to failing the NBME comp gracefully…again

Upon receiving some requests to write about my experience during comp attempt number 2, I decided to share my honest thoughts and feelings preparing for my exam, writing the comp for the second time and the aftermath.

I took my first comp January 19, as I previously shared here. I scored a 63%. To pass comp during that window I had to score a 68%. I was one week into my Becker prep course at the time that I wrote my exam.

After getting my score, I wasn’t too distraught because I knew I wasn’t ready to take step at the time. I didn’t expect to pass, but it would’ve been nice.

I was two weeks into Becker when getting my results. Through out the Becker course, my plan of action was to attend lecture and then try to spend a few hours after class doing UWorld questions and reviewing them. In reality, sitting through 8 hours of class and trying to do hours of work afterwards was quite difficult and wasn’t as productive as I had intended. There were aspects of the course I liked and some that didn’t mesh well with my study habits. I enjoyed the pathology and physiology sections of the course, however I don’t think I retained enough information to prove that it “worked” for me. I did not attend much of the pharmacology and microbiology sections of the course, because I have never learned those subjects well through a lecture setting. Instead, I prefer Sketchy Medical for these subjects.

Fast forward to the end of February. I completed the 8 week Becker program the last week of Febuary and then returned to studying independently for about 12 days before taking my second attempt at comp. I took a practice NBME to see where I was at, I didn’t see a huge improvement from my last comp exam. I set to work studying about 16 hours a day for the final 10 days. I watched all the Sketchy Micro and Pharm videos. I taught myself some concepts that just never stuck with me (yes I’m talking about you pharyngeal arches and brain lesions). I reviewed almost every section in first aid.

I honestly felt pretty good. I felt certainly more prepared than the first time. The day before comp, I got sick with a upper respiratory infection. I am definitely not using this as an excuse to my performance on exam day, because things like sickness and bad luck will always happen in our lives BUT we will still have to do our job as doctors. However, I didn’t feel my best going into exam day.

I felt confident that I studied all I could during my independent study time, but I was nervous. We had to drive three hours to the Prometrics center, because no other locations had room for both Denzel and I. We ate lunch at Whole Foods and headed to the exam center.

We were scheduled for a 1:00 pm exam like the first time, which was the only choice. I hate taking exams in the afternoon because I’m most awake and focused in the mornings. We looked at each other and said “do we know everything?” “HELL NO!”, just like our Becker coach advised us to do to calm our nerves. And then we walked into our exam.

My immediate thought going through my first block of questions was “Oh my gosh these questions are so damn hard”. You always tell yourself, “ok the next question will be better” or “next block will have the easy questions”, but after block two a lot of fear set in that I had definitely received the hardest exam ever.

Let me tell you why this test felt so much harder than my first attempt:

  • I had so many questions with every value listed that could possibly be listed which took time to read and digest
  • I had so many questions with statistics and math, which thank God stats are usually a strength for me, BUT these questions took a lot of time.
  • I literally had two minutes at the end of block one to answer 10 questions. I usually have 20 minutes to spare in exams or at the end of questions blocks.
  • I had barely any micro or pharm questions which are my favorite subjects.
  • The pathology and physiology questions were absolutely third order… fourth order… fifth order (is that even a thing?!?). Maybe not, but that is how they felt.

Half way through the exam, I had my little 15 minute break and I was so nauseas and nervous I couldn’t even snack. I did not feel confident anymore. I tried to shake it off and go back into the test pretending it was a new exam. The remainder of the test was the same as the first half. I answered every question to the best of my ability and when we were finished I just broke down crying.

Comp is a hard exam. Sure, some people pass with ease, but like I said I am an average student and I have no doubt in my mind some of you reading this have gone through an experience like this as well.

After all was said and done, we had to wait for our results. We took our tests at the beginning of the testing window so we had a while to wait. If you read my blog or follow my social media you know we moved to Miami after comp and then we went on a week long vacation to Europe while we waited for our results. Maybe some people think this was a terrible choice and we should’ve been studying, but in all honestly when you’re waiting for test results it is so hard to concentrate on studying. I was so happy we went on vacation at that time, it kept my mind off of what would happen next and it was a good break from the long days of staring at the computer and my first aid book.

When we got home, we got our scores. You ready for it?


A score that would’ve been considered passing just 8 weeks ago, but now is considered a fail. To pass I needed to earn a 70%.

Yeah, getting a failing score SUCKS. But at least it wasn’t the step exam right?

