My Path to Board Study

Written By: Kali Riley, Class of 2021

Dear Future Classes, 

This is what I did during my second year, and it proved to be successful! It’s a lot of words, but I have found that you never really know where everyone is, so I made sure to put everything in there. I remember feeling so lost as to what I needed to be doing, so I wanted to make sure you guys had at least somewhere to start. Obviously feel free to take this and make it your own, or as reassurance that what you’re doing is going to work. I encourage you to also look at other students study habits and see what they did, especially if they are taking the USMLE. My best advice, this is a marathon not a sprint! You know your limit, if you feel yourself becoming unmotivated take a break. You are more productive when you can be your best self tomorrow than being half of yourself today. Work EFFICIENTLY! And slowly but surely you will make it. As always, if you need anything or need more clarification on my study strategies feel free to reach out. 

Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, and then succeed on purpose

– G.K. Nelson

TOTAL Resources used:

  • First Aid for the USMLE 2017 – $35
  • Sketchy Micro/Path/Pharm – $320 for a year
  • Kaplan Q Bank- Free
  • TrueLearn Q Bank – Free
  • Pathoma – $100 for a year
  • Cram Fighter – $100 for 6 months ( I think)
  • UWORLD – $350 for 3 months
  • First Aid for the USMLE 2019 – $40

** Helpful tip: Learn how First Aid is organized! It was so helpful once I learned that First Aid is in two parts. The first part is general science (biochem, public health, general pharmacology topics) and it’s IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER. The second part is organized as systems in ALPHABETICAL ORDER. If you have a 2019 First aid you’re good to go, no need to buy a 2020. If you have a 2018, you may consider buying a 2020 when they come out. I found that year to year they don’t really change but there’s enough changes between two years to need a new one. You can always look in a friends first aid to cross-reference though. I would also suggest getting the PDF version of the First Aid from somewhere because it was way faster to just look up things in the pdf and reading, or using It to find the page number instead of using the index. The Index on the 2019 is incorrect 80% of the time.

Remember, the COMLEX level 1 is all about BUGS, DRUGS, and OMT so focus on that!

Summer Between First & Second Year

Resources used: Sketchy Micro, First Aid 2017

I got married in the month of June last summer, so I took off the whole month of June. Which proved to be great! I needed that time to relax, recoup, and refocus. I would highly recommend at least taking off some time when you get out. My studying started July 1.

Review Old Material (Consider starting BEFORE July 1 if you need this)

Now is the time, if you really struggled with a section during first year, or barely passed an exam go back to first aid, lecturio, boards and beyond, Kaplan prep books, and review the high yield material for that topic. The physiology will make learning the pathology so much easier. You CAN go back to the lectures if a professor used a chart that you really liked, but sometimes that material may or may not be high yield, so I recommend using one of the listed resources.

Microbiology Focus – BACTERIA
  • I would recommend going back through some of Dr. Atchley’s high yield mneumonics and the general bacteria morphology stuff in first aid FIRST.
  • Then, I went through Sketchy Micro Bacteria for about 3-4 hours a day (nothing crazy!). WITH MY FIRST AID. I made extra notes and highlighted in my first aid. I made it my goal to make it through either a section of bugs or half a section depending on the length a day.
  • You know.. sometimes I skipped a day here and there and I tried not to beat myself up, because there would be plenty of that happening later in the year.

Just a tip: I would recommend only using one color highlighter your first pass. Just buy a TON of yellow highlighters. Then, as your going back through during lecture use another color so your brain knows “hey, this is something you cant seem to remember”

If I had more time/motivation – Virus and Parasites
  • I kind of wish I would have made it through virus’s and parasites over the summer because 1. We didn’t really cover a lot of virus’s in lecture, it was just a lot of bacteria and 2. A second pass at parasites would have been beneficial. 

