Medical school has turned out to be the hardest thing I have ever done. Everyone warns you of this, but it’s hard to comprehend what they mean until you’re doing it. It is not only intellectually challenging, but it takes a mental toll on you as well. I think it is very important to have an outlet to relieve the stress and to have a support system while you are here. Many of you have moved away from family and friends, and this will be your first time out on your own. Some of you will experience loss, strained relationships, financial troubles, etc. There will most likely come a time when the pressures of medical school along with troubles like these fall on your shoulders, and you are going to feel like you’re going to break. It’s okay to feel this way, but don’t try to do this by yourself. You will learn that you have a family around you at ARCOM. The students and faculty have turned out to be some of the most selfless and caring people I have ever met. REACH OUT for help. Your mental wellness is just as important as the focus you will be setting on your education. The school has professional resources available to you, and there are 300+ colleagues and faculty members that will be there for you if you just let them know.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.
It’s okay to ask for help. In doing so, if you fear that seeking professional help will go onto your school record, it will not. If you fear that someone will look down on you for reaching out, they will not. Watch out for your friends as well. If you think they might be falling into a dark place, REACH OUT to them. They may not be able to do that for themselves. Help each other get through this next big chapter of life. No one was meant to do this alone. I promise you, we are all in this together and want all of our fellow colleagues to succeed.
Even if you think you’re the study-alone-type, you should still make time for studying with partners and/or in groups as well, as this is an excellent way to:
learn other study strategies
hear others’ perspectives on what’s important
hear their interpretation on some of the harder concepts
Sometimes I would breeze over some concepts, thinking I understood them, and would then hear friends talking about them and realize I had a very shallow understanding.
Take advantage of the free tutoring!! I never actually sought out tutoring personally, but I did get lots of second-hand help from friends that got tutoring, and it was life-changing when it came to hard stuff like immuno and neuro.
We have some incredible faculty members here that you should really get to know. I’ve never been one to go to office hours, make friends with professors, etc., but it just happened naturally here for me. Just a few of the most welcoming that you could easily get to know first (if you’re the shy type, like me): Dr. Bridges, Dr. Peterson, Dr. Ziegler. Mentors are important on the journey to becoming a physician. So, find your people.
Get involved in extra-curriculars! Join a couple clubs and be active in them. Take advantage of the volunteer opportunities within these clubs. Not only will it be fun, but you’ll slowly be working on that CV for residency applications. I’d recommend choosing one academic club (like family med club) and one non-academic (like garden club) in which to really dedicate being an active member.
Do practice questions! I did these for each system during 2nd semester for physiology. Probably would’ve been helpful for anatomy as well. The online library has BRS (Board Review Series) available, which has a manageable amount of questions (with