It’s over!! I am officially done with Step 1 and…I passed! I am so thrilled to have that huge hurdle behind me. So, today, I wanted to share a few tips I learned from scaling this monstrous mountain, in the hopes that it will help some of you who might be facing it at some point in the future.
I am sure you’ve heard this many times before, but one cannot really talk about Step 1 without mentioning it. This test is a beast! 7 blocks, over 300 questions, 8 hours. It is the culmination of all the hard work you’ve put into the first two years of med school and is what is standing between you and starting third year, being in the hospital, seeing real patients, and feeling like an actual doctor. Your score on Step 1 is also one of the most important factors residency programs look at in determining whether you’d be a good match for their program. I believe the key to doing well is learning how you are going to study best. For me, I took 5 weeks after the end of second year for intensive Step study time. The amount of time you dedicate to this depends on when you finish second year, start third year, and when you actually want to take the test. Generally, it is recommended to take 4-7 weeks for dedicated Step study time, but this greatly varies from person to person and school to school.
With all that’s riding on this one exam, there are so many resources out there to help students study for Step. So many in fact, that I quickly found myself overwhelmed when trying to decide how I was going to study. Finally, I just had to pick what I thought would work best for me and stick to it. Here are the resources I ended up using:
–First Aid for the USMLE Step 1: Of course with the number of posts I have written about these books, I had to use them. I read through all of First Aid 2015 about 1.5 times. For the second pass, I mostly focused on subjects that I knew I was weak in and tried to learn as much about these that I could.
–UWorld: With over 2000 questions, I probably spent most of my time doing UWorld questions. Obviously, you have to know the material, but another huge part of doing well on Step 1 is being able to dissect through the questions. With huge vignette question stems, lab values, and sometimes 10 or more answer choices, this is not an easy task. Doing several blocks of UWorld questions every day was key to learning how to pick out the important information in the questions and get used to managing my time.
–Mock Tests: I took a total of 4 mock tests during my 5 weeks of intensive study. I took the 2 UWorld Self Assessments and 2 NBMEs. These are extremely helpful in knowing where you stand score-wise and what you need to keep working on. To get the most out of these tests, try to simulate the actual test day as much as possible. Bring the same snacks you are planning on bringing on the real test day and time your breaks to what it will be like at the real thing. This way, the actual test day will go much smoother because you know more of what to expect. Anything that helps reduce stress or unexpected surprises is key to being able to put more of your attention and energy on the test itself. I found the UWorld Self Assessments and the NBMEs (at least the two I took) to be very different from each other. I would recommend using both to be able to get a better variety of what to expect on the real thing.
–Other Resources: In addition to what’s mentioned above, I used Sketchy Micro and Pathoma. I wanted to keep my resources simple to avoid being overwhelmed with so many ways to study. I picked these two because I knew micro and pathology were two areas I needed help with. I also loved being able to mix up my study routine with these two video resources instead of having to read another book. It helped things stay interesting and keep me on task. I highly recommend them both!! Click here to sign up for a free 15-day trial of SketchyMicro and their newest resource, SketchyPharm.
(See the previous post for my full Step 1 Study Schedule.)
-Probably the biggest tip I have is to be ok with changing the way you’re studying if you know whatever you’re doing truly isn’t working. The only thing I regret from this experience was basically wasting a whole week of study time because I didn’t want to admit that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. For the first week, I started out by just reading First Aid and doing UWorld questions. I thought I was doing well because I was getting through First Aid so quickly. I didn’t even realize that I was not retaining the information at all. I took my first NBME at the end of that first week and was brought back to reality with a score that was not what I expected at all. I realized right then that something needed to change. So, I decided to bring out my trusty white board. Throughout first and second year, I used my white board to study, but with so much information, I thought it would take too much time to study this way for Step. I had to accept, though, that this was the only way I was going to be able to retain what I was reading. So, I started reading a section in First Aid then going over to my white board and trying to write down everything I remembered about that section. It really helped me solidify the information and realize what I wasn’t actually understanding. I only wish I had started using this method from the beginning.
–Smart book: There is so much I can say about my smart book that I’m going to write another blog post about it. But basically, a smart book becomes your own personal First Aid. It’s just a notebook where you write down any piece of information that you need to remember. Mine included equations that I keep forgetting, mnemonics, and key points that I needed to know in order to answer a UWorld question correctly. Then, every night, I would read through my smart book. Repetition was key! Eventually, I found myself remembering points from my smart book and was able to get more and more questions correct. Be on the lookout for another post about how I set up my smart book, what I included in it, and pictures!
Overall, Step 1 was rough but not the impossible feat that I was expecting. The key was dedication, effective study time, and periods of stepping back and taking a few moments for myself. Surviving those 5 weeks would not have been possible without support from friends and family. Sometimes, a good rant session with friends from my class while walking around the outside track was necessary to let out all the built up frustration. Then, I was able to feel much better and get back to the study grind.
Have you taken Step 1? What did you use to study? Any reflections or tips for others? If you haven’t taken it yet, do you have any questions for me? There are several other things I wanted to mention but felt this post was already getting way too long. If there is anything else you’d like to know, feel free to ask! Leave it all in the comments below.
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