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How to Build a USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule as an IMG: Tara Jamieson Interview Part 1

We asked musician and med student Tara Jamieson, who attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, how she constructed a plan to study for the USMLE Step 1 as an IMG.

What are some challenges of studying for Step 1 as an IMG, and how do you handle them?

As an IMG, we have personal schedules that may not as nicely fit into a study schedule for the USMLE. In addition, our teachers aren’t directly teaching to Step 1. This means that our school may not have fully reviewed each concept covered by Step 1 before test day, so there can be a great deal of self-study involved. For example, at my school we don’t really learn psychiatry until third year—we do some in first year. So psychiatry is a topic we have to cover on our own. However, I think that these are minor hurdles to studying for Step that can be overcome with an appropriate study schedule and the right resources. For example, I pace my Step 1 studying to match what we are currently learning in class, so that I am learning efficiently.

How did you choose your resources?

I chose my resources initially based on the UFAPS system (UWorld, First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy). Then I added on a couple extras that I thought were helpful after using their free trials (Boards and Beyond, USMLE-Rx, and AMBOSS). I use the Qbank and flashcards for USMLE-Rx, the Qbank for AMBOSS (provided by my school), and the videos with questions from Boards and Beyond. After I compiled all of my resources, I added in Cram Fighter so that I could make sure I hit everything before my dedicated period.

I pace my Step 1 studying to match what we are currently learning in class, so that I am learning efficiently.

How did you build a USMLE Step 1 study schedule?

I used Cram Fighter to align the topics of my USMLE resources with what we were learning in class, then I followed the schedule. Sometimes, I would switch around videos in a given week based on what we were covering in class. (If we are covering strokes on a Monday, but my Cram Fighter schedule doesn’t assign stroke tasks until Wednesday—I would edit the schedule manually and drag some videos from Wednesday to Monday). I also always leave one day per week empty, so that I can catch up on anything that I had missed . Plus, with my empty day, I can do things like film for my YouTube channel or do my laundry.

How do you recommend other IMGs build a USMLE Step 1 study schedule?

Look at the resources you want to use and the amount of time you have to study, then prioritize from there. That’s part of why I used Cram Fighter— it did a lot of that leg work for me. I originally tried to make a schedule myself but it was time-consuming and hard to stick to. Studying for the USMLE is already hard enough, so I needed something to make the whole process a little easier.

Where do you go for advice on USMLE Step 1 preparation for IMGs?

I’m really fortunate that my school has a lot of students from Canada and the USA, so my school has experience in guiding students through these exams. But I think that the best place to get advice is from older students who have already taken Step 1. They have already taken the test, and they have done it under similar conditions as you have, so they understand the challenges of your particular situation as an IMG, and they have insight into what did and didn’t work for them.

That’s part of why I used Cram Fighter— it did a lot of that leg work for me. I originally tried to make a schedule myself but it was time-consuming and hard to stick to. Studying for the USMLE is already hard enough, so I needed something to make the whole process a little easier.

Can you walk us through a typical day of studying for the USMLE Step 1 as an IMG?

Now that the school has closed for the year and moved entirely online, my schedule is very different than it was a few weeks ago. At the moment, my day starts between 6am and 7am. I try to get in some exercise (30 minutes of running/yoga/body weight exercises) followed by a shower, brushing my teeth, and putting proper clothes on (no PJ Paralysis in this house). I’m also currently on self-isolation because I had to travel home from my school overseas. To help me cope, I started a daily series on my Instagram where I post a song a day for everyday I’m self-isolating.

Then, my day is structured based on Pomodoro cycles. I study for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break—rinse and repeat four times—then I get a longer break. I do the whole process three times (for a total of 12 study sessions, 25 minutes each). I’m usually doing this all day until dinner, and then I will do some flashcards or extra questions after dinner.

This is how my ideal day flows. Sometimes, I’m not always able to get everything done because things come up, and there are events that are unavoidable. But I try not to let myself get hung up on the bad days; I just try to move forward.. Now that classes have moved online, I am still balancing my USMLE study with class, but it’s gotten a little bit easier.

What is your target score for the USMLE Step 1 and what steps are you taking to achieve it?

I am extremely passionate about paediatrics and surgery, so hopefully my path will lead me to a general surgery residency followed by a fellowship in paediatric surgery. As a Non-US IMG (I’m Canadian), I will need a more competitive score than US IMG’s hoping to go into the same program. I’m currently hoping to score around a 250, and I feel that the current plan I have in place (focusing on the material for now, and transitioning to more and more practice questions the closer I get to dedicated) will help to get me there.

I also have a plan in place for what happens if I don’t do as well on Step as I plan to, but right now I’m 100% focused on achieving that goal.

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Read the second part of our interview with Tara about how she’s had to adjust her studying in the wake of the impacts of coronavirus.

Tara Jamieson is a Second Year Graduate Entry Medical Student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is an IMG with a passion for music and paediatric surgery, and she was a semi-finalist on the second season of Ireland’s Got Talent.

Want to learn more about Tara’s experience studying medicine and preparing to take the Step 1 exam as an IMG? Check out her social media accounts below:

Follow Tara on Instagram @tarajamiesonmusic
Subscribe to Tara’s YouTube channel
Visit her website at https://www/tarajamieson.ca

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