Monthly Archives: April 2012

USMLE Step 1 Series: 6 Tips on NOT Studying

Along with the flood of information you’ll receive on how to study, it is important to hear some advice on how to NOT study. Yes, what you do while not studying can affect your sanity and how you study as well. The end goal is to increase studying productivity by reducing all the little stressors and time-sinks in your life that would normally be easily managed, but add up overwhelmingly during Step 1 review.

The biggest tip is the obvious one you haven’t actively enacted yet: stay away from the people who are really stressing out. Haters gonna hate, stressers gonna stress, and both are contagious. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be invested in your studies, but nothing good comes from unproductive flipping-out. Practice safe studying.

Asleep on First Aid

Sleep hygeine is important when you have no required structured time in your day. Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day. If you find yourself half-asleep and drooling on First Aid at 2am, trying to just finish that last chapter to stay on schedule, you are better served sleeping and finishing it when you wake up so the information can actually stick. This is precisely why we recommend that your schedule is flexible. Pass this info on to any classmate you see with backwards highlighter writing unknowingly smudged across their forehead. Similarly, if you are burning out and finding yourself going over the same paragraph 5 times but not actually reading/thinking about it, it’s time to step away for a few moments. Sometimes that can actually be switching topics/books, or sometimes you need a short power-break.

USMLE Step 1 Break TimerTry to keep tabs of your breaks. If you decide to stop studying to let your brain relax a bit, it is exceedingly easy for breaks to become longer than anticipated. Set a time limit to what you think is reasonable and try to stick with it. Some students will actually set a timer. While we don’t recommend down-to-the-second inflexible scheduling, the goal should be to create some semblance of a structure to your day.

Breaks should get you back to being you. Again, this may seem obvious, but it is commonly overlooked. If your brain is turning to mush and micro facts are oozing out of your ears, then staring at facebook for the entirety of your break may seem like a needed respite. However you should actively try to return to the things that you enjoy, not just your usual distractions. If you usually workout, hit the gym. If you enjoy video games, go pwn some noobs. Call your family, catch up on your favorite tv show, or take a walk around the neighborhood. While break activities need not be scheduled like your anatomy block, you should have a go-to list of things to do that require minimal thought when you have time off. Again, minimize brain usage during the middle of your study weeks by planning ahead.

Don’t overlook food. While you may be tempted to resort back to ramen and microwavable dinners every night, and may need to do so on occassion, this should not be the total extent of your nutritional intake. Hit up Costco for bulk granola bars, and try to stock up on fruits. Healthy snacks will especially come in handy for stress-eaters.

balance studying with breaksMed students who have non-medical partners and friends can really benefit from someone else cooking for them. By now, you should have already told everyone in your life that you are not going to be incredibly fun over the next 2 months. If someone is willing to cook for you, it will save time running to the grocery store and cooking, and provide you (nutritious) meals. If you do not already have someone in mind for this task, this is a time to find the med students who live nearby and take turns cooking for each other. Encourage your cooking group to eat and run, but relax while eating. This means no stressful step 1 conversations!

When all else fails, touch base with an upperclassmen who has already gone through the process. No one will know the specific stresses produced by your school and schedule better than someone who just lived it. Not only is the experience still seared fresh into their mind, but most likely they are happy to help. (It’s why most of us went into medicine in the first place.)

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USMLE Step 1 Series: The Exam Survival Sweepstakes is Now Open

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Medical Education LogoWe’ve been collaborating with Lippincott to create a giveaway that addresses some of the major aspects of USMLE Step 1 Studying. Along with several books, the Step 1 Exam Survival Sweepstakes includes some gift cards to keep you entertained and caffeinated, and an extra shirt so you can put off laundry day just a little more. Head over to Lippincott’s facebook page and sign up for a chance to win:

Q&A Review of Microbiology and Immunology
Lippincott’s Microcards, Third Edition
Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews: Biochemistry
Board Review Series (BRS) Physiology
$25 iTunes gift card
$25 Starbucks gift card
Lippincott t-shirt
Lippincott water bottle

As with all other giveaways on this site, this contest is similarly limited to US residents. End date is May 7, 2012, just in time for the start of most med school’s Step 1 break. Good luck!

