USMLE Step 1 Series: The Right Way to Use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1

There comes that point, usually midway through first year, when every medical student hears about First Aid as the magical end-all Step 1 study book. “Everything I could possibly need to know for the largest exam of my life in one book?! Sounds too good to be true!”  It is.

First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, reviewed here previously, is absolutely essential for the first board exam experienced by medical students. However, it is incomplete. Before discussing the manner in which it can be fortified, let’s address the first question that usually arises: When do I actually buy a copy of First Aid and start studying from it?

You will likely encounter several gunners in your class who bought their copy of First Aid as soon as they finished the MCAT. This is not recommended. In fact, going through all of first year med school without ever seeing First Aid is probably a good thing. The summer between first and second year is the gray zone, and depends on your personal learning style. No medical student should start studying for boards at this point. However, some people find it helpful to begin familiarizing themselves with the layout and teaching style of the book. It can be especially helpful to students taking organ system based courses to skim through corresponding chapters of First Aid. However, study time should be dedicated to medical school classes, not the boards at that point. If you decide to use this method, try to find an older copy of First Aid that costs little or no money. If you purchase the latest version during the summer after first year, a newer version will come out by time you take the boards.

Power-Annotatation
First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 Remove the CoverRegardless of whether you “pre-skim” or not, purchase a new copy of the latest edition for the start of your dedicated USMLE Step 1 study period. Your job, over the subsequent 6-8 weeks, is to fill in all the information left out of First Aid. How do you know what you don’t know? Other resources, namely question banks. As you begin to read through the list of in-depth support books we previously mentioned and take Step 1 styled questions, you’ll find the factoids and concepts First Aid missed. While the tradition has historically been to write these high yield ideas in the margins, each revision of First Aid has produced less and less white-space on a page.

This has been addressed in a few ways. The simplest is to simply shove extra loose pieces of paper between pages of the book. Unfortunately, dropping the book once produces a disorganized mess of notes. The recommended option is disassembling the book. While harming the Step 1 bible may seem sacrilegious, it has many benefits. First and foremost, it makes transportation much easier, as grabbing an individual chapter is a lot easier than lugging around the entire book along with all your other study materials. More importantly, it can keep things very well organized.

As seen above, a standard three ring binder allows for easy organization and insertion of extra pages.  Some people prefer spiral binding or similar plastic ends that have easy open and close mechanisms. It’s up to you. As for getting your copy of First Aid into these states, we don’t recommend doing it yourself. You can usually get anything you’d like done at your local Kinkos or Staples for less than $5.

There are a lot of opinions on what should be placed on extra pages, without much consensus. Some people insist on putting sources to their facts for later reference, others don’t care. All we advise is to use your usual study practices, with one exception. There are a few of us who never take notes. You know who you are. Step 1 does not afford you that luxury, regardless of how amazing your short term memory is. There’s just too much information. Bottom line: annotate First Aid.

Alright, you’re all set to get the most out of your copy of First Aid. Don’t forget to check out the back of the book for common buzzword associations. You should have all of them down by time you hit the exam. Happy studies!

 

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3 Responses to USMLE Step 1 Series: The Right Way to Use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1

  1. Pingback: USMLE Step 1 Series: 7 Essentials of a Solid Study Strategy | Med Student Books

  2. Sydne says:

    Thanks for the helpful post! I am about three months into my second year and have been using 2012 First Aid since the beginning of second year. I have made many notes and annotations in two sections of First Aid (Musculoskeletal and Neuroscience) and am currently annotating the Heme Onc section (our school’s curriculum is system’s based).

    I would like to transfer these sections over to my binder in January (when I plan on buying FA 2014 and getting it disassembled). Is this a good idea? Or should I just start with a clean copy of FA 2014? My only concern is that I don’t want to lose the notes I’ve made during this current semester.

    Thanks for your help!

    Sydne

    • jd says:

      This really comes down to personal opinion. Some will tell you that rewriting notes is never wasted time, while others will insist on focusing more on the reading and less on the writing. It really comes down to personal style!

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