Staying Motivated During Board Exam Preparation Series – Part 3

Think PositiveHere is another chapter in our series on how to stay motivated when studying for Step 1.

Over the next few months, we will continue post articles to help with this. We will link to other posts on our site and to other sites for suggestions on how to stay motivated. A few weeks ago, we posted the first article in this series. To view Part 1 in this series on staying motivated for boards, go here:  To view Part 2 in this series, go to this link:

To keep motivated for several months for Step 1, continued medical school, or research projects, it often takes digging deep inside to find resources to keep the eagerness and excitement for the process alive. Key to this goal is that you find reasons for doing well on boards that are not tied to the external motivator of matching into a great residency or getting into a competitive specialty.Most of us will say that our motivation for studying hard for Step 1 is to get a good residency or to match into a competitive specialty. Even if students don’t know what they want to specialize in, they still want to do as well on boards as possible to keep their options open and if they decide to go into dermatology or orthopedics or ENT, they have the option because they performed well on Step 1 and 2. These are real motivators that work well and are sufficient for success for many students. However, these external motivators can fall short and fail to take a student through the rough long months of board preparation that internal motivators can provide.These suggestions come loosely from self-determination theory and research. According to this philosophy, when you seek no payoff and only the inherent interest of the activity itself (for learning, fun, and personal growth) you will be more productive and create your best work. Feeling that your activities are self-chosen and doing work for self-gratification will result in a feeling of freedom and an enormous internal reward in the form of the lasting gratification. When you are under the pressure of studying for Step 1, then you may not feel that you have the time to ponder these issues, so we will help you out by getting you started. In the end, your internal motivators can help you get past some of the humps you will face along the way.Below are some internal motivators. For example: “I can stay motivated if I study the material covered for"a feeling of accomplishment” – Think about how much control and self-discipline you have mastered if you start or complete a task. Congratulate yourself on that. “If I can break out my biochemistry notes, I will feel so good about myself.” “If I can find a way to understand pulmonary formulas, I will feel so much more competent and relaxed.”"for the greater good” –  Studying for boards of course will help you become a competent, well-rounded physician. How much effort you put in now is related to how much you care about your community and your patients. “Learning the intricacies of SSRIs pharmacology will help me understand how depression and pain are so closely related.” “If I can better understand the biochemistry of insulin and blood sugar breakdown, I can help find ways to better control diabetes.”

"the love of learning”- “I am going to enjoy sitting down and learning and expanding my knowledge today.” When someone can go into studying like they enjoy any challenge in their life, like surfing or chess, then the pure enjoyment of the experience will yield the greatest learning.

"personal improvement or gain” – The internal motivation is that you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way. “I will learn so much for my clerkships.” “I am building great neural connections in my brain so I can think at a higher level.” “By the time I finish this question bank, I will be an excellent test taker.”

"each small step brings me closer to my bigger goal” –Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good. “When I finish reviewing anatomy, my QBank scores are going to go up since there is so much anatomy blended into these questions.”

A combination of external and internal motivators may be helpful to keeping us excited and going strong for long periods.

Continue to check back for additional suggestions for staying motivated during board preparations and check out our tweets for more inspiration.

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