Saturday, July 05, 2008

My General Advice for Step 1

One thing I will warn you about ahead of time is that everyone you ask will tell you to do something different to ace the boards. I found this out for myself very quickly when I started asking some of the CCLCM upperclassmen what they did to study. Get two of them together in a room, ask them one question, and they'll give you three contradictory opinions. At some point, you need to think about what learning style works best for you, and just trust yourself. You didn't get halfway through med school without developing effective study habits. So use that knowledge to help you develop a plan that will be effective for you.

First, you should decide if you are a group studier or a self-studier. There are pros and cons to working with other students, and I think if you get the right partner or group, then studying with others can be extremely effective. That being said, I'm definitely a self-studier. A lot of my classmates worked together in groups, and I'm not inherently averse to doing that. But I have always been more of a self-studier. I studied on my own for the MCAT, and it worked out very well. So I decided early on not to study with other students. For me, the downside of being around other stressed people when I'm stressed myself far outweighs the benefit to be gained by bouncing ideas off other people.

Second, you need to decide what method helps you retain information best. A few people learn well just by reading, or by attending review sessions and having the info presented to them. Some people learn well using audio lectures. I think that many people learn well by doing a lot of practice questions, and that was the approach I took. I find that it is easy for me to kind of skim through stuff without really understanding it thoroughly if I just read it and don't try to apply what I've read to practice problems. I've always done well in math classes, but I have to work problems. I can't read a math book like it's a novel and hope to retain anything. Ditto for the USMLE.

Here's my general philosophical approach to studying for the boards (or any other exam): You start by figuring out what your weaknesses are, and you work on those first. That's how you get better and ultimately score higher. Plus, every school has certain subjects that are covered very well (cardio at CCLCM is, unsurprisingly, very thorough) and others that aren't as good. (I would say that our micro, pharm, and neuro are not as well-done.) You will need to put more time toward filling in the specific knowledge gaps that your school's curriculum has left. In my case, I needed a lot of work in neuro and micro, and I wasn't familiar with a lot of the drugs for pharm. In addition, since physiology and path are two of the highest yield subjects for the boards, I wanted to make sure I had them both down cold.

People often wonder how long to spend studying. Again, this is something that each person has to decide for themselves. Some of my classmates were already doing board review stuff during our first year. Others basically did nothing until spring of second year. I didn't start studying really hard until May of second year. It's hard to review path much earlier than that because you won't have covered the material in school yet. For CCLCM students, two really good subjects to start reviewing early on in second year are micro and immunology, because we cover those during first year but don't come back to them again second year. Neuro is also a good early subject because that's our first block during second year.

The final piece of advice that I have for you is not to go too crazy buying all kinds of resources. You won't have time to use them all. Pick a few good review books, and go with those (and your practice questions). Most importantly, don't give up. It's hell while you're going through it, but make sure that you work hard during your second year and study hard during your study break. If you do those things, everything will work out in the end.


Anonymous said...

hi... i just happened to come across your blog while researching some microbio stuff. i like your posts, most especially since i am also a medical student and we are also using the PBL method. this post particualrly enlightened me on my study habits. like you, i don't study well with groups. i'm going to take your advices. thanks! goodluck!

P.S. i'll be graduating this 2011 too..hopefully. ^_^


Anonymous said...

Good advice, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Will you post what books and question banks you used?

CCLCM Student said...

Yes. See the subsequent post.