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Free at Last!

Well, it’s finally over – I just took Step 1 this morning and am thrilled to be done! After sequestering myself in self-imposed isolation for the past month, I can now fully rejoin the land of the living. And I’m going to start by playing Whirlyball tonight as part of the MSTP Second Look Weekend.

I’ve learned a lot during my study period, not least of which was First Aid’s content. For those with Step 1 still looming on the horizon, here’s some of the non-academic tips I’ve learned since my last post:

  • Don’t be afraid to start “studying” for Step 1 during the school year by reviewing Step 1 materials for each sequence. Before each exam, I reviewed the relevant sections in Step 1 review materials (First Aid, Pathoma, Step 1 Secrets, Robbins), which helped it solidify in my mind and also made me more familiar with the resource’s layout. Pathoma, in particular, was really helpful in summarizing the pathology for each sequence.
  • Don’t use a billion resources during the dedicated period. Throughout my M2 year, I used a lot of Step 1 materials. When making my schedule, I planned to continue to use the majority of them but soon realized that there was not enough time in the day. Decide which resources are essential and focus on them; otherwise, you spend a little bit of time on each resource and a lot of time running around like a chicken with its head cut off (believe me, I did).
  • When making your Step 1 schedule, keep your usual study methods in mind, even if they aren’t represented in the myriad study schedules that have been posted online. I started out with a fairly standard study schedule, scrapped it after 2 days because I wasn’t covering the material like I needed to, wasted a week handwriting 1000+ flashcards (that I never reviewed after that week) because I panicked, and then finally just read through First Aid over and over. While my final method may not work for everyone, it is essentially the same thing I did during each sequence – read through the coursepack every day until it was time to take the test. I wasted that week trying to study in a completely new way, instead of just trusting myself. I need to see material multiple times before it sinks in; consequently I read First Aid in its entirety approximately 5 times.
  • The dedicated period is an emotional roller coaster. There will be panic attacks, and you will probably cry at least once (or twice). This period is incredibly difficult for everyone; don’t be tentative in reaching out for help when you need it. In addition to commiserating with other medical students (I would suggest friends who are in the classes above you as they will be less panicked and more full of helpful wisdom), don’t forget your friends and family. Sometimes a hug is what you need most.
  • Breathe. By the end of the dedicated study period, you have worked so hard. Just trust yourself and have faith. Everything will work out.

I’m so relieved that it’s over. Good luck to those who are still studying – you will do great!

Good Night and Good Luck!

After the Galens Smoker ended last week (I may still be suffering from a wee bit of withdrawal), my thoughts turned to the next big event on the horizon – the USMLE Step 1 exam. It has been hovering on the edge of my and my classmates’ consciousness the whole year, looming closer and closer as the number of remaining sequences dwindled.

And now, it’s just about here. The exam for our final sequence of M2 year, Endocrine, opens this Wednesday, and then our dedicated boards-study period has arrived. People are walking around with First Aid in their backpacks and posting Facebook messages alerting their friends to their account’s imminent deactivation. And meanwhile, we are all slightly (or, more than slightly) freaking out about the amount of material that will be crammed (and hopefully retained) in our brains during the next six weeks.

I have been prepping a little bit during the school year: reading the First Aid section corresponding to our current sequence and doing a few QBank (short for question bank, such as the gold-standard USMLE World) questions. But I’m happy to report that I’m no longer feeling panicked about the upcoming exam. I think a lot of it has to do with perspective.

Step 1 is a seven-hour exam (with one hour of potential break time), composed of seven one-hour blocks of 46 questions. When you call it a seven-hour exam, it seems much more monstrous than if you merely consider it as seven quizzes completed back-to-back. Seven quizzes doesn’t sound quite as bad, does it?

At any rate, we have our study schedule and have culled our number of resources to the most essential ones. At the beginning of the year, I (and probably many others did as well) bought nearly as many resources as I found, hoping that the sheer volume would help me do better. Now, I have learned to be a bit more selective for quality over quantity; I plan to focus on several key resources – First Aid, Pathoma, USMLE World, and nightly review of flashcards for Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Pharmacology (my weakest areas).

The next few weeks will probably entail more dedicated study than ever before in my life. I’m looking forward to making connections and re-learning material I had previously forgotten. But mostly, I’m looking forward to it being over (no surprise there) and having two weeks of vacation before third year starts. As an MSTP, I have the option to “split” the M3 year and do a few months of clinical rotations before heading off to my lab. So, at the beginning of May, I will be in Surgery for two months, followed by a month of Family Medicine.

So, to paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, good night (or morning/afternoon) to all and good luck to my classmates!