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The Study Schedule That Got Me a 254 on the USMLE Step 1
Everyone has a strategy, everyone has advice. The important thing to ask yourself when studying for the USMLE is what study strategies can you use? I stay very true to what works for me. Here are 5 questions I ask myself when deciding how to approach the study.
#1) What kind of learner am I?
There are visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. A visual learner learns by looking at information in diagrams, charts, graphics, etc. An auditory learner is that annoying person who can just sit through lectures and remember everything. They also learn well in group study sessions, by repeating things out loud, listening to podcasts, etc.). A kinesthetic (or tactile) learner likes hands-on learning, practicing, teaching someone, asking questions, etc.
While many people are a combination, I know that I am a visual learner. If I’m trying to get somewhere and my GPS on my phone is broken by goblins, if someone tells me directions, I’m lost (so I’m obviously not an auditory learner). Even if I’ve driven somewhere before, I can get lost (so not much of a kinesthetic learner). However, I draw a map and I never forget where I’m going. Not in a million years. I know this I know how to move on.
#2) Realistically, how much time do I have in a day to study?
The answer for me is 6 hours. I learned this from medical school. No matter how I cut it, whether doing 6 hours at a time or 2 hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, my mind starts to shut down after 6 hours. It was just me.
#3) What resources do I have time for?
Time is your most valuable resource before the USMLE. So, I turned to a primary resource: First aid for planks. In theory, if you know every word in the book, you will do well. I supplemented it with two other books. The books are (1) BRS Pathology, and (2) Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple. Some people swear by the Guillon audiotapes, but I’m not an auditory learner, so I ignore them. Then of course you need a question bank (Qbank or USMLE World).
#4) What strategy ensures memory retention?
There is no point studying something if you forget it the next day. As a visual learner, the key to my learning is writing things down and reorganizing them so I can see them. So I did my tried and true 3-exposure learning method that got me through most of the M1 year:
Exposure 1: Read and highlight
Exposure 2: Write charts, graphs, mnemonics, etc.
Learning theory states that this step should occur within a 24-hour exposure 1 .
Revelation 3: Try the questions to test knowledge.
Track ongoing errors.
Rinse and repeat the areas where you continue to test poorly.
#5) What about my schedule…so when should I schedule my exam?
The USMLE study schedule is a daunting thing to write. I found solice in two things: Math & Flexibility.
Math: After making a list of all the topics (actually the First Aid Table of Contents), I figured out how long each topic would take me. Example: The Cardiology section is 30 pages long.
Exposure 1: Reading and highlighting takes me about 1 hour and 2 minutes per page.
Exposure 2: Write, write, write it takes me twice as long (2 hours)
Revelation 3: The questions for me are 50 questions = 3 hours to review
I reviewed only a few questions, but in great detail. So, if I want to do the reading and at least 150 questions to practice Cardiology, I will need two 6-hour days. I repeat this scheduling method for each subject and put it on a calendar. And, yes, time spent organizing is never time wasted.
Flexibility: After 2 NBME practice exams (one in 1.5 weeks and the other in 3 weeks), I adjusted my schedule to give more time to study subjects where I was weak. For those topics, I go back to more in-depth resources like BRS pathology and Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple and double the number of practice questions (I usually complete about half of the available questions).
Finally, I always schedule 1-2 days a week as pop-off valves for topics that need more attention.
Schedule your exam based on the estimated time you calculate it will take. Adjust your schedule based on your weaknesses, but try not to spend too much time on a particular topic. If your day for endocrinology runs out, for example, go ahead and cover it for your “pop-of valve” day. Near the end, many people were burned. Eventually your brain will reach its limits and the things that come in, push other things. At this point, there is no point in delaying the trial. Trust your approach and stick to strategies that work for you.
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