step one plan

In order to become a practicing physician, in addition to attending medical school, we also have to take national licensing exams (USMLEs or ‘boards’). The first of these exams is known colloquially as ‘step one’ and is supposed to be the most difficult of them all. At most U.S. medical schools, students take the exam after they finish their first two years of med school. Most schools have a 6-8 week period after classes end in the second year that are designated specifically for studying for the exam. Some students take it earlier in the period and use the rest of time for vacation and others take it right before third year begins so they have more time to study.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, it takes me a reaaaaally long time to understand and memorize material so I have to be really careful about my study schedules and make sure I review throughout each block in addition to learning new material. So when it comes to studying for step one, I know that I need to start early. Below I’ve included the resources I’ll be using over the next few months during second year and before the designated step one studying period starts. This, of course, is just what I think will work best for me. Many students wait until January to even think about the boards or don’t even study until the designated studying period starts. But I think it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and create a plan that’ll work best for you.

  •  First AidThis is also known as the “Step One Bible” because it has great ‘high yield’ summaries for each subject. I went to the local FedEx and they cut the spine off the book and then hole punched it. It’s so much easier to take notes and if I’m studying out of my apartment because I can just take the pages that I need. It’s also a lot easier to take notes when I can actually access the entire page rather than having to write at weird angles and getting hand cramps. We’re currently in the microbiology block so I’ve been following along with lectures and filling in notes on the viruses and bacterium that we’ve studied so far. I’m planning to go through the whole book once throughout the year, following along with the material covered in blocks. And then I’m planning to go through the whole book again once in the dedicated six weeks of step one studying.
  •  PathomaDr. Husain A. Sattar is pure genius! So this is a program that comes with the book pictured above and then you get access to all the associated videos. He has a way of explaining things in a really simple way but also still covering everything you really need to know. I also took this book to the FedEx but had this book spiral bound instead of the hole punched because it’s a much thinner book. Having it spiral bound makes it much easier to take notes and annotate than if I left the spine on because I can lay it flat and write in the margins more easily.
  • Osmosis – This is a great program developed by Johns Hopkins that serves as a database for flashcards and question banks on various topics. My favorite thing about it is that you can also download the app on your phone so whenever I have a few minutes of downtime I just open up the app and start answering questions. They also provide really great explanations for why the correct answer is correct, which really helps with understanding the material. I really learn the most by answering questions because it helps reinforce whatever I’m studying so it’s great having a question bank that I can access whenever. I’ve been doing the microbiology questions recently because our block finals are coming up. I haven’t used the flashcards much on the app or website so I’m not sure about how those are.

I’m planning to purchase UWorld access once it gets closer to the exam and I’ll supplement these review sources with the question bank. Aside from these resources, I probably won’t use much else when it comes to the designated studying time after second year. If you’ve taken step one and have any other advice or resources that you used, please share!

I’d also really appreciate it if you all could send some positive vibes into the universe that microbiology and I somehow become friends over the next couple weeks. It’s been a rough start to second year so far but I’m trying to stay positive and keep working at it. Hope you’re all having a great week!

6 thoughts on “step one plan

  1. Hi- I find Microbiology to have a lot of content to get through..surprise (like anything else in Med school). But what has worked for me in the past is making mind maps, summarizing everything I’ve learnt in chapter/section. AND there’s no right or wrong way of doing mind maps just so long you’re available to interpret your own map. Good luck with block finals.


  2. Hi Anum! Your blog is great! I especially love your posts about reading. 🙂
    My school takes micro in our first year and I agree it is a ton of memorization. What helped me was to make silly mnemonics and stories about each organism.
    For example, for Listeria monocytogenes, I would think: Listeria = hysteria. A baby throwing a hysterical temper tantrum, flailing its arms about, screaming for milk.
    Baby = Listeria is a common cause of newborn meningitis.
    Failing = This organism is characterized by tumbling motility.
    Milk = The pathogen is associated with unpasteurized dairy products.
    I also occasionally used Lippincott’s Microcards and Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple. First Aid is still king, though, so you are on the right track!

    Hope that helps!


  3. Hey I see people commenting on micro…have you heard of sketchy micro?? I absolutely love it! They are now introducing sketchy pharm as well. Best thing since sliced bread in my opinion haha


    • I tried using it but it honestly didn’t do much for me. Wish it did though! Going to give sketchy pharm a try when I get down to boards studying 🙂


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