Hello! This will likely be my first and last blog post, but I’ve had many people ask for board prep advice, and I figured this was the most efficient way to get it out to everyone at once! I had a ton of advice along the way, so am happy to give back in any way that I can.
I will start out by telling you guys that my MCAT was well below average. I spent so much time looking up correlations between MCAT and board scores, and was convinced that I couldn’t do well on boards. This caused me a ton of anxiety, and despite what my NBME assessments, class grades, and Qbank averages told me, I doubted myself until the day I received my scores back.
My scores USMLE: 257 COMLEX: 826
What I did
My goal going in to med school was to give 110% every single day, so that no matter what happened, I could not regret anything because I knew I had done everything I could. I maintained this mentality the entire way through, and it landed me where I am right now.
This being said, I never had a “goal score” for my boards. My goal was to max out my potential.
For the entirety of my first and second year, I put in on average 11-12 hours of work on weekdays, and 14-16 hours each day of the weekend. Obviously there were days I did less, but this was the exception and not the norm.
The absolute best advice I can give in regards to boards is to focus on class work and build a solid foundation. This is UNDERRATED. I knew many people who spread themselves thin with “board” resources, and wasted their time studying those rather than focusing on their class work. This is a huge mistake. The class work IS the “board material”. There is no point in venturing outside of your class work until you have that down solid.
1st year – 100% focused on classes. No board materials used.
Summer between first and second: DO NOTHING…except….SketchyMicro. I watched this one time through during the summer, and the advantage it gave me is indescribable. During the fall, I would watch the videos again as we talked about them in class. Overall I went through the entire thing about 3 times. Not only was my micro class an absolute breeze, but after the fall semester, I hardly ever looked at micro again. These videos were so solid, that come board time I still remembered every detail, so there was no need to continue to study micro. I maxed out the micro score on both COMLEX and USMLE, and it was due primarily to this program. (We did also have an excellent micro class at school, so I don’t want to undercut that either).
Fall semester: This semester I was still about 95% focused on classes and 5% focused on boards. I started Kaplan Q bank, as well as USMLErx. I ONLY did these along with class work (ex: if we were learning cardio path, I only did cardio path questions). This not only helped me get used to board style questions, but also hammered in the class material.
I also did dabble around in COMBANK a little bit. I think I finished a little over half of it.
Spring Semester My primary focus was still class work. I bought Uworld in February or so, but still only did questions that corresponded with my class work. However, if we were learning GI path, instead of JUST doing GI path questions, I did ALL GI questions. This re-exposed me to anatomy, Biochem, histo, and other topics from first year.
I also began to diligently watch Pathoma. If we were learning GI path, I would learn the class material well, and then watch the Pathoma videos to hammer in the info. This was crucial.
I had all of Pathoma and Uworld done x1 before I got to my dedicated time.
Towards the END of my spring semester, I started messing around with FirstAid. I had not really opened it before this time. If we were learning about cardio, I would make time to review cardiac anatomy and phys (we are not systems based). Again, this not only helped for boards, but also for classes.
Spring break Biochem was my weakest subject- I think I had literally forgotten all of it. Over spring break, I watched the entire Kaplan Biochem series (schedule below). I made very detailed, yet simple notes, and from then on only worked from those. The number of pathways I had to learn after watching was daunting, to say the least. I came up with the idea of “pathway time” (dumb, but it worked well for me). For 15 minutes a day, I would stop what I was doing and draw out a biochem pathway. I would re-draw that same pathway for several days until I knew it cold, then would move to the next. I had all of the pathways down in about 4-5 weeks, and had turned my worst subject into one of my best. By working on this during the school year, I was completely done with Biochem before dedicated even started. Breaking Biochem down in to short quick segments made it less stressful for me, and made it easy to attack.
Dedicated Here is my dedicated schedule. I will stress the importance of regularly scheduled assessments. From what I’ve read, a lot of people are scared of taking assessments, so they just continue to study blindly, take an assessment a month or two later, do poorly, and then feel like they wasted those one or two months with ineffective studying. For this reason, I chose to space my assessment exams about 1 week apart. This way I could track my progress, and quickly make adjustments to my study methods if needed. This also allowed me to identify any weak points and quickly address them.
