Are Medical Tutoring Services all They’re Cracked Up to Be?

MedEd University | Are Medical Tutoring Services all They're Cracked Up to Be?

*Update February 2020: you can now schedule a FREE consult or a study skills/mnemonics training/test-taking skills session with Chase DiMarco!

This is a difficult topic to write on. Generally, I like to have a bit more experience on a topic if at all possible before writing on it. I used many board review Q-banks for extended periods of time before writing the Medical Board Review post, and used several devices in order to write the Best e-Reader for Medical School review. Even then, these are largely opinion based, so take is as you will. This was, however, not possible with this topic. This article will try to uncover the question: Are Medical Tutoring Services all They’re Cracked up to be?

Success Rates?

Are Medical Tutoring Services All They’re Cracked Up To Be?
What every ambitious, young medical student dreams about during their basic science years is overwhelmingly annihilating the USMLE Step 1 exam. We study for two years, put in countless hours, do thousands (or tens of thousands) of board practice questions, and sacrifice much. All this, in the hopes of getting a good board exam score and, hopefully, opening our doors to more choice residency positions. So it seems a fair question to ask if Medical Tutoring Services are actually beneficial.

The problem here is obvious. How do we accurately measure the success rates? How do we actually compare the increase in individuals scores, separate out the outliers, and what to compare against? There are endless debates about the relevance of UWorld vs Kaplan vs NBME in comparison to what students actually score on the Step exams.

For the point of this article, it is best to take the claims made by each company at face value, and let the reader decide for themselves. Below is a comparison chart of differentiating points between some of the more popular (at least to Google SEO rankings) Medical Tutoring Services.

Who’s Tutoring?

Are Medical Tutoring Services All They’re Cracked Up To Be?
This is a particularly interesting questions. To which I must respond, does it matter?

Okay, so obviously we want someone that can improve our scores. But how can we judge who that someone is? Are they better tutors if they themselves scored well? This is a common selling point for many services.

What about if they understand the design of standardized exams best? What if they have never taken a USMLE exam, but have 10+ years of actual medical training and experience? Do you want them to have teaching or tutoring experience?

Point is, there is probably no agreed upon definition of “what makes a great tutor”, especially for arguably the most difficult set of exams in history. I would strongly recommend services that allow you to “interview” a potential tutor first.

Medical School 2.0 makes the point that when looking for advice/tutoring/mentorship, make sure that you both have the same goals in mind. If you approach a problem in a similar manner, there is better chance for understanding and progress.

Whats This Going to Set me Back?

Are Medical Tutoring Services All They’re Cracked Up To Be?This is THE question, in my opinion, and where my personal bias sets in a bit. But knowing that going in, you can take this with a grain of salt if you wish. Cost…is…everything!
With many services charging $2-300/hour, you better make sure you are getting your money’s worth. And many of these services do not offer a trial period or anyway to test out what you are purchasing beforehand. To me, that seems a little on the shady side.

Admittedly, some students are not going to be phased by the cost, and this will not be a concern. So, as a tutor, why not charge more than that of a higher end physician’s hourly wage?

If that doesn’t settle with you, as it doesn’t with me, please continue reading.

Some tutors are not MDs and some are not even instructors. And even if they were both and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, I would still question the ethical choice to charge highly financially burdened medical students such exorbitant amounts.
I suppose there may be a shortage of supply for the demand, allowing such rates. I still find it unsustainable, and seems to be just another way that the medical students without endless funding opportunities are again disadvantaged.

Let’s take a look at some comparisons.

Comparison Chart

Here are selected excerpts from the respective websites associated with each Medical Tutoring Service. For full details, please visit their website and FAQ pages. I tried not to skip any important pages, but it’s always possible. No information was intentionally left out.

Medical Tutoring ServiceCostTaught byClaimsProof
USMLE Pro$199-235/hr (depending on package).A “Pro”, online & In-person in select cities. Assist with school and board exams.Pros: “Our pros have thousands of hours of teaching experience and the highest average USMLE scores, and have attended the most competitive medical schools and residency programs in the country.”
Students: “Average USMLE Step 1 score increase +37 points.”
Pros: “Average Step 1 Score 262​. Average Step 2 CK Score 270”

