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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Lange Case Files Pathology: For Your Review

Lange Case Files: PathologyLange’s Case Files Pathology is a book whose purpose is to integrate our knowledge of pathology for diagnosing realistic scenarios in medicine.  There are 50 clinical cases written in clear USMLE-style format.  For each clinical case, there are four parts: 1) a summary with straightforward answers and clinical correlations, 2) basic science concepts including objectives and definitions followed by a brief discussion of the topic of interest, 3) a few comprehensive questions that reinforce key points, and 4) “pathology pearls”, which are important take-home points.   When going through each case, important information is bolded for emphasis and explanations are concise and precise—eliminating the trivial concepts that should have become second nature by the end of organ systems.  This means that this book is not for learning materials, but rather more effectively used as a tool for review, reinforcement, and integration of learnt information to allow for synthesis.

Although all Case Files books may or may not fit the needs of boards review, Case Files Pathology is a book that can only help.  With key take-home points and short-and-sweet explanations of case material, you should have little problem learning the essentials—the fundamental architecture of clinical pathology.  For example, you may come across a case of ventricular septal defect (VSD), requiring you to utilize your knowledge of epidemiology, embryology, physiology, and the clinical presentations of cardiac defects. Of course, take note that this book is for pathophysiology and not just for lab-based pathology, so a good foundation in second year organ blocks material would make this book much more useful for synthesis of all the loosely connected information.

The downside of Case Files Path includes: 1) lack of pictures and images to allow the medical student to truly appreciate the clinical appearance of certain diseases, 2) lack of explanations for various diagnostic tests that may be useful for understanding the diagnostic and elimination process, and 3) the multiple choice review questions at the end of each case are generally very simple and superficial questions asking more for recall than synthesis, despite the fact that the case itself is pretty good at elucidating the more detailed aspects of disease.

Overall, Case Files Pathology would be great to have for some last minute studying or USMLE Step 1 board review, but definitely not for the initial phase of studying. Get the foundation down solid, and then use this book to cement everything together. As for where to use this book, it is not a useful resource for studying for medical school classes since the cases in the book is written in USMLE format rather than in the format of questions on medical school examinations. However, it is definitely a good book to have at the end of your studies for USMLE Step 1 to get the bigger picture and practice applying medical knowledge to realistic medical cases, uncertainties and all.

 

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Family Medicine Question Book Showdown: NMS Q&A vs PreTest

NMS vs PreTest Family Medicine

Family medicine can be a tricky clerkship in many medical schools due to the vastly different experiences based on location. Some are heavily procedure driven, while others are very hands-off. Some experiences are well balanced, while others exclusively focus on family medicine subspecialization such as dermatology, sports medicine, or ob/gyn clinics.  Regardless of whether you experience an urban or completely middle-of-nowhere rural practice, all students at a given med school take the same final exam, and often times that exam is an NBME shelf.

It is not uncommon for students to feel that clinical experiences on a family medicine rotation do not comprehensively prepare them for the exam, especially when the specialty has such a wide breadth and oftentimes unknown depth. For students who know they learn best with practice questions, the below two titles tend to come up for comparison.


PreTest Family Medicine

PreTest Family Medicine by Doug Knutson continues on in the same style as other titles in the series, providing high yield questions and helpful answers that are geared specifically towards medical students. As each book is written by a different author, there is some variability within the series, but Family Medicine is one of the stronger PreTest titles.

The book is about 5.5 inches wide, which allows it to easily slip into a white coat pocket. This really came in handy during canceled patient appointments that created a good amount of downtime. The 500 USMLE styled questions in the book specifically focus on preventive medicine, doctor-patient issues, acute conditions, and chronic conditions. Question explanations generally go into both right and wrong answers, which helps solidify learning.

 


NMS Q&A Family MedicineThe National Medical Series for Independent Study (NMS) produced their own Q&A for Family Medicine, written by David Rudy. The book is full sized, meaning there’s no way it can fit within a white coat pocket. However, it does come with a scratch-off on the inside cover, and every owner is a winner! The prize? Online searchable access to every question and answer in the book, making it easy to use from any computer (if your Family Medicine practice happens to have available computers).

It is important to note that the “nearly 500 exam-style questions” advertised on the cover is actually over 900 questions. This brings up one of the larger complaints of the book. Previous editions had a number of spelling errors and even outdated content. While the content appears accurate, some of the typo issues have remained.

Answers in the NMS question book similarly overview all of the right and wrong answers, allowing for a full learning experience. However, the feel of the questions doesn’t parallel USMLE format as much as PreTest. Content seems to be more advanced overall, with more detail. It can probably serve as an effective learning tool well into residency.

 


The winner: This round goes to PreTest Family Medicine.

Overall, PreTest provides questions that are more geared towards the NBME Family Medicine shelf exam, in both format and content. For a third year medical student who benefits from practice questions and wants a white coat resource, PreTest is the way to go. For those who anticipate blowing through all of the PreTest questions and coming up hungry for more, try out NMS Q&A Family Medicine for more in-depth content as a subsequent resource. Special consideration should be taken by those who plan to enter family medicine as their chosen specialty, in which case the breadth and depth of NMS Q&A may provide a larger challenge with greater long term benefits. Keep in mind that neither of these titles is recommended for USMLE Step 2 CK study, despite both of them advertising it.

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First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 Errata Posted

First Aid USMLE Step 1 2012 reviewFor those interested in making corrections to information in your copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012, the official FA errata is now posted to the FirstAidTeam.com website.  You can check out the webpage to learn more about the process, or RSS subscribe for updates. If you’d like to bypass the site and just go straight to the errata, the document can be found here (pdf).

Contribute to First AidKeep in mind that you can send in a correction for any mistake you find by clicking on the “Contribute” button on the right side of their site or this post (both bring you to the same place on their site). While they promise $20 Amazon gift cards for new information, someone else has probably already beaten you to any given correction. Nonetheless, making any submission will get your name printed in the preceding version of Step 1.

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USMLE Score Percentile Calculator, Now Live

USMLE Percentile CalculatorAnother online Med Student Books application has been recently added to the site!

Has a scholarship or program been asking for a USMLE Step 1 “percentile” even though no such number can be found on your Step 1 score report?  Perhaps you’re simply interested in tracking progress of USMLE World practice tests. Whatever the reason, head over to our new USMLE Percentile Calculator to convert between three digit score and percentile.

It uses some recent national data, but can be customized for your specific needs, and extended for Step 2 percentiles. Have a look, and if you find it useful, be sure to share with friends!

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Happy Match Day Everyone

Best of luck to fourth years today.

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