HOW I STUDIED FOR STEP 1
Guess who finally took Step yesterday?!
I’ve been getting a number of questions regarding how I studied for step 1 and generally what the exam was like. So here’s a mini guide from my experience with Step 1. I’m still working on a mini guide to test day. That’ll be up soon.
If you’re still doing basic sciences like anatomy, pathology, microbiology and the like, studying for your school exams is a great way to start off preparing for Step. Just making sure you actually learn all the main concepts will make your job a whole lot easier.
SET A DATE. I know people who’ve been planning to write Step 1 for over two years and still haven’t gotten to it. If you know that you want to take this exam, figure out how long you want to study for it and set a date! Don’t move your date. Just work towards it. Setting a date and actually registering for the exam definitely sharpened my focus.
Get the newest version of First Aid. Annotate during classes and while you study for step 1. This means take concise notes in your copy. This is also why a digital copy of FA is a meh idea. The reason for the annotations is so that three to four weeks into dedicated studying, the ONLY material you’re studying from is FA and Uworld.
What I did:
First off, I prepped for this exam while I was in Nigeria which is something I was so skeptical about because internet and Uworld issues but it really wasn’t bad. Doing two to three blocks only used up about 30MBs and you can do them on your phone or Tablet using the World app.
I had a ten week study period and I really recommend it. I think between 8-10 weeks is perfect for studying because if I had gone any longer, I may have been too burned out to take the exam. Bear in mind that I did an intensive study program that included studying for 8-12 hours 6 days a week. I’d planned to do 5 days, but eventually added 6 hours on Sundays and left Saturday completely free.
I scheduled one section of FA daily, and split Biochem, Micro and Musculoskeletal/Derm into two parts. I also used Sunday for weekly catch ups and scheduled two additional catch up days weekly. Catch up days are days when you complete work you absolutely could not get through as scheduled. Needless to say, if you always leave stuff for catch up days, YOU’LL NEVER CATCH UP. So discipline. Here’s my actual handwritten schedule for first pass.
My last two weeks were tough because I had to prepare to travel for the exams and then jet lag when I did travel made studying tough, but I mostly did flash cards and questions and reviewed study sheets (more on these later).
Kaplan Videos: Before my ten week study period, I watched all the Kaplan videos on Genetics and Immunology as these were my weakest areas and really the immunology lectures SAVED MY LIFE. BEST THING EVER. I also watched the biostatistics videos and I completely credit them for any of the biostat I know. I watched the pathology lectures for all the systems because sometimes I was too tired to read just words without someone talking me through.
I don’t recommend watching the entire thing for all the courses, unless you’ve forgotten everything. In that case just pay for the Kaplan classes and do the whole thing.
First Aid: I did two complete passes through FA, meaning I read the entire book twice. I did a third pass but that was mostly through areas I had issues with or things I kept forgetting. My copy is annotated like crazy from answers to Uworld questions, information in Kaplan lectures and some annotations from my 2015 copy of FA.
I would say on the first pass, be meticulous, especially with concepts you’re not familiar with. See other sources like textbooks especially the BRS and rapid review series. I particularly like BRS and the human anatomy atlas was priceless to me because my memory of anatomy was so poor. If you’ve learned something before, it’ll be easy to remember and solidify so don’t fret if your memory is terrible through the first pass.
Learn all of the charts, tables and diagrams. These will be on your exam. Don’t skip any page of FA. Read every single thing. All of it.
On my second pass, I’d forgotten a few things but they came back quickly as I revised the material. I found the second pass harder because I kept feeling like I’d seen the material before but the SECOND PASS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. It really made things stick. I recommend going through FA more than once. To help me get through I amped up the number of Uworld sets I did daily, doing closer to 120 questions daily.
The third pass was just things I kept missing on Uworld and biostatistics formulae and pathohistology photos. I also re-read annotated material mostly during this period.
Uworld Qbank: This is the only question bank I used. I paid for the three month subscription but if you can use it for longer, great. Many people I know get it six months ahead of time. When you do this, you get the option to reset your Qbank after the first pass and re-do all the questions again.
I’d planned to go through my question bank twice but I only managed to do it once and then through some of my incorrect answers twice or thrice (for some). I haven’t gotten my scores yet but I really feel like going through just incorrects is good enough, because you’re not memorizing the questions, your goal is figuring out why so and so is right and why B is wrong. It’s in understanding. Failing questions more than twice shows you that you probably have an issue with that concept and then you go back and work on it.
Definitely read every single word of the feedback from Uworld. So much information is in the explanations. Do your questions in Tutor mode. If you want to practice time management, do Timed Tutor. The question bank has a little over 24oo Qs. Doing an average of 50Qs daily the first month and about 80Qs daily on average the second month, I got through all the questions in a little under 8 weeks.
Uworld is the closest qbank to the actual exam. Really. During the exam, it felt like I was simply doing practice questions.
Golden Audio Lectures: You can download here. I used these during my second pass when I’d gotten lazy about studying. I love his lectures and they made great listening when I worked out, or went on a walk or cleaned the house or even washed my hair. Or just when my brain was too fried to read words. I listened to everything. I remembered a ton of what he said which is amazing for someone who is mostly a visual learner. So, not 100% necessary but might help you get a few points.
Study Sheets: I made study sheets for concepts I failed questions on after having studied them. I made study sheets for things I desperately needed to memorize. I made study sheets for things I knew I’d have forgotten after six weeks of studying and wasn’t sure I’d run into again. I made study sheets for all the biochem pathways and all the biostat formulae. Wrote them over and over again. I revised all these sheets the week before the exam.
FlashCards: Katharine made LIFE SAVING flashcards for step 1 that you can find here. I also made two sets of flash cards here. Flash cards are amazing especially when you don’t have to spend your own valuable step prep time making them. Katharine has a lovely Step 1 FAQ section with even more information and her blog was all the camaraderie I needed for step 1.
A FEW POINTERS
Step prep is draining in every way, so please take one day off weekly to do NO STUDYING. This will be incredibly hard but if you don’t you will burn out. Get out of the house. Get some vitamin D.
Do a Uworld simulation or NBME diagnostic one or two weeks into your prep. I did mine two weeks in and the result was a bit depressing but I knew where I stood at least and what my weakest areas were.
Be flexible. It’s okay to swap your micro day for your heme/onc.
Maintain a good sleep schedule. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Your brain needs it.
Ramp up your studying. Don’t go crazy your first week and then crash before you’ve even begun. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Make a study plan and stick to it. Stop listening to what/how other people are studying. Do what works for you. If a study method is not working, stop doing it and try something new.
The key is UNDERSTANDING CONCEPTS. When you understand, you only need to memorize things like oncogenes or names of drugs and those pesky CD markers. The exam is rarely going to test your memory; they’re going to test your understanding and application of concepts.
Work when you are most productive. I’m a morning person and most days by 10pm, nothing was really sticking anymore, so I would listen to Goljan late at night while I made dinner and ate or got ready for bed and leave the hefty studying and reading Uworld explanations for mornings and early afternoons.
Bad Uworld days shall abound, focus on learning from your missed questions.
Stay in touch with friends who encourage you, but recognize that everything else is going to have to take second place until this is done.
PERSEVERE. YOU CAN DO IT.
Shoot me an email from the ‘Contact Me’ tab on the menu bar or just ask in the comments if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help.