For anyone who is a medical student, knows a medical student, or wants to be a medical student knows about the boogeyman Step 1. I remember my orientation for medical school. They were already talking to us about Step 1 and how essential it was for our careers. That being said, entering second year of medical school you’re already freaking out about finishing and sitting down to prep for Step 1 and creating your study schedule.
I remember that all through second semester I would ponder endlessly about how the hell I was going to design my study schedule. I looked everywhere to find someone or someplace that I could pay to have a schedule made. Everything I could find was either super expensive or you had to buy their program and they would make it for you. I went to my school’s curriculum officer and she helped me figure my areas of weakness based on the CBSSE that our school administered. She also sort of gave me ideas of how to work it out. In the end, I ended up making it myself. I started out with an excel document and put the number of weeks I had. I also added a rough idea on which topics I wanted to cover per day/week and in the order of my weaknesses to strengths.
After that I began to label each sheet with a week and decided on my itinerary. I chose to start studying at 8:30 AM and go to sleep at 11:30 PM. Then decided what I needed to do each day and how I was going to divide my time between questions, videos, and reading. I also wanted to try and include some time to exercise and have breaks. Picmonic has some free study schedules which I used as a guide. They helped when determining how much time to dedicate to each topic. I also looked into other references I found doing google searches of people sharing their experiences.
When thinking of resources, I knew I needed to watch videos to fortify my base knowledge. I also wanted to complete 2 Question Banks. I chose Kaplan Q bank and UWorld and Pathoma for pathology videos. On the other hand, I was undecided on which videos I would use for everything else. Initially I tried SketchyPharm for the pharmacology. I quickly realized I needed something more broad and more lecture like. I had access to several courses but I decided to try out the DIT videos. I began with the Pharm Basics and I LOVED it. I loved it so much that I decided to continue viewing the DIT videos but in the order I had established for going through the topics.
In addition to study time, I had to figure out when to schedule practice tests. These are tests that simulate the actual exam and are created by the NBME. I decided to do them every other week during the first month. Then the month before my exam I’d do them every week. With life and things happening, I ended up taking them on Thursdays instead of Tuesday but it worked out in the end. As a side note, buy them one at a time, not like me that I bought 4 at the same time. I did not realize until after the fact that they have a time limit for each exam to be completed. This affected me in that I ended up not taking them in the order that I wanted.
Something that I learned the first week is that things do not always go according to plan. I took my first practice test on May 9th and I woke up sick that day. I had caught a very nasty cold or strep throat and I could not study for a couple of days. When I began feeling better and no longer had a fever I started going through my schedule. It was then that I realized I had miscalculated some of the time some chapters took and I started to modify my schedule.
It is very important that you be open to change and modification during this time. The schedule that you build is merely a guide or skeleton to the whole process. If I found that I needed to re-watch certain videos, the videos were to dense and I had to space them out, I did. In the beginning I tried to focus more on watching the videos and reading. As I began to finish more and more topics, and I was approaching the 1 month mark, I began doing more question blocks. Thus spending less time reading.
My personal experience reading the FA for USMLE Step 1 was that the 2-3rd time around is awful and boring. What I ended up doing was reading the 2016 First Aid and passing the annotations I had made to the 2015 version. The first time around I filled the FA with extra information from the DIT videos and Kaplan questions. I feel like I truly learned a lot of things that I had passed by during the first 2 years. In the end I am proud of my performance. I did not get the score I wanted. What I did get was a good enough score, knowledge, and self discipline. This dedicated study period is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Spending 11+ hours studying everyday for more than 2 months is exhausting, draining, and very emotionally challenging.
I am very lucky that my husband was helping me out. Also that I had friends going through the same process. With them I could vent and rant and just let all the stress and worry out when needed. If you can find a study partner, I highly suggest it. If not then at least have someone you can text and call whenever you feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Have a good support system of people that motivate you to keep going when you feel like giving up. This is a very stressful and scary time. It is honestly not the end of the world. I feel like it is overrated and schools put so much pressure on us which only exacerbates stress and anxiety.
Do you best and give it your all. In the end what is meant to happen will happen and never give up.
Have you or anyone you know taken Step 1? How did you or your friends study? I would love to hear your thoughts!