May 5, 2009

MedZag studies for the boards.

So I've been hesitant to really talk about board prep here for a number of reasons. Medical students are an odd sort with all sorts of unwritten social rules and idiosyncrasies, and there's a narrow line to be tread between being known as a "nice guy who works hard" and a "gunner." Frankly I think everyone in medical school studies more than they let on, but never honestly discusses it, for fear of being labeled the frightful "g word", except for the select few who are so neurotic that despite their best efforts its simply painfully obvious.

But I know several MS1s at my med school read this, as well as assorted students elsewhere in this wild world (Hi Malaysia! Say hi to Indonesia for me). And I think both board experiences and board advice on the internet tends to be skewed to come from the neurotic minority versus the gross majority of students. I've seen and heard enough through the med student grapevine to know I'm (probably) not in that neurotic minority so I thought I'd give my personal plan.

My Advice For Before You Begin Board Review:
-Do not start studying for the boards before you get into medical school. Do not start studying for the boards during MS1. If you're so distraught over an exam that is over a year away and simply, absolutely, must do something, buy First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and read through relevant sections as you progress through the subject in your classes. I bought FA last year with the intention of doing something like this, but ended up not even touching it and don't feel like it was any loss.
-Likewise, do not study for the boards the summer after MS1. Anything you DO learn will be long dispersed and displaced by second year classes and its essentially lost work. Besides, the gross majority of Step 1 is based the pathophysiology you learn as a MS2. If you haven't learned it yet, board review books will be pretty much useless to you.
-I'd recommend to "start" doing something the early spring of your second year. For me, this was as simple as getting a study plan together and making sure I had all the relevant materials on hand or ordered. I also 3-hole-punched my First Aid. That was a big accomplishment.
-Everyone studies differently. Everyone learns/reads/memorizes/poops at different speeds. Get a good sense of how you study and how fast you study compared to your peers so when you're creating a plan of attack you know how to tweak your schedule (which will most likely be based on someone else's schedule you run across) to fit you as a person.
-Medical students stress out wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too much about this test. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Acknowledge you're stressed out, and wrangle your Type A personality down a bit. Stress is useless. And counterproductive.
-If you put in the work like everyone else, you'll pass. Step 1 is not an IQ test, and except for the exceptional few amongst the exceptional few, your success is largely dependent on the time you put in. I say this not to make you exclaim "OMG! THAT MEANS I HAVE TO STUDY FOR 6 MONTHS TO GET A 290 AND MATCH INTO DERMATOLOGIC RADIATION PLASTIC NEUROSURGERY!" but to make you realize that if you study as much as everyone else, you'll pass. If you are really shooting for a killer score, you're going to have to put in more work, but you are not stupid and you don't need 10 weeks to pass.


What I've Done/Am In The Process of Doing:
I've allotted 3 weeks to study for Step 1. Until then, I'm trying to muster up some R&R so my motivation tank is full going into that 3 week period. That being said, I am a medical student. I have a festering Type A personality. So I've assembled a few things to accomplish prior to that period to make me feel like I'm doing something and keep the stress level down. Note that the things I am doing now are not directly studying for the test per-se, but rather making sure I got concepts solidified, sources consolidated, and am becoming familiar with material so that I will have an easier time studying during that 3 week period.
-Read through Goljan's Rapid Review of Pathology while listening to his audio lecture (Do not ask me how to get them. Ask Frankie over there. Yeah, the guy sitting at the bar with the mean dragon tattoo on his arm) and annotating things into the book.
-Do the questions in the Robbin's Review of Pathology question book. For questions I miss, I make sure the key concept I was wrong on is in my First Aid. If it isn't, I write it in. 1 sentence max per concept.
-Read through BRS Physiology and do the questions in the book to make sure I gots my key physiology concepts dowwwwnnn. Extrapolate on concepts in First Aid that are vague.
-Review my biochemistry /immunology/cell biology/genetics. You know, all the nitty gritty stuff you're in all-too-much of a hurry to forget when you learn it.
-Skim through Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple to jog my memory of some of the more useful mnemonics in it.
-In the couple weeks just before I really have to buck up, plan to start doing some questions on USMLEWorld/QBank to get myself more experience with the question format and system. No more than 48 questions at a time. Missed questions go into First Aid like above.


I started doing these things about 3 months before I take my Step 1 (~2 months before I really buckle down and study). But I must point out that I have done them in order to de-stress, not add stress. So I've been doing a couple, and only a couple, hours a week at maximum.

These are also what I am doing. I know people who have been doing QBank for months. Others have had their First Aid open next to them all year in class. Others have done flash cards for pharm and micro. And still others plan to do nothing until its time for them to really bite the bullet. All of these strategies have worked for others in the past. The key is finding a level of effort anywhere between 0 and 100 that you feel like is helping you.

My final schedule for the 3 weeks+ to come soon.

2 comments:

sarah said...

that sounds very reasonable. personally i basically just relied on QBank (free for me b/c i was working for kaplan at the time!) and First Aid, and did very well. someone recently asked me about how i studied and it was fun to to back and read about how stressed i sounded -- but in retrospect i think i did okay. no all-nighters, still did other fun things during the time i was studying, and ended up with a score i was very happy with.

good luck! and i definitely agree with having a defined, realistic schedule of what to cover each day. i also think that studying more than ~8 hours/day was not helpful to me -- there are definitely diminishing returns!

Anonymous said...

Good luck from Chicago.
-fellow med student who happened to stumble across your blog.