grateful to have gotten to this point and I knew that I had done so much to reach here. Alhamdulillah 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾.
P.S. Look at how many tests I created. 196. And what is the passing score for Step? 196 😎😎😎
The next day was free120 day aka the practice exam. I was so nervous. I wanted to do well on this because it would be the last exam I would take before Step One. I prayed the same prayer I did for my Uworld exam, asking God for me to not take this exam if I was gonna fail it. I went to bed around 11 pm but I tossed and turned. When it was finally time to get up, I felt like I had only gotten 3 hours of sleep. I got my scheduling permit, licenses, and snacks and headed toward the testing center. As I was driving, I was thinking about how blessed I was to not have to travel far to take this exam. That definitely reduces some anxiety.
When I got there, I parked my car and took a deep breath. Man, I cannot believe this is happening. I saw some other test takers park beside me and I started getting nervous. I said a little prayer, got out of my car, and headed inside the building. I then entered the second floor and met the staff and some of the other test-takers. The testing company, Prometric, offers many exams such as the MCAT, GRE, CFE, step etc so there were students there who were talking about other exams. I soon realized that I was the only one taking the practice step exam which calmed me down a little. Ok, at least it’s just me. I do not have to compare myself to anyone else.
I went to the staff and they asked for my name and which test I was taking. They then took my ID and scheduling permit and made me sign a term of agreement. Afterward, I put all of my stuff into a locker and headed to a second line. There, they scanned me like I was at the airport, took my fingerprints, and took my picture. They gave me laminated paper and dry erase markers for notes. They then told me that I had 15 minutes of break time and a 15-minute tutorial. If I skipped the tutorial, that meant more break time. They also said during the tutorial I could not take any notes but I could take some during the exam. What? But I was going to write my equations during that time! I guess I would have to do it when the first section started. They then led me to my seat. “You are good to go.”
I quickly ran through the tutorial and ended it in a couple minutes. I then entered a screen that asked me if I wanted to take a break or continue on to the next section. I just decided to enter the next section and hit begin. Bismillah. 😣
Looking back, I wish I took a break so I could have taken my notes then because I would not have been penalized for it. But I am glad I realized that for the free120 than for the real exam. As I was doing this section all I could think was, this is HARD. I thought this would be easier than the other exams I took. Boy, was I wrong. There were so many questions I did not know and I kept second-guessing myself. I marked so many questions and I just knew that this was not going to be scored well. Oh no, I really need to pass this.
After the section ended, I decided to take a restroom and snack break for about ten minutes. I logged off and signed out with the staff. Man, that section was sooo hard. If I don’t pass this, then I won’t take step on Saturday. And if I don’t take step on Saturday then I will continue studying for this forever. And the free120 is supposed to be easier than the real thing so if I am struggling with this then who knows how the real deal will be. But there was a bigger voice that started to crowd my thoughts. No, you got this!!! Be confident in yourself!!!
Ugggh, ok. I just have to be confident. I went back to the staff for them to check me in and make sure I did not have any unauthorized material on me and then went back to my seat. Be confident. Bismillah.
This section was waaaay better than the last section! I knew so many answers to the questions and I marked about 10 questions in this 40-question block. Ayyyyyyye, I am getting the hang of this! Even though the last section felt terrible, hopefully, this one can balance out my overall score!
I took another break and I was feeling good. The staff was super friendly, telling me that I got this and how I was going to do great. My granola bars tasted amazing lol. I kept thinking that it was a blessing in disguise that my exam got pushed back because fasting while testing is HARD. If I had taken my exam in Ramadan, I would have had to fast because it’s a duty upon me as a Muslim, therefore testing afterward was just better for me. But, I had one more section to go before it was time for me to leave. Ok, bismillah.