Fall Semester, OMS2 

Resources used: PATHOMA, Kaplan Q Bank, True Learn Q Bank, Sketchy Micro/Pharm, First Aid 2017

If you have the chance, TUTOR the first years!! I cannot tell you how much this helped me solidify topics, and review material. Was it challenging, sure! But the KEY to being prepared really is repetition. And if you don’t qualify to tutor, find a classmate that is a tutor and follow them to some of their tutoring sessions (*as long as it doesn’t impose on FERPA laws, and their tutoree is ok with it*)

For Each Test Block… 
  • I did not do the assigned pre-reading. Although the pre-reading really helped me in first year, I felt like I didn’t have as much time this year. Plus you have IBC and BECOM TBL’s where they make you do some pre-readings.
  • I went to class. ( I think I may have skipped Zaloga’s lectures, I cant remember when I started doing that) I highlighted and circled things they pointed out in class. I would keep a rolling to-do list of topics so I could find it later like “ watch pathoma renal, sketchy staph/strep”
  • I watched that section in Pathoma or Sketchy (in fall semester it usually pertains to one of these resources). I would literally have my pathoma book on my left, my first aid book on my right and I would watch the videos on my computer. I would highlight and take notes in my pathoma book. AT THE END OF THE VIDEO. I would find that section in first aid and make sure it didn’t have any extra info on the matter. My tip: when watching the videos really pay attention, try not to be reading in pathoma or first aid while the video is rolling it distracts you more than you think
  • Even if we hadn’t had the pathology lecture from Dr. Zaloga or whoever yet, if I had time I went ahead and watched Pathoma, because it was always good to maybe sometimes understand whats happening in lecture. Moral of the story: If you have time, there is something you can be doing.
  • I would then go back to the lecture. The lecture was always the 3rd thing because by then I had read/heard the “real” high yield stuff 2-3 times. So as I was going through lecture I could make my own notes and highlight things that were high yield.
  • I would usually use “split screen” during this time and start on my word document. With Word on one side and OneNote on the other. Plus, Pathoma still on my left and First Aid on my right. ( I guess you could put first aid on your left if you wanted, but this is important haha. My word document that I make is the highest high-yield material from lectures. It becomes what I use to study for exams off of. And I would usually add important notes from pathoma, and first aid. Usually just more of a succinct outline that made sense to me.
Here is an example:

  • I would do Kaplan Q Bank Questions related to that topic i.e. Renal, I would usually filter it so I just did physiology pathology and microbiology questions, I MAY add pharmacology to it.
  • You know everyone bashes Kaplan, and yes, I wouldn’t use it during dedicated.. but it still has easier questions with high yield facts that you WILL need to know. Plus, it’s a free resource, so use it during the fall to learn the facts you need to.
  • When I got a question wrong I would go look up that fact in either first aid or Pathoma, whichever resource I know its in. I.e. If its Physiology its probably only in First Aid.
  • I usually exhausted all the Kaplan Questions (COMLEX AND USMLE)
  • I would do COMBANK Questions related to that topic. (See Above) I didn’t always exhaust these questions, but I got close!
  • About 1 – 1.5 weeks before an exam I was going back to the word document with the lectures and highlighting what I STILL didn’t know. I usually did this intermittently with questions. I would do 40 questions and then review a lecture.
  • The day or two before the exam! Now you have dedicated time for more questions and a highlighted document with stuff you can’t remember to save your life, but at least you’ve got the high yield stuff down! Good luck!

Spring Semester, OMS2 

Resources used: Cram Fighter, Pathoma, Sketchy Micro, First Aid, Kaplan QBank, TrueLearn Q Bank

Spring semester is filled with a lot less lecture, and a lot more free time… aka study time!

It will feel sometimes like you can push all of this off until dedicated, but it will make you feel so good when you do well on practice exams, and you MUST pass the COMSAE which is before Dedicated study time. So, please make time for reviewing some things!