Uworld Stuff During dedicated I finished Uworld for a second time. Many people advise saving Uworld until dedicated. I went back and forth trying to decide when to start it, and ultimately chose to begin early (thanks to the help of a super smart radiology resident I know ;) ). This was hands down one of the best decisions I made in regards to my board prep. Yes, Uworld is unequivocally the best resource there is for Step 1; so why the heck wait until dedicated to start?! Doing this qbank twice allowed me to get the most out of it. There were SO MANY things I picked up on the second time around that I would have otherwise missed. Start this in your spring semester, and do it in tutor mode, along with class work. Your second pass during dedicated should be random timed. Uworld for me was NOT about tracking scores; it was about learning from the questions and explanations.
I also kept a Uworld Journal (I read about this on someone else’s blog, so thank you for the idea!). A Uworld journal is a word document that I used to keep track of questions I got wrong. I would read the explanation, and then pick the ONE FACT that I needed to know to answer the question right. I would type up the one fact in question form, and then answer it below. (Ex: What type of collagen is found in bone – Type 1). I’m a wordy person (as you can probably tell), so this ‘one fact’ thing was awesome for me because it kept things short. The goal was to review this journal frequently, which I actually did not do very well, but the night before my USMLE I read through the entire thing and can say for sure I got several questions on my test that came from this journal. Uworld is huge, and keeping this journal was the only way for me to remember everything I had missed.
Between Uworld, USMLErx, Kaplan, COMBANK, and my assessments, I did somewhere between 12-13k questions. This was the most important thing I did. They can only ask questions so many ways. By exposing myself to this number of questions, there was not much that I hadn’t seen. A huge chunk of my questions were done during second year, but as stated above, I always did them in a way that would correspond with what we were learning in class at that time. I think I good goal to set is at least 10k questions.
Pathoma I finished Pathoma for a second time during dedicated. I had a strong path background, so 2x was enough for me. If you are still hazy on any of the path, I would highly recommend watching Pathoma as many time as you need to until you have it down cold.
First Aid Went through first aid twice. Not much else to say about this!
Between my USMLE and COMLEX I took the USMLE 5 days before COMLEX. The idea was to study for the USMLE alone, and then in the 5 days between read the green book and do COMBANK OMT questions. This did not happen haha. I was brain dead after my USMLE. I think I read about half of the green book and worked maybe 200-300 COMBANK questions or so. I am not some OMT wizard or anything, so its safe to say the OMT on my COMLEX was easy (fortunately). Know your VSR’s and Chapman points cold. VSR’s were probably 80% of my OMT questions. I used a youtube video to learn them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-r_QriTMSc)
Assessments I Took
- NBME assessments - forms 15, 17, 13, 18
- UWSA - 1, 2
- Free 120
- COMSAE form E
- COMBANK assments 1 and 2
- Kaplan full length
Thoughts on these - take as many as you can, especially the NBME assessments. My overall score on the USMLE was the exact average of my NBME assessments. They do a good job of letting you know where you stand and what you need to brush up on. Take one at the very start of your dedicated time period to get a baseline score. This will let you know where you stand and show you how much work you need to do to reach your goal. I think getting a baseline is super important.
All of the COMLEX assessments (except COMSAE) were taken during the spring semester of school. These were all required by the school.
Overall, the material I used in dedicated was no different than what everyone else uses. The work I did in my first two years is what laid the foundation for me to score well.
My MCAT is evidence that anyone can do this. Just takes a lot of work! Happy to answer any questions that I can!
I was NOT able to stick to these time blocks. However, I DID finish everything I was supposed to finish each day by the end of that day. The time blocks were just not realistic for me. I had several days after my UWSA2 to just hit weak areas. In retrospect, I took WAY too long to study. 4 weeks would have been ideal.
My anatomy sketches, I’ve never had a formal art class but I’m toying with the idea of adding an art minor so that I can get a masters in medical illustration but my parents don’t seem too enthusiastic