*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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
[table id=2 /]
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.