The last section was not as easy as the second but not as difficult as the first. It was a struggle and I felt my nerves heighten as I reached the final question. Oh man, I really pray that I did well. When I finally clicked submit, I felt my stomach churn. Please God, I just want to get above a 70%. Please. 🤲🏾
Because it was a practice exam, the testing center would have my score right away. However, for the real thing, I would have to wait weeks. I finally reached the staff member who had printed my score. The results were:
73%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my gosh, I got above a 70%!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALHAMDULILLAH x1000!!!!!!!!!! 🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉
I called my mom on the phone to tell her the good news. “I passed the free120!!!!” As I was telling her, I started crying. It felt like everything was aligned for me to take this exam. I was going to take Step! I was finally going to take Step!!!!!!!
When I looked at the score report, I truly got to see how confidence played a role in me doing well. In the first section, I felt terrible and that was the worst score. In the second section, I felt amazing and that was the best score. And the third section was right in between. Therefore, I knew I had to maintain a high level of confidence when the real thing came around.
After I left the test center, I ate, and then I went to go visit my mentor, Temitope, as she was leaving for residency in a couple of days. I was so happy for her but also a little sad. She really played a big role in me succeeding during my first two years of medical school and I could never repay her. Ever. She was literally the only other black Muslim hijabi at my school and now I was going to be the only one. We talked for as long as we could and gave each other well wishes. I did not tell her that I took the free120 or that my exam was in less than 3 days, however, she knew that I was testing soon and told me to have confidence. We hugged and I hoped that it would not be the last time we saw each other. 😞
The next day, I spent the whole day reviewing the free120. There was not a set explanation for each question, so I had to go online and search for one. After I was done, I was exhausted. I felt like I could not study any longer. I mean, this was it. My family gathered around me to make duaa (prayers) for me because my exam was so soon. I started getting emotional because I knew that my studying for step also took a toll on them. They wanted me to be done too. They wanted to have the real Oumou back.
Finally, it was Friday, the day before my exam. I was not going to study at all. I also decided that I would not read or respond to any text messages or calls until after I took my exam. Friday is also the holiest day of the week therefore I went to the mosque for khutbah (Islamic lecture) and Jummah (Friday prayer). I made so much duaa to pass. Afterward, I got myself pizza and boba to celebrate finally reaching the point to take step one. When I went home, I watched youtube videos and chilled. I saw some text notifications and someone even called me. Really? Y’all reaching out today out of all days? 😭 I was looking forward to catching up and responding after everything was done.
Even though I said I was not going to study, my anxiety would not let me. I went through all of the NBME images, the back of First Aid, and an Anatomy PowerPoint. I knew I was not going to absorb any of the information but I was so nervous. Around 11 pm, I closed everything and prepared my things to take the exam. This was it. The day I was finally waiting for. The day I thought I would reach months earlier. The day that made me go through these roller coasters of events and emotions. This was it. I hoped I was ready for tomorrow.
Ahhhhh, the big day was finally here. I woke up scared but surprisingly, excited to take the exam. I prayed and then prepared my outfit. It was a comfortable sweater, skirt, and sneakers I got my scheduling permit, my licenses, my glasses (I forgot those for the free120), and my snacks. Please God, if I am not going to do well on this exam, do not let me take it. 😭🤲🏾
It was Saturday therefore, there was not any traffic as I headed to the testing site. I just felt like I chose the best day to take it. I finally arrived at the testing center and parked my car. As I arrived, I saw 10-15 cars park beside me. Huh? I thought fewer people would be here because it was the weekend.
I felt my stomach churning and I took deep breaths to calm myself down. Well, this is it. I said a little prayer, grabbed my stuff, and headed toward the building.
The routine felt the same as the free120 which is why I was glad I had done it at the exam center a couple days earlier. I felt less nervous and was confident and calm. I glanced at some of the other test-takers scheduling permits and saw Step One at the top. Welp, it’s not just me now. There are others here for Step too.
I got signed in, put my stuff in the locker, got scanned, fingerprinted, and had my photo taken. They told me the same rules that they told me for the free120 except my break time was longer, 45 minutes. If I skipped the tutorial, that meant an hour for break. There were 7 sections for the exam, each an hour long. I decided that I would do the first two sections then take a break, the second two then take a break, and then take a break after each section following the fourth one because I would be tired. I was kind of scared because I have never truly taken an 8-hour exam since the MCAT, but I knew that I would somehow get through it.
