How One “Average Underdog” Aced His Board Exams
- Jul 29, 2021
Inspired by his post on Reddit, we reached out to learn how this student aced USMLE Step 1 and COMLEX Level 1.
In his Reddit post, Kevin Dell’Aquila at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine described himself as an “arguably average underdog” with an “underwhelming college GPA/MCAT and about 50th percentile class rank at end of M2.”
But Kevin scored an amazing 260 for USMLE Step 1 (and 699 for COMLEX Level 1), and his story is powerful inspiration for anyone doubting their ability to succeed at their board exams and achieve their dream career. In addition to detailing the resources he used, Kevin’s post is a helpful reminder that there is no secret magic: it’s all about grit, determination, and having a good plan.
How did your experience leading up to Step 1 shape your goals and your perception of the path you were on? Did you have a target score going into the exam?
I was unsure of my career goals in M1 and was focusing mostly on in-house exams without studying for boards. I wasn’t getting high grades due to low quantity and quality of studying.
The summer before M2, I began studying for boards with AnKing. I developed a schedule at the start of M2 and integrated lecture material, practice questions, Anki, and other board resources such as Pathoma. I invested in a year-long subscription to Cram Fighter in August and it was worth every penny! It would have been difficult to adapt a self-made schedule in response to derailments from studying (including mental health days); judicial use of the ability to redistribute overdue tasks was immensely helpful.
My lecture grades went up significantly as did my confidence. I brought this confidence into dedicated and my practice scores steadily rose, changing my initial target score of 240+ at the beginning of M2 to a target of 255+ before my test.
You gave a really great, detailed description of the resources you used, your progress through these resources, and your study schedule. How did you go about putting together this plan for Step 1? Did you receive guidance from upperclassmen, Reddit, or other sources?
I learned of AnKing from Reddit and weighed opinions between classmates, Reddit, and school administration to establish which resources to use.
I decided to begin question banks with Amboss and this was great preparation for UWorld which I did next. Around the same time of starting Uworld, I also started Boards and Beyond for comprehensive review and after that Sketchy Micro and Pharm. Opinions were mixed 50/50 on whether to read First Aid if having done AnKing, but I decided to do 2 passes and don’t regret it.
I almost didn’t believe reviewing Pathoma chapters 1-3 right before the exam was as indispensable as people said, but I’m glad I listened!
“I invested in a year-long subscription to Cram Fighter in August and it was worth every penny! It would have been difficult to adapt a self-made schedule in response to derailments from studying (including mental health days); judicial use of the ability to redistribute overdue tasks was immensely helpful.”
– Kevin Dell’Aquila, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine
After all your preparation, how did you feel going into the exam and while you were taking it?
The day before the exam I did a half-day of studying for momentum going into the exam. I spent the latter half of the day practicing mindfulness and watching some TV.
I felt relaxed during the exam because I took plenty of practice tests. The exam felt a lot like UWorld and Free 120. I went through the test pretty quickly and left feeling confident.
Tell us about seeing your terrific scores – that must have been a great day!
I was extremely nervous leading up to the score reveal and could hardly sleep the night before! From test day up until seeing my score my confidence and patience was steadily declining. Seeing the score was equal parts relief and excitement!
If you could go back and change your approach in any way, what would you do differently?
I would start AnKing much sooner! I think even with Step 1 going P/F the sooner you start pre-made Anki decks, the better–especially to lay down the groundwork for Step 2 (I can’t imagine starting a 40K card deck during M3). I would also try to stress less about my predicted scores and just focus on reaching my goals.
I love how in the end of your post you describe your approach as “grit and integrity”. Do you have any parting advice for students prepping for their Step 1 exam?
Come up with a good plan, work hard, stay focused, be consistent, and it’ll work out for you! Believe in yourself and know your worth!
Check out Kevin’s post for more details on the resources he used, and then build your own Cram Fighter study plan to achieve your best performance on USMLE or COMLEX. Create a personalized schedule now in just a few clicks with our a no-strings-attached free 7 day trial account!
About the Author
Jonathan Zeitlin is a Brand Manager for Blueprint Test Prep with over 10 years of experience in education and ed-tech. He has a B.A. from UCLA.