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Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Book Description:The ultimate resource for USMLE Step 1 preparation! Published annually, this is the only student-to-student review book that provides facts and strategies from medical students who had previously taken the exam. The book contains over 900 frequently tested facts and mnemonics, 24 pages of high-yield color images similar to those on the exam, more than 100 clinical vignettes, and a completely revised rating of over 300 basic science review products.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ace The Usmle Step 1

IntroductionIt's unfortunate that studying for the USMLE Step 1 has become what it has--for most people, a grueling, two to two-and-a-half month studying marathon. Several of my professors have mentioned to me that it was very different in their day--that you studied for a few weeks and then just went in and took the test, with the only goal being to pass. Although I know those days are long gone, this guide is my attempt to turn back the clock just a little bit toward that simpler, saner time when life wasn't so competitive and one could achieve great success while still maintaining some semblance of balance and getting a full night's sleep. I wish I had had this advice before I set out on my boards-studying odyssey--it would have helped to allay some of the anxiety I felt about having to cover "everything." If you take my advice, you can do very well on the boards without killing yourself studying. Don't get me wrong--you'll still have to study hard for a good two months (that's assuming you're still in school while studying; if your school gives you a break for boards studying then you should be able to do it in less time). But you can at least go out on the weekends. If you doubt if this will work, I'll just tell you that I broke 260 (95th percentile) by doing what I set out below. Now it's true that I've always been very good at standardized tests, but I think what my experience shows is that almost all of the INFORMATION you need to know is contained within the books I mention below. It doesn't mean that if you do what I did you will get the same score, but it does show that it is possible to use only these sources and do very well. Good luck!
Here is what you need to know about how to ace the USMLE Step 1:
'First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 : 2005 (First Aid for the Usmle Step 1)' is your bible. Read it, know it, love it, re-read it. I honestly believe that if you had this book memorized cover to cover (including all the little details!) and nothing else, you would do extremely well on the USMLE Step 1. You'll see when you sit down with it that there is actually quite a lot of information in there!
2. Use Kaplan QBank. I recommend completing most of it (the regular QBank, not the IV QBank, which I didn't use), but you don't have to finish all of it. Keep a list of your errors and review your list periodically (at least twice per week) before you do more questions.
'Physiology (Board Review Series)' and 'Pathology: Board Review Series' are useful for fleshing out your review of physio and path. Use them during your courses if possible. If you read and understand these, you won't even need to read a textbook during your physiology course, although you will still want a book like 'Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease' to reference during you path course, both for the photos and the additional detail when you need it (such as in heme/onc). But you don't have to actually read the chapters (like you could ever even find the time)!
'Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple (MedMaster series, 2004 edition))' has great pictures to help you remember micro stuff. It's best if you use it as your textbook during your micro course, then just skim the stuff you highlighted to help you solidify micro before the boards.
5. First Aid is pretty spotty on anatomy (which includes embryology, gross anatomy and neuroanatomy) but there really is very little anatomy on the USMLE Step 1. It's a subject you can get very bogged down in with pretty low yield (as in maybe taking 3 weeks to read a book each on neuro, embryo and gross for a few questions on the actual exam, and will you even remember the details anyway?), and you won't lose many points by just using First Aid for this subject. (On my exam, I only remember there being around 5 anatomy questions--certainly not more than 10--out of 350 total, and I was unsure of the answers to the difficult ones even though I had in fact read other sources besides First Aid while studying for anatomy; the more straightforward questions were all covered in First Aid.) As I mentioned above, not knowing then what I do now, I actually did read
'High-Yield Embryology', 'High-Yield Gross Anatomy (The Science of Review)', and 'Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple (3rd Edition; Book & CD-ROM)' during my boards preparation, and I think it was mostly a waste of time because I retained so little. "Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously Simple" isn't a bad book to have though--it cleared up a number of clinical points not well covered in my neuro course. In general, I've found that while the High Yield series packs in more info, you actually retain more with the Ridiculously Simple series, and so I would also recommend 'Clinical Anatomy Made Ridiculously Simple (MedMaster Series, 2004 Edition)' over "High Yield Gross Anatomy," although I obviously can't vouch for the book from experience since I used High Yield for gross. But remember--you don't REALLY need to use any of them! Now it's not necessarily a bad thing to study anatomy anyway--it's useful to review in preparation for the clinical years. But I reiterate that it's not crucial for the exam (other than what's in First Aid).
6. Histology and Cell Biology: I actually reviewed histology by skimming through my histology textbook in an hour or so, which I think was fine. You get so much review of histology in 2nd year pathology courses that you don't need to spend a lot of time on it. Also, there's very little non-pathologic histology on the exam (and not even much visual pathology). As for cell biology, I actually did zero review on this subject and obviously still did very well on the exam overall. However, I think if I had reviewed cell biology, I might have gotten another couple of questions right on the exam regarding protein trafficking. But again, this is a topic that is low yield--if you choose to study it, don't spend a lot of time on it! High Yield has a book on this but I can't comment on it.
6. For biochem (including molecular biology), behavioral science, immunology and pharmacology, First Aid is all you need. I know that may sound blasphemous, but trust me. It's what I did and look at my score. There may be one or two questions that come up during the exam on things you've never heard of, but it's not worth all the extra time you'd put into going through other whole books or overly comprehensive sets of flashcards. And would you remember the obscure things anyway? Really, no matter how much you study, there will ALWAYS be things that come up on the exam that you've never heard of or that are presented in ways that make it difficult for you to determine the right answer even if you're familiar with the material. So what's most important is being very solid on the basics.
ConclusionSo that's all you truly need to prepare for the boards: 4 books (or 3 if you don't use "Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple," but I do recommend it for its memory aids). Remember, when it comes to test day it's not what you went over that counts but what you REMEMBER. Repetition with First Aid (and BRS Physio and Path) will help you more than grazing over several review sources on each subject. Extra review of anatomy, histology and cell biology is extremely low yield (outside of what's in First Aid). You might get a couple more questions right out of 350 total, but it's really not worth the time! In other words, if you study SMART rather than just LONG, your score will suffer very little but your life will improve vastly during your boards preparation period. It worked for me and I'm confident it can work for anyone who learns well from review books and has some facility with standardized tests. GOOD LUCK!