My step 1 story.
A little about me:I’d like to start off by saying that I’ve never been a person who naturally scores in the top percentages. I’ve always been above average usually and then worked really hard for pretty good scores. I can pick up new things fast, but forget things easily. I have a short attention span, and get distracted if I don’t have tangible goals. Reading books puts me to sleep. I don’t want to share my exact score yet because I still am applying, but it made me a competitive Ophthalmology applicant.
Primary resources: USMLE-RX, First Aid, Pathoma, UWorld, Kaplan, all NBMEs.
Secondary resources (things I used sparingly): sketchy micro, picmonic, goljian audio and path.
Timeframe: I started seriously studying during winter break, continuously ramped it up during the spring. By the first week of dedicated, I finished RX and UWorld once. During dedicated I finished Kaplan and took NBMEs.
Strategy: My general strategy is to improve as fast as possible, hitting my weakest areas first, feeling the pain of failure as early as possible, and finally filling in all the empty holes with careful review. People have succeeded on the exam doing every single possible variation. As long as a constant flown of new information is going into your brain, given enough time you will learn all of it. I personally did a question based approach, because I like tracking my progress, I like putting what I know on the table (right or wrong) and then fixing it. I also like how it’s easy to set tangible goals (100 qs a day). If I were to study again for this test I would have done it this way:
Start seriously during winter break. Finish RX as efficiently as possible (by spring break at least). Don’t take detailed notes because you don’t know anything and you’ll be writing everything on RX down (I made this mistake). If you want to write anything down, make your own charts for reference. Write down commonly confused things in your head, and what each of them are. I like doing a two column approach. One side “word” , the other side “definition”. This is the easiest for me to skim and refer back to. Take focused blocks at first, and when you’re comfortable, start taking mixed blocks.
Spend most of your time reviewing your mistakes using pathoma and first aid. Try not to spend longer than 2 hours reviewing RX (it may take longer at first). I would also recommend, skimming through first aid (spend no longer than a few days) so you won’t miss the freebies. This will help you start becoming familiar with these books (main goal). Once you finish RX, take an NBME to see where you stand.
Next comes Kaplan. Again, burn through Kaplan. At this point , you can start sprinkling in UWorld completely mixed blocks. When doing UWorld, expect to spend up to 4 hours reviewing these blocks. It’s ok to make note cards or take notes, but personally I found that I learned most of the material anyways without doing that. I would start annotating UWorld only into first aid. You can do this via print or on the PDF. Personally I liked using preview on the Mac, and annotated a digital copy. It was a lot faster look up things with the PDF. The only downside is that it’s harder to study your notes all at once on the computer. This is a personal decision. Try to finish Kaplan before dedicated, if you don’t, no big deal. Take an NBME write at the beginning of dedicated.
Dedicated plan: If you’ve been following so far, you should be within 10-20 points of your goal score, if not at it (wtf I haven’t even started UWorld??) Surprising huh? That’s
because you have the knowledge and your reasoning skills are decent. They now have to be refined. Do enough UWorld every day so you finish two weeks before your test day. Take an NBME every few days so you do them all before your test day. (IIRC the most recent NBMEs are the best, so save those for later). The reason I save UWorld for the end, is so all the high yield concepts from UWorld are fresh for you on test day. I made the mistake of doing it too early, and I actually missed questions on the real thing I previously got right a few months ago. Your score will slowly inch up these four weeks.
The last two weeks: final review. You are now going to see everything for the final time. Don’t obsess about going through all your incorrects (I did this and was a huge waste of time). This is when you review all the high yield things for the last time. This is also when you make a list of topics you really really hate and always forget. Then you PAINFULLY and SLOWLY , I repeat SLOWLY , go through them all until you master them 100%. I know the test is rapidly approaching and you feel the need to skim everything all the time, but freaking trust your self and your past performances. You will benefit much much much more by slowly going through your weakest areas rather then skimming stuff you know. I took this time to memorize spinal cord cross sections (which freaking appeared on my test).
My philosophy and mindset: By studying for step 1 I am learning all the science I need for the rest of my career. What I learn and memorize now will set the foundation for the rest of my career. Everything fact and reason I put in my brain should be handled with great care to make sure it’s remembered correctly and purely. I always make sure I understand something 100% before moving on.
Knowledge is knowledge. Whether I learn thing about Renal or GI or Endocrine, I am learning something. The order in which I learn something does not matter. What matters is that every new fact is placed carefully in lot my existing network of facts in my brain. If there is no network of facts, then I will start from the very very basics to create that. It’s a painful process, but it ensures good reasoning and intuition in the future.
Phases of studying: At first the knowledge will limit you, and you will miss most of your questions because “you’ve never seen that before.” This period of your studying is the most exciting. There are so many new things to learn and you are rapidly expanding your knowledge base. You feel very happy going to study because your performance is rapidly improving. The second phase of studying is when your reasoning starts to limit you. You’ve at least heard of all the obscure diseases and facts, but for some reason you keep arriving at the wrong answer. The explanations make perfect sense to you, and you vow never to miss a similar question but then.. you do again! Wtf brain?! – This is ok! Learn to start recognizing where you’re pulling your information from. Learn some logical fallacies you tend to make. This is when I realized the limit of my intelligence and reasoning capabilities. The final phase is maintenance: you have a question answering plan, you know 80-90% of the material, and you are only picking up a few new facts every day. STAY in the maintenance phase for as little time as possible! When you hit this phase, you are peaking and should take your test soon. The next two weeks memorizing all the infectious bacteria and the rest of the biochemical pathways will not significantly alter your score. Due to our brains bias to remember recent things more clearly, you will also be forgetting all the higher yield things you’ve learned in the beginning of your studying. Once you feel like you’re motivation and knowledge is peaking, move your test date up if you have to. Then give everything HIGH YIELD a one last cram (don’t memorize obscure information just to memorize it- waste of mental resources). Remember, most likely you are in the phase where more questions are missed due to reasoning mistakes. The only goal of the final review is just to keep the high yield stuff close to your fingertips and to save time.
Final things and other tips:
Take care of your health please. If you don’t feel like studying , you’re burned out for the day. Go and do something else and come back only if you feel better. I played basketball nearly ever day during dedicated. I also took days off to hang out with friends.
You can screenshot UWorld by using parallels if you have a Mac.
Find a few classmates you can trust so you can discuss things!
Summary: If you really vibed with what I wrote and you feel like you relate to me, then my advice pertains to you. If you’ve been studying a different way your entire life think my philosophies are weird, then please follow someone else’s advice. Hope this has been helpful! I known it’s a stressful time for a lot of you. I remember very clearly how much I worried every day about my score. Good luck and feel free to message me if things get tough. Onwards!!!