My Success Story: Passing Step 1 and Shelf Exams During Third Year with Med School Tutors

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • The following post is a guest blog from a Blueprint tutoring student, Katerina, who successfully passed her Step 1 and shelf exams at the same time with the help of her Blueprint tutor. Hear her story below!

    The summer before my third year of medical school, I still felt like I wasn’t ready to take Step 1.

    Deep down, I knew I needed more time to build the foundation of knowledge that would allow me to pass the exam.

    So…how did I get here?

    You see, during my preclinical years, I was learning at such a fast pace I simply wasn’t able to create the solid, long-term knowledge base I needed for Step 1 success.

    Additionally, I had difficulty applying my knowledge when answering standardized questions, and I felt like I never really managed to tackle this problem. 

    My Decision: Study for Step 1 or Tackle Both During Third Year?

    With my third year of medical school looming on the horizon, taking Step 1 seemed less than desirable. But I knew I had to make a decision—do I play it safe and focus on just studying for Step 1? Or do I give myself a shot and see if I can pass it while also studying for rotations?

    I had two options: either I would 1) push off starting third-year rotations until January and dedicate the fall semester to studying for and hopefully passing Step 1; or 2) study for Step 1 and third year rotations at the same time.

    I chose the latter. Making the decision to study for Step 1 and third year at the same time was a difficult one. I knew that if I was going to do this, I couldn’t do it alone.

    Why I reached out for help…

    As much as I consider myself an organized and disciplined person, I knew the journey I was about to embark on was going to be a very grueling and lonely one.

    That’s when I decided to ask for help. I reached out to Blueprint for one-on-one tutoring. I just needed someone to help me organize my study schedule and hold me accountable if I was going to reach my goals while juggling a million other things.

    And let me tell you, it made all the difference!

    How My Med School Tutor Helped Me Pass My Exams

    1. My study sessions were targeted and productive.

    When it came to pairing me up with a Blueprint tutor, I was sent a detailed questionnaire to assess what my goals were.

    Soon after, my assigned tutor reached out to me to schedule our first session. I met with my tutor about once a week for 1-2 hour sessions.

    We reviewed specific high-yield topics, or topics I maybe wanted to review a little further. We also focused on practice questions and question strategy.

    The PowerPoints were direct and very interactive, so I didn’t feel like I was just being lectured. Being able to then apply the knowledge we just discussed with practice questions really helped hammer down the content.

    2. My tutor was flexible to my schedule.

    My Blueprint tutor was always receptive to my school schedule and the importance of taking time to recharge, so she was always very realistic when helping me curate my daily study plan. 

    3. My tutor was on my team!

    It was also really comforting knowing I had someone on my side, holding me accountable in keeping me motivated and disciplined every step of the way. It made a huge difference during a really isolating process.

    4. My tutor helped me balance my shelf exam and Step 1 preparation.

    At the start of my two-month internal medicine (IM) rotation, I did more Step 1 than IM practice questions.

    As I got closer to my IM shelf exam, I focused solely on IM. The benefit of starting with IM was that it was really helpful in preparing me for Step 1. The disadvantage was that IM is long hours and has the most Qbank questions out of all the rotations.

    The weekend after my shelf exam, I passed my first Step 1 NBME practice exam! That’s when I decided to book my test.

    As a side note, I do want to highlight the fact that I was honest with the residents I was assigned to during this rotation. I let them know that I was studying for Step 1 and if there was ever any down time, I’d appreciate it if they would let me study.

    The reason I want to mention this is because there’s no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed for not taking and passing Step 1 during the dedicated period. Everyone is on their own timeline and sometimes it may take longer for some than others and that’s ok!

    So, don’t be afraid to ask for help or tell your attending or resident that you’re still studying for Step 1. More likely than not, they’ll want to help you.

    5. Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner helped me manage my time.

    As much as I made them aware of my situation (and they were extremely understanding of it) I still gave them 100% of my effort on the rotation. I chose to study for both simultaneously, however, that didn’t mean I could slack off.

    So, this is when I really had to manage my time well and I created a detailed schedule in my Google Calendar of what I planned to tackle each day.

    I also utilized the Blueprint’s Med School Study Planner to help check off my daily tasks. With the unpredictability of my rotation schedule, there was variability in the amount of time I was able to dedicate to studying each day. The study planner allowed me to redistribute tasks with ease to ensure I met my goals for each week.

    6. My tutor helped me at a crucial moment. 

    At some point during my next rotation (OB/GYN), I was sensing a bit of burnout. I was exhausted, but I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.

    That’s when my tutor realized that I had to slow down. So I started taking one day off each week. And I mean a real day off. I didn’t do any studying that day. It was just what I needed to recharge my battery and continue moving forward.

    I know you’ve heard it before and it’s easier said than done, but REST IS PRODUCTIVE! You have to make self-care activities, whether it’s going to the gym or going to therapy, a priority. Your body knows when it’s about to hit its breaking point and we want to avoid that as much as possible. Medical school is a marathon, not a sprint!

    7. Working with a tutor gave me a sense of control.

    I kept up with my practice exams and Qbank practice questions as I continued to approach exam day. How did I know I was ready?

    Well, you never really feel ready. I remember the week of my exam just feeling so done and wanting to get over this exam. I wanted test day to be the last time I had to see a Step 1 question. As much as I was nervous, my gut was telling me I was ready, so I decided to stick with my scheduled exam date.

    No one goes into Step 1 knowing everything, but I was confident that I had the prep tools I needed to succeed. And I’m so grateful to say that my hard work did pay off that day!

    My Advice to Med Students Considering a Tutor

    Now, this isn’t to say everyone should follow in my footsteps, because unfortunately I do know people who have and didn’t pass Step 1. At the end of the day, it comes down to what YOU think you can handle and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

    If you choose to push off third year rotations to study for Step 1, do it. No path in life is linear, there are many twists and turns, but as long as you don’t give up on yourself, you will reach your goal of becoming a doctor.

    The bottom line is, make the decision that’s right for YOU! No one knows you better than yourself. No matter what you decide to do it will be hard and frustrating, but lean on your support system and most importantly trust yourself.

    And if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it, because once I decided to ask for help and make the investment to work one-on-one with a Blueprint tutor, it was a game changer in helping me reach my goals.

    So, that’s my story. I share it with you so you can see where one path can lead. Best of luck on your journey, and remember, do what you think is best for you. And reach out to a Blueprint med school tutor for help if you need it!

    Looking for more (free!) articles to help you through med school? Check out these other posts on the Blueprint Med School blog:

    About the Author

    I am a third-year medical student at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico. I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with Minors in Chemistry & Biology from Florida State University. I also have a Master's Degree in Medical Sciences from the University of South Florida. My interest in medicine was inspired by my brother who has autism and in wanting to provide equal care to people with disabilities and of all different backgrounds.