For second year medical students, there’s a looming dark cloud that is seemingly getting closer and closer with each passing month–STEP1. Everyone’s been talking about it since you got in and everyone ahead of you, even physicians, tells you that it was the darkest period of their medical school career (which I agree). So now it’s happening and panic is creeping in as you try and create the prefect schedule and plan to perfectly balance UWorld/USMLERx/Firecracker/whatever questions with school lectures. Hopefully this blog post can help simmer you out and give you a workable plan.
First of all, there is NO magic solution–you have to KNOW YOURSELF. This is what the first year and a half of med school was about–learning what type of studier you are. Because there’s a million resources out there for every study style. Videos, traditional flashcards, Anki decks, textbooks, etc. My first suggestion is to select your resources now and don’t plan to change them. People all around you will talk about what they’re using to study, and you need to be secure in knowing that you already have solidified yours. Those resources need to include at minimum: UWorld, First Aid, and Pathoma (UFAP). For me, I also included Sketchy micro and pharm, Goljan audio, and USMLE STEP1 Secrets (a textbook I used to supplement First Aid). I did not use a formal video course like Kaplan or DIT.
Second of all, you have to be flexible with yourself. The more rigid you are, the more stress you’ll bring on yourself WHEN you can’t keep up with your schedule. You will eventually fall off the tracks, that’s a normal phenomenon when you make a 6 month schedule. Don’t panic, just breathe, woo-sah, and get back to it at YOUR pace.
Third of all, when you need advice, seek it vertically, not horizontally. Your classmates are just as clueless as you are. You need to reach out to people who have dealt with this beast before to guide you.
During the semester, you need to familiarizing yourself with your primary resources (UFAP). Use FA and Pathoma to study the material you’re learning in class. Be familiar with the formatting and where to find certain information. I promise this will make your dedicated time much smoother. ProTip: don’t annotate too much. Now is the time to be incorporating board-style questions into your day if you haven’t already. I personally don’t suggest using any other Qbank for STEP studying than UWorld. Other banks can be used along with lectures to help you study for school exams. The UW questions you begin doing should only be on past material that was covered in the past semester, and newer material can be teased in as you complete your spring semester blocks. During this time, I suggest targeted question blocks (ex. GI, pathophys & path) because you may not have the knowledge bank to be answering q’s on 1st year physiology, anatomy, or random biostatistics questions that you’ll run into on random sets. Once you start dedicated time, random sets all the way.
The benefit of starting UW early is in learning the question style and practice in deciphering what they’re trying to ask you–which is a skill on it’s own. You won’t actually remember that much of what you’re learning from the questions themselves–especially not in January if you’re taking the exam in June. So I wouldn’t go too ham on Q review and note taking. You’re not officially STEP studying just yet. Plus you will do it all over again when you reset the QBank before your dedicated time, which you should absolutely do.
How many questions is enough? I would start now with 10 questions a day. This should take about an hour +/-. Remember, you’re not official yet and you still have school lectures to get to. I chose to bump it up by 5 questions each month. So I was eventually at 25 a day in April. Of course there were times when I didn’t keep up with this, but I did my best. I think I officially stopped going to class in March and watched lectures online. My 6-week dedicated time started May 1. If you have questions about planning that time out, feel free to contact me! Your dedicated time looks so different depending on the resources you’re using. There’s lots of resources online/youtube available to help with dedicated time schedule making as well.
Hope this helps! Please reach out to me for more advice and guidance!