Put on your blinders to succeed on the USMLE Step 1

The rumors and details you will overhear about your classmates’ studying will shock you. They can stun even the most conscientious student with pangs of worry and feelings of inadequacy.

“Did you hear about Caroline?” they’ll say. “She already made 3 passes through First Aid and is already starting her 4th, and she also did UWorld twice.”

“Yup, I just finished my second pass through cardio, neuro, and renal. Since we have 7 weeks to go I figure I’ll finish Kaplan’s q-bank and do UWorld again, then see how I do on my 5th NBME practice test.”

The examples above are merely generalities about studying “achievements.” If you start talking about the details of—say—renal pathology, antiarrhythmics, or glycogen storage disorders, your buddies might be spouting off answers from memory while you wonder how you got so far behind (and how to spell “antiarrhythmics”).

Hearing these statements from seemingly superhuman classmates who are abusing First Aid can make you feel like your competition is running circles around you, and make you think you’re way behind. That’s why I found it best to “put my blinders on” while preparing for Step 1.

Often, the student who sound like they’ve studied extensively (the “multiple passes after only 3 weeks” folks) are overly focused on First Aid to the exclusion of better resources. They may have developed a destructive First Aid addiction early-on, forgoing their deeper course readings for First Aid‘s superficial outline. If they claim to have gone through UWorld multiple times, they may have sped through it without reviewing questions they got wrong and without reading the explanations carefully.

The advice you receive from this blog (assuming you have similar study habits so it will work for you) will guide you towards a better score. Further, in the long run, if you follow this advice, you will be better prepared for your clerkships with a deeper, more conceptual understanding of the material based on your readings of multiple sources (as compared to some of your “memorization junkie” classmates).

It’s absolutely essential that you have a study plan tailored for what works for you. The anonymous student who received a 260 and gives advice on the Surviving Medicine podcast ([pending] blog post: link; actual podcast: link) reiterates this point several times. Most students heed this advice and tailor a study plan. You classmates are following their own plans. Listening to their patter as they work through their plan is irrelevant. Until test day (and perhaps even on test day!), they will continue to have large gaps in their knowledge. Puffed-up classmates may not show these knowledge gaps as they spout off the material they’ve already conquered; it’s easy to mislead yourself into thinking they have no weaknesses. There’s no need to feel inadequate when they seem to have all the answers. I recommend avoiding the subject of boards prep with friends unless you really think you have some wisdom to gain from them (or you have something to get off your chest). Talk about anything else!

tl;dr—Have your own plan and ignore what your classmates are bragging about as you prep for Step 1.

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