Students: supporting information not found
YouSMLEPreviously $375/hr w/group discounts. “Updated pricing” only available through direct email.Alec: Creator of YouSMLE flashcards and other materials“37.3 increase in USMLE Step 1 Score”“Average increase in score for first-time students after I began working with them; baseline from 1st NBME taken when student began working with me”; “Results not typical. Students doing at least 20 hours of tutoring typically improve scores by roughly 37 points on average”
MedSchoolCoach$180-225/hr. Free 15 Minute Consult. Access to OnlneMedEd with larger packages“At MedSchoolCoach, we believe in physicians mentoring future physicians. Our company is exclusively run by physicians.”; “All of our tutors scored in the top percentiles on their Step 1 exam, have extensive teaching and tutoring experience, and undergo a rigorous selection process.”; ”Our Master Tutors have worked with MedSchoolCoach for an extended period of time and their students have had an impeccable record of success.”“One-on-one tutoring with score increases of greater than 40 points.”; “Since every student is different and begins tutoring at different starting points, predicting score increases are challenging. However, all of our students see significant improvement after tutoring and our feedback, evaluations, and Trustpilot rating all support this.”“Yes, we have a score increase guarantee!”
MedSchoolTutor$233-299/hr, 2-Tiered pricing by tutor experience level.
Free 20 Minute Consult. Free access to Memorang Step 1 deck.
“Your MST instructor is an expert, a mentor and a guide. All of our tutors have achieved scores in the top percentiles for the exams they teach. They also undergo rigorous training to ensure they meet MST’s quality standards.”; “Though all of our tutors successfully complete the same rigorous training process, we do distinguish based on experience and tenure. Our T2 tutors have completed hundreds — and, in some cases, thousands — of hours of tutoring and have worked with students in a wide variety of circumstances. When available, we also have a T3 option to work with one of our Chief Medical Tutors.”“108k Hours Tutoring”
“3405 Students Helped”
“2017 Avg. USMLE Score Increase: 33”
“1.5 Points per Hour Increase”
“27 Hours Average”
“...we are truly the leaders in this field. Our prices directly reflect the quality of our service, the track record of our success, and the expertise of our tutors.
“Score and score increase data are based on performance of Med School Tutors students who have completed their preparation with Med School Tutors since 2011. As always, results vary by individual.”
“The first session a student has with a tutor is what we call a trial session, which is traditionally 2 hours for the price of 1 hour (50% discounted).”
OnlineMedEd$180-220/hr. 1 Free Month OME Premium.“Learn how to ace your USMLE from coaches who have scored over 250.”
SelectMedTutorsPrice not mentioned. “Contact us for a free trial”“Score improvements generally range from 35-55 points.”“It is important to keep in mind that individual improvements is dependent on the student and we do not offer a guaranteed score improvement.”
MedLernityPrice not listed. “Our pricing differs based on exam type, package size, and tutor expertise level.”“Tutors at Medlearnity are highly experienced and have helped several students excel on the USMLE exams, match into top residency programs, and achieve some amazing career goals. Our tutors have scored in the top percentiles of the USMLE test, and beyond that are phenomenal communicators and educators.”
WyzantAverage $35-65/hr.Self-claims made on each tutor profile.“The best way to learn USMLE is 1-to-1 with an expert. Wyzant is the nation’s largest community of private tutors, helping more students, in more places than anyone else. Plus, if you're not happy with any new tutor, we'll gladly refund your first hour.”
STATMed (The STAT Program)Workshop: $1800
Class: $2600-3000
Ryan Orwig: M.S. in Teaching, Coordinator of the Medical H.E.L.P. (Higher Education for Learning Problems) Program at Marshall University (2005-2012), faculty of the National Emergency Medical Board Review program, adjunct professor at The School of Pharmacy at Notre Dame of Maryland University.

David LaSalle: M.S. in Education, certifications in the Orton-Gillingham methodology, the Wilson Reading system and Lindamood-Bell program.
“The STATMed Class teaches smart students how to succeed in medical school or related fields: how to improve study sessions, how to maximize time, and how to accurately answer boards-style test questions. We teach various complex skills that you combine into a study system that fits your unique learning needs.”
“Most STATMed clients are either 1) highly motivated medical students who have struggled in the classroom or on their boards, or 2) they are successful doctors who have failed their boards.”
*STATMed has been added under “tutoring” as this is not a “board review” service, but instructions on how to dissect and examing questions. They hold that many of their students don’t get the question wrong due to lack of information, but misinterpreting what is being asked.

What Does it All MEAN?!?!

As you can see, there are a wide range of prices, features, claims, and supporting evidence. It is difficult to backup any claims made by each organization, but those that have been around a while may have a record of statististics to back it up. Are testimonials the outliers, or are they the average? In the end, you will have to make up your own mind.

Of course, you can always review student forums, consumer report websites, and other watchdogs and review materials prior to purchasing. These are, of course, often not highly regulated complaints. However, they may give you some good questions if a consult is involved, or to get an assurance in writing prior to forking out thousands of dollars.

For some, money is not an option. For others, most of the price list stated above are quite a hindrance: especially when the added features only come with the larger packages. This is why I think Wyzant stands out from the crown, and I’m surprised there are not more services like this for students. Obviously, the quality will be more hit-and-miss, but at 1/10th the price you can try out a few until you find someone you can connect with. They also likely have much wider availabilities, which is nice for a busy medical student.

For those with learning disabilities, or other test-taking limitations, STATMed is a unique option as well. Since they focus less on “filling in the knowledge gaps” and more on testing technique, they offer a unique service within this class of services. In full disclosure, I used this service. It’s not for everyone, but it gave me a better grasp of understanding testing format, technique to difficult questions (“I can always get it down to two choices!”), and timed self-assessment.

If you have a good enough grasp of the material that a Review Course would be wasteful, and still want another leg up on the boards, these Medical Tutoring Services may be right for you.

As of the time of this publishing, I report no conflicts of interest and have received no payment or compensation from any companies listed above for this review.