So now I am back to studying the entirety of the day for my next attempt on May 8th. The big difference this time is I get to study on my own for the entire time. This is a relief and it’s also scary. When I look back, I feel like Becker was a “crutch” of sorts for me. I left it to professors to teach me what I needed to know, when in reality I think I needed to sit down and learn it myself through MCQs and studying.

My plan studying this time is exactly that, UWorld and review. Plus the four practice NBME exams I haven’t done yet. Is this the absolute best study plan of all time? I don’t know! And if you have any advice please feel free to let me know, especially in the comments section below so others can benefit from your advice.

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have taken Becker right away. I would’ve independently studied as hard as I could’ve leading up to my first attempt at comp. I would’ve seen where my results were and then re-evaluated taking Becker or taking the 8 weeks preparing for the second attempt on my own.

If I had any advice to people who have to retake this exam again, no matter what attempt you’re on, do not be filled with so much doubt and despair. Comp is a test we’re given to assess our readiness to take USMLE Step 1. But it isn’t THE exam. Brush it off, and prepare again. It was another practice exam. Letting that score haunt your daily studies is a set up for distraction.

I am writing this blog post with my honest opinion at this specific time in my studies. I don’t know if my plan of study and my “don’t give up” approach will lead me to a pass on May 8th. But I sure as hell am going to do everything that I can to get to a pass. And no matter what attempt you’re on, don’t let it stop you from doing the same.

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  • Reply
    April 9, 2018 at 10:36 am

    You got this girl!!! Honestly I think there’s is so much hype about those courses and they take up too much time- some parts are good but other parts are a waste of your energy and brain power. But you have alllll the resources now so break up your time, use cramster or whatever it’s called it helped me a lot to keep me on track. Do a few more NBMEs (save some for step) and finish uworld then restart it. Memorize that damn book one page at a time. And whenever you feel frustrated just remember this- all you can do is give everything you got, if you feel down or sad or scared use that as power to memorize another flashcard or write something down ten times. And then remember, you don’t want a 70, you don’t want to just pass, you want a freaking 90. And for that it’s mental. Medical school really is 60% mental and you need to do everything so you can tell your fears to shut up on test day. Listen to goljan whenever you drive in a car. Quiz each other- at least an hour everyday- you have no idea the difference it makes and it sticks in your head differently. Sleep well every night. Don’t drink any alcohol. Exercise. All helps to keep crap in your head. And then when you walk into that exam- you fake it until you make it. My little ritual was to write down ten times things I wanted to have on paper (like biostats or yeah the goddamn pharyngeal arches- whatever weaknesses that would make you feel insecure if you forgot them) and then in the 15 min intro write it all down and before the test close your eyes and breathe deep- tell yourself you are ready, to stay calm, to go with your first answer, don’t double guess yourself, you know more than than you think, and then with powerful stuff- you are gonna get every question right, this is your exam and you’re time, bring it on. Then open your eyes and start that shit. Just one question at a time, answer everyone and mark it if it was just a guess. That way when you reach the end of the block at least every question has an answer and you can breathe saying I have 18 min left or 13 whatever. Review your marked ones. Don’t even look st the ones you didn’t mark. Don’t change it unless you realized you literally read the question wrong or did math wrong or got too nervous and just randomly picked an answer. Otherwise you will kick yourself because your like subconscious knows more than you think. Then go out and relax cause I know you will killl it!! Love you and if you ever need someone to talk to or advice I’m here!

  • Reply
    December 8, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Came across your post on an irrelevant google search, but I’m glad to have read your experience! My comp is in 4 days. I know many people who aren’t able to pass it on their first try or second, and that’s okay! It’s a hard exam, and there are so many factors that play into it – whether it’s personal life or the exam itself (like no micro or pharm, those are my favorite too!)

    I haven’t checked out your other posts yet to see if you made it or not, but I just wanted to write to thank you for your honesty and positivity. You seem very hardworking and the world needs more dedicated people like you!

    • Reply
      December 8, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      Hi there! Wow thanks for this comment. I hope you have a chance to read the other posts! I passed on my third time and took USMLE step 1 and passed with the score I was hoping for. I am now in rotations.

      Thanks for reading!
      – Yas

  • Reply
    December 26, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    Just reading this post after a whole weekend of crying and feeling stupid and having to take comp the 3rd time. thanks for the inspiration!.

    • Reply
      January 13, 2019 at 11:59 pm

      You can do this! Comp is just another road bump, I know how hard it is to pick yourself up and do it again, but your mindset is powerful! Believe that you can do it! Please email me if you ever need any help

  • Reply
    December 31, 2019 at 4:55 am

    Appreciate your honest tips. Thank you.

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