Cram Fighter
  • The spring is when I purchased cram fighter. This program allows you to input all of your resources and make a study schedule! You can edit things later to, since I didn’t purchase UWORLD until March. Some people don’t like to-do lists but I think it helped me remember to review topics I had forgotten about, I felt like it calmed me knowing that eventually it would help me review every topic and I wouldn’t leave anything out. Feel Free to skip tasks if you feel like it will waste your time. For example: I tutored Nutrition pathways at NAUSEUM so I skipped those tasks if they came up.
  • Just play around with it, it explains itself pretty well
  • I would recommend making biochem your first topic to cover, only because the biochem diseases require A LOT of repetition, and the sooner the better. Plus a lot of these things weren’t covered in lecture, or mentioned briefly, or mentioned in undergrad.
  • You can try to do two study sessions (Jan – April and April – June) but I just found it complicated to try to do that because I didn’t know what material I wanted to get through before school got out. IMO it all works itself out because with exams you’ll have to rebalance a few times, and the program will push back tasks until dedicated which will fill your whole day once you get there.
  • I would always Stop my to-do list about a week before a BECOM exam (two days before OMM/FOPC exam) to just focus on my word document and lectures. And its ok to do that because you can always go to “edit” “rebalance schedule” and it just moves everything back for you. Doing it this way really worked out for me.
    • Resources I added to my cram fighter: Pathoma, Sketchy Micro /Pharm, UWORLD/TRUELEARN QBanks, First Aid, OMT Review Saverese. I also added all the Kaplan text books (anatomy, behavioral science, path and pharm) … I usually looked at the section it wanted me to read and If I felt ok on the topic I skipped it, and if I was like “oh yeah I forgot I suck at that” I would go skim it real fast.
  • Don’t forget to put in your practice exams, it will leave these days blank for you so you don’t have to rebalance. I guess if you also wanted to you can add the weeks before BECOM exams to so you don’t have to rebalance all the time like I did.
For Each Test Block…
  • See above for my use of Pathoma, sketchy and first aid, and making my word documents. 
  • It seems like a lot, but there really are less lectures so you will find time to do your cram fighter to -do list. 
  • The only thing I changed was going to lecture. This semester I really picked and chose which lectures I went to. You make the decision for yourself, you’ll figure out which ones you need to go to, which ones you can listen to later, and which ones you don’t need to attend or listen to. 

Extra Questions

  • I did some questions filtered for a specific system and I did some on RANDOM.
  • Make sure that you are at least doing some on random. I usually did my random questions in the KAPLAN Q BANK to start off, because again they’re easier and they hit on the facts you need to know. DON’T START OFF WITH UWORLD, YOU WILL GET DISCOURAGED AND QUIT. Make yourself feel good, start with Kaplan. (and no, the school did not pay me to say that, I would take it though $ J$)
  • Make sure you are doing TRUELEARN and KAPLAN COMLEX and USMLE, you will not run out of questions.
I did about 5000 questions before dedicated, and I felt like I was where I needed to be for my practice exams and I passed my COMSAE so…


Resources Used: Cram Fighter, Pathoma, First Aid 2019, UWORLD, TrueLearn Q Bank, A Notebook 
  • Tip to think about: Use a mouse. Because on test day, you will not be given a laptop with a touchpad or a touchscreen. I’m left handed, so I have always hated mice. Soo… I’m practicing using my right hand while doing questions. And yes, I could buy a left-handed mouse or use the mouse in my left hand but it actually gives me an advantage! I can still use the mouse with my right hand and write notes with my left. Genius!
  • Just keep following cram fighter to-do list, don’t be afraid to skip tasks if you feel like reviewing that subject will be a waste of time.
  • A 5 Subject notebook. Idk I like to write things down. Muscle memory helps me remember things. So I would take VERY VERY brief notes in the front half over what I learned in pathoma or first aid (basically the facts I STILL couldn’t remember) and my quick reference FACTS in the back.
    • I labeled my quick facts every day like “facts 5/4/19”
  • And if you choose to not use cram-fighter. I basically went through a chapter of Pathoma a day, and tried to cover that section in first aid the next day and do about 120 questions every day. The questions came from a combination of UWORLD and COMBANK. My goal is to make it through COMBANK twice since I’m only taking the COMLEX.
    • UWORLD questions are harder and really make sure you know the information, plus it has REALLY good explanations of questions that TRUELEARN and KAPLAN just don’t have so that’s why I chose it.
When I would get questions wrong I did 1 of 2 things
  1. If it was just a random fact about a topic I would write it in my quick facts in the back of my notebook, maybe I would look it up in First Aid to see if it was there.
  2. If it was say a type of testicular cancer that I couldn’t differentiate between I would go to First Aid or Pathoma and read about all the types of testicular cancer and write all the types in my quick facts sheet in the back of my notebook with either 1 or 2 word associations I should look for.
    • i.e. Seminoma – “fried egg”, C-Kit, same as dysgerminoma in ovary
      Yolk sac – AFP, schiller-Duval
      chioriocarcinoma – B-HCG      

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