They took me to my exam and said that I could begin. I immediately skipped the tutorial and started my break. I gave myself 5 minutes to write down any equations and graphs that I wanted before I started. The staff would walk behind each of us, making sure that we were not doing anything suspicious. That made me apprehensive but I tried to ignore it. Finally, I felt ready to begin. Here goes nothing. Bismillah.
The first two sections were honestly a blur to me. I know that I marked a good number of questions and that I second-guessed some. But there were questions that I knew right away. For all of the exams I have taken in the past, I still remember some of the questions (probably because I reviewed most of them), but for this exam, I wiped them out of my memory. I just remember being anxious but trying to calm myself down for some questions. I also remember praying because there were some I was unfamiliar with. The two hours went by pretty quickly and then I signed out to take my first break.
During my break, I went to the bathroom to talk to myself. You are almost there! 2 sections down, 5 more to go! You got this. You can do it!!!!!
I ate some of my snacks and went back to be scanned by the staff and then entered my seat. Ok, next two sections. Bismillah.
Again, the questions are all a blur to me. I knew these two sections felt harder and I was getting exhausted. A test taker next to me was making some weird noises and someone was also coughing (if you don’t put your mask back on 😒) which was pretty annoying but the noise-canceling headphones helped a ton. The testing room was pretty cold and I was glad that I had put on a sweater. Finally, I was done with those two sections and took my second break.
Again, the staff was super sweet. Some of them recognized me for taking the free120 a couple days ago so they were cheering me on and giving me fist bumps during my breaks. Honestly, I wish I could give them a hug. Taking step is not fun but having supportive and cheerful people around you makes the experience a gazillion times better.
After that, I went back to the exam, finished a section, would take a break, and repeated. I felt myself getting discouraged by some questions and my energy was depleting. I just wanted to be done. No, you have to keep going! I would tell myself. You can do this! You got this!
Finally, I reached the last section. Bismillah. It was tough, I am sure, but I gave it my all. I just did not want to go through this again. I wanted this to be the first and last time I took this exam. I used every fiber of my being to answer some of those questions. I remember some of the questions were almost a page long 😱. Time started to go by. 5 minutes turned into 4, then 3,2,1, 30 seconds, 15 seconds, 5 seconds, TIME!
Ohhhhhhhhh my gosh, I am done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I looked around and realized I was one of the last people there. But who cares, I was done!!!!!!!!!
The staff handed me a paper of completion and I gathered my stuff from my locker and headed out. When I finally reached outside, I put my hands up like I was Rocky. I was done, Alhamdulillah, I was done!!!!!!!!!!!!!
When I went home, I ate some good food and texted all of my friends that I was done! Everyone was so excited for me. Yay congratulations on being done!!!!!!!!!! Thank you 😭😭😭😭😭🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾 🙏🏾. My family asked me how it was. Hard. Like every other annoying exam I had to take. I started looking through First Aid to see if I got some answers right (I did! 🥳) but my dad told me to put my book away because I was done. Loool, smart man. It just felt surreal to be done. I was so happy and I looked forward to what the next days would be like. Freedom feels sooo good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And…the story does not end there. As I am typing this, I do not know how I did. From the day I took my exam to the day scores come out, there were weeks of waiting. Stay tuned to see how that went in the blog after this. For now, all I know is that I am soooo proud of myself for going through this. It was challenging and painful, to say the least, but I am hoping and praying that all of my efforts were not in vain. Thank you all so much for reading this long blog if you made it to the end. I hope it inspired you and motivates you to never give up on your goals. Remember that if someone like me, with all of the odds stacked against her, can do it, then I am sure that you can do it tooo!!!!!!!! We all got this!!!!!!!!!!
Damn. I know that medical exams are difficult as hell, given the process here. But I never gave it the thought about other countries, and how difficult they are in US.
Thanks for enlightening me, Oumou.
Tanish thank you so much for reading! Honestly medical school anywhere is tough but the USMLE is no joke at all 😩 I hope everything is going well for you though!
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