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USMLE Step 1 Series: The 7 Essentials of a Solid Study Strategy

To kick off the USMLE Step 1 advice, we present the big picture overview of studying. Some of the below are well known strategies, but we hope to present some clever caveats that have been compiled by a number of med students along the way. Over the next few weeks, in depth articles will detail more of the little tricks that offer that competitive test taking edge. For now, let’s stick to the basics.

Figure Out Your ACTUAL Strengths and Weaknesses, with Evidence.

Early in the study process, you will be bombarded with different strategies and study practices. The problem will always come back to figuring out what works best for your specific learning style and knowledge base. Before you even decide where to start, you should have a basic idea of big-picture learning goals. After all, it would be silly to dedicate the same amount of time to a topic you despise as one you already know really well. Don’t guess. That’s an easy and common mistake. Get evidence.

The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the same guys who bring you the Step 1 exam, have created a number of helpful exams for this goal called the Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment (CBSSA).  They use Step 1 style questions and provide performance profiles (above) similar to that found on your actual Step 1 assessment. It lays out a visual representation of strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully your med school provides them to you for free (if they don’t, petition for it).

It is recommended that you take an untimed enhanced CBSSA exam early on or even before you start studying. Assessing your Step 1 knowledge before studying, and seeing the score and performance profile early on will definitely sting, but the purpose is to push you in the right direction. It can serve as a strong motivator, and has been shown to increase board scores at certain med schools by 1/4 of a standard deviation.  If desired, take another one about 10 days before the actual exam for comparison and reevaluation of focus. Using a question bank to accomplish this goal is an alternate option, but they are focused on teaching topics, and nothing is as authentic and insightful as an exam coming directly from the NBME.

Get a Plan, and Stick To It.

Once you figure out strengths and weaknesses, creating a study schedule is the next essential step. We’ll cover the various types of plans more extensively in future posts, as there are many out there. The big picture point is that it should keep you focused but remain flexible. This can be a large stress-inducing topic for med students, as gunner plans will require no sleep and IV hydration. Construct something right for you that also maintains sanity.

Get a Copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 reviewIt has been reviewed and highly recommended on this site, and even given away in a contest. This should be at the core of every med student’s study plan, and can be purchased confidently, regardless of your individual study strengths. However, this absolutely cannot be the sole source of information for Step 1 studies. Every commercial question bank and review course will cite some arbitrary number that suggests First Aid doesn’t hold 100% of the needed knowledge. They’re right.

The proper way to use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is as a guide. The sections corresponding to the subject of your focus should be lightly overviewed first. This should then be followed by in-depth learning from a dedicated resource. Some students like returning to review First Aid after that, and/or in the days just before the exam. Either way, it should be used as your starting marker to point you in the right direction, not your end point. Furthermore, it should be annotated thoroughly, which will be discussed with tips in an upcoming post.
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Stock Up on the In-Depth Books NOW

Now that we convinced you that First Aid won’t make you a Step 1 superstar by itself, let’s look at what else to consider. You will find that there are about three million medical books out there. After narrowing down the list to those designed specifically for med students studying for the USMLE Step 1, you will find yourself left with about 43,943 books. Pro-tip: you can’t read them all.

Feuds have started over which books present the highest of yields. You could sink a lot of time into researching every title, and fall prey to the gunners and trolls of the SDN forums, never wanting to hear the term “high yield” ever again. Here at MedStudentBooks, we like to keep things simple. Below is a list of recommended titles to support various Step 1 topics. As always, we highly recommend using the titles you already know and love to jog your memory. But if you don’t have a favorite, the following is a list of highly recommended titles from the MedStudentBooks team, surveyed med students, and med school administrators that you should consider first:

MedStudentBooks Recommended Step 1 Resources
Lippincott’s Biochemistry (full review here)
Q&A Review of Biochemistry
Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple (full review here)
Q&A Review of Microbiology and Immunology
Lippincott’s Microcards
BRS Physiology (full review here)
BRS Behavioral Science
BRS Pathology or Goljan’s Rapid Review Pathology (full review here)
Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology (question book) (full review here)
MedMaps for Pathophysiology for true visual learners
Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease (full review here)
High-Yield Gross Anatomy with your favorite atlas for reminders
High-Yield Neuroanatomy with this gem

Clearly you should not seek out every book on this list. In fact, purchasing too many books can stress you out if you have a large pile of materials you feel you must get through, without the time to actually do it. These are just top recommendations for the subjects with which med students tend to need extra help.   The key is to figure out what topics need to be strengthened as mentioned above, and focus on them from the above list appropriately. We’ll go over general question and case books in another post.

Do not be that med student who waits until the day before they are scheduled to start reviewing a topic to buy the associated book. You should not dedicate any brain power on bookstore trips or figuring out why the postal service didn’t deliver your Amazon order in the middle of your studying. Added stress is not welcomed. Figure out what books you need from your self-assessment, and purchase them early.

Use a Question Bank to Complement Your Studies and Track Progress

Your med school may host an obligatory Kaplan lunch talk, or notify you of a USMLERx “scholarship” (?). Maybe you’ve heard some rumors about a new and upcoming question bank weapon for gunners. Like books, there are several options out there, but this choice is even simpler than books: use USMLE World.

USMLE World Step 1 Question Bank

Much like First Aid, this is not a question of learning style. If you’re a visual learner, use UWorld. If you’re an auditory learner, use UWorld. If you work for Kaplan…  use UWorld. We’ve previously mentioned that we’re not a fan of their company policies or prices, but the high quality of their question bank is undeniable, which is why they are the gold standard. Unless your exam is scheduled within the next 8 weeks, get a 3 month subscription. We’ll discuss question bank strategies and alternatives in upcoming posts, but for now rest assured that you don’t need to worry about other companies unless you’ve blown through UWorld and come out hungry for more. Again, the price is unfortunately high, but it is an absolute necessity.
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Learn by Rote Memory Over Time

So far we’ve covered basic science subjects that are largely conceptual. Unfortunately, Step 1 (and the rest of your career) will require straight up no-thinking-through-it memorization. By this point in med school, you’ve probably created lists that you’ve stared at for so long that you not only remember the factoid, but the irregularities of the paper as well. This will most likely come up for Step 1 in pharmacology and microbiology. It is an unfortunate necessity, however it can be improved slightly. Just remember that large amounts of rote memorization are best retained with spaced repetition. In other words, you should identify the long lists somewhat early, and continue to review them in short bursts throughout your study schedule instead of dedicating large chunks of time without returning to the information.

(Try to) Relax

A lot of us really neglect this one, and it can have devastating effects on productivity and exam scores. We’ll be discussing burnout in greater detail soon, but you should start thinking of things that keep you sane now. Step 1 sucks, but you are awesome.
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USMLE Step 1 Series: How to Survive

Congratulations on finishing second year of medical school!  Now what? The dreaded USMLE Step 1 exam.

United States Medical Licensing Examination - Step 1

Discussing all the aspects of Step 1 is easily overwhelming and exhausting. It’s not unusual for medical schools to host stress-inducing class-wide meetings to throw loads of information at med students at one time. It can be a bit much. As we head into boards season, MedStudentBooks.com will provide bite sized posts on how to tackle all the tough topics, through the USMLE Step 1 Series of posts.

Lippincott Step 1 Free Book Contest

In addition to helpful information from senior med students, we will continue to bring you free book giveaways. Earlier in the season, we gave away a free copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012.  Tomorrow, however, is our largest contest to date. We have collaborated with the fine folks at Lippincott to bring you the 2012 Exam Survival Sweepstakes. Full contest details will be posted tomorrow, but we can’t help but hint that it contains the majority of MedStudentBooks.com recommended titles for Step 1 studying, and some gift cards.

To get all the latest tips and tricks to tackling the boards and getting that extra edge on Step 1, be sure to check back to the site frequently, or follow us on Twitter.

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