How to Study for the USMLE Step 1: Med Student Interviews, Part 4

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • We asked Areeka M. (VCOM Class of 2021) to share her advice for successfully preparing for the boards Below she gives a breakdown of the study resources that worked best and how she applied them throughout her study schedule.

    What resources did you use for Step 1 and Level 1 and how effective were they?

    • First Aid: One of the best and most high yield resources. I think people have mixed thoughts on whether just reading it is helpful, but that is why you have to rely on what study methods have worked for you over the years. If straight up reading material has worked in the past, it will work now as well. If it doesn’t, then focus on other materials, but still know that this book will contain a lot of the important information. I used an older edition of it for the first half of second year, but then purchased the newest one as soon as it came out. I used the book by annotating with UWorld as needed and also using Cram Fighter to allocate pages of reading for me throughout my study period.
    • UWorld: An absolute must. Definitely my most useful resource.
    • NBOME/NBME practice exams: Very effective as well
    • Pathoma: I really like how all of the pathology was highlighted in this book, but I wish I had somehow condensed it to fit along with my First Aid. The pictures are amazing and First Aid is missing a lot of the info found in Pathoma and that is what makes it pretty important
    • SketchyMicro and Pharm: This resource is the only reason I know micro and pharm. I still get pharm questions right on rotations thanks to this.
    • Anki: I used this sparingly. Pretty much only for Sketchy and some random subjects dispersed throughout my study period.
    • Boards and Beyond: I used this and watched all of it.
    • Cram Fighter: I could not have made it through my boards season without Cram Fighter. It is such a stressful time period, and organizing my workload myself was the last thing I wanted to waste time with. I have seen people try to make elaborate Excel docs, but (1) that takes too much time, and (2) what happens if you miss something scheduled for that day? With Cram Fighter, I love that if I missed something, it would be visible and I could re-assign the task if needed. I cannot even imagine trying to reorganize an Excel sheet or paper schedule like that. I also changed my mind about the way I wanted to organize my days throughout my study period, and easily rearranging things was only possible with Cram Fighter. Re-making a schedule every time I decided I needed to allocate more or less time to a resource would have been way too time-consuming.

    What went well during your preparation and what would you have done differently?

    I am glad I used resources like UWorld, First Aid, Sketchy Micro/Pharm, and Cram Fighter. I wish I had either not used or Anki or fully used it. I don’t think it is helpful to sparingly use this resource because it takes so much time. If Anki is something you want to use, it is important to become active in using it early on in your study period. Using Cram Fighter to test the feasibility of my time frame for these resources was very helpful. I would have been disillusioned into thinking I could finish cards earlier than possible if Cram Fighter didn’t show me the reality of how many cards I would have to do per day to finish the decks.

    I could not have made it through my boards season without Cram Fighter. It is such a stressful time period, and organizing my workload myself was the last thing I wanted to waste time with.

    – Areeka M., VCOM, 2021

    I also debate the choice to use Boards and Beyond. It was good for physiology and annotating, but I really do not learn much from just watching a video and there are so many boards resources that I kind of wish I didn’t waste time with this. I think it was extremely helpful when I was reading First Aid and needed a refresher on a physiology topic, but other than that I wish I had focused my time on doing more questions and reading through First Aid.

    Do you have any advice for students taking these exams who also want to reach their goals?

    First, figure out what resources to use early and make a schedule early as well. It is important to make a schedule in a way that is easy to change things around.

    Second, commit to resources you decide to use. If you only half-heartedly use a resource, it will not be fully beneficial.

    Third, trust the way you’ve studied in the past. So many people told me this, but I didn’t believe it. It seemed to me like there was a general group of resources everyone used and that I had to use them. You have studied for classroom exams for two years so by this point everyone knows how to study. I think it’s important to try to incorporate that into your boards study schedule as well.

    Missed our other interviews with med school students on how to study for Step 1 and other board exams? Read part 1, part 2, or part 3 of the series now.


    About the Author

    Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.