What I Learned While Studying for Step 1

What I Learned While Studying for Step 1 

by Guest Blogger Valerie of  https://tobeacountrydoc.blogspot.com

 Hey All! I hope that summer has found you and you are taking time to enjoy this lovely weather! It finally is getting above 60 where I live and I could not be more excited! If any of you follow my blog you may notice that I have been absent. Very absent. Perhaps you thought I had vanished. I did not, I promise. I’m back now.

For the past month and a half I have been closed up in my office completing the dreaded Step 1 prep. My school finished our academic year in early March and then took shelf exams for two weeks. We were required to take our Step 1 by May 9, 2016 in order to be ready for our third year which for some begins May 17*.

When Roxy asked that I discuss my plan for step I was admittedly nervous. In all honesty, I worry that I did not focus as much on getting a high score as I should have or as others around me. Please don’t get me wrong, I wanted to do well; however, my aim was never for above a 250 or anything like that. This was for several reasons. The first was that I am pretty sure that a score that high is simply beyond my reach. I struggled some in my first year of medical school, so I knew that I would have to play catch up in some ways in those areas. The second reason was because I have always wanted to become a family physician and the scores needed to attain that goal are not super high. If I were to not choose family med I would likely want to do psychiatry, which also does not require the highest of scores. I wanted a score that would not prohibit me from all residencies, but I also did not want to stress myself out more than necessary. Instead I tried to look at Step prep as an opportunity to refresh my knowledge before third year rotations.

With that disclaimer out of the way, we can move on to the actual mechanics of my preparation. As an overview I did a Kaplan live prep event, DIT and used First Aid and UWorld.  The Kaplan live event was through my school and lasted for 4 days the week after my last shelf exam. I really thought that it was an excellent tool to jump start my review. During the event I mastered several areas with which I think many medical students struggle, including acid base disturbances, respiratory disorders, renal pathology, CNS tumors, and cardiac murmurs . The event went from 8am to 5pm for each of the 4 days. My biggest complaint about the event was that by the time I got home (usually around 6pm) and ate dinner, I was often too tired to really focus on studying for the evening. In retrospect I wish that I had pushed myself harder to get through some first aid chapters during that week. After the 4 day event, I began to go through DIT videos. My goal was to do a certain number of DIT videos every day and then spend the afternoon reviewing concepts and doing UWorld questions. This did not work out for me. Even though I watched the videos as a faster speed, I found myself falling farther and farther behind the timing because the overall workbook took longer than just watching the videos. The quizzes and making sure I got the major points down in note form seemed to take forever. By the time I was done with the videos I would be super tired and need a break before attempting to review the material. This cycle meant that I ended up finishing far fewer UWorld blocks that I wanted to. Luckily I still finished DIT about a week and a half before the exam. At this point I took a practice exam and scored just below my goal score so I analyzed the topics in which I did the worst and reviewed them in First Aid. After that I did sets of UWorld in those topics. After I felt that I had mastered a topic I would move on to another. At the end of this period of time I took a second practice exam (both practice exams were through UWorld) and then analyzed what I did wrong there and reviewed those topics as well.

I think that it is important to note a couple of things about this prep plan. First, my initial plan involved only first aid and Uworld. I wanted to spend my time reading through first aid and then doing practice sets following those sections. When I discussed this plan with others, many people highly recommended DIT. At first I resisted because I know that I do not retain information from hearing it in video form very well. Eventually I did cave, because everyone I was talking to swore by it and ensured that I would retain the information very well. With the way I actually ended up studying, I did not complete all of Uworld.

So, now the important part: what would I do differently? Honestly, there are just so many things I would change. First and foremost I would listen to my gut and stick with just First Aid and Uworld. I do not retain information from lectures very well and I knew this. I remember almost everything that I read, especially if I read it multiple times and then do practice questions. Yet, I still allowed myself to be swayed into using the program. That was a silly and expensive mistake. Please don’t let this happen to you. You know your learning style best; stick with your gut and things will work out**. Second, I absolutely think finishing Uworld was a necessity. Not doing so was a MAJOR mistake. Third, I wish I had used First Aid as my study guide for DIT. This would have eliminated my desire to take such detailed notes.  Instead, I would have only done the questions in the DIT workbook and any additional figures. I think this would have been a really good method for me.

Overall I made it through the study time and took my exam. Do I think it went well? In all honestly, no. I do not. Do I think I passed? I certainly hope so. But what is done is done. I can’t change any of these things at this point. I simply have to learn from them and move on. I do hope that you all can learn a little something from my mistakes though. Please, trust your instincts in choosing a study path for you. You really do know yourself better than anyone else.

Sending love and well wishes for your summer time and all of your studying! By the time many of you are taking step 1 I will be beginning my third year rotations with Neurology. Wish me luck! For now though I’ll just keep relaxing here on vacation with a good book.

*My school breaks into more than one clinical campus for third year. Because I have to move about an hour away, my campus does not start until early June.

**This is not in any way, shape or form a bashing of DIT. It is a wonderful program. The videos were fun and engaging with many memory tools and useful tips. It simply wasn’t the best program for ME. That does not mean it can’t be wonderful for many other people.

I want to thank Valerie for being honest about her USMLE Board prep and study tips. The biggest thing I have learned is to study how YOU study and not listen to everyone else. Check out Valerie’s blog!  https://tobeacountrydoc.blogspot.com.


Valerie grew up in rural Upstate New York. From her time surrounded by rural poverty she developed a passion for helping the underserved community. She followed this passion while attending University at Buffalo by volunteering at an inner city hospice and at a South American Fair trade shop. After graduating in 2014 with a major in Biomedical Sciences and minors in Latin Language/Literature and Pharmacology/Toxicology, she began at an Upstate New York Medical School. In addition to her normal course work she participates in the Rural Medicine Scholars Program, which provides elective coursework to learn more about issues facing rural communities and provides the opportunity to spend nine months at a rural hospital during third year rotations. On her own, she speaks at area high schools to encourage rural students into the medical field. In her spare time, Valerie likes cooking, baking, reading and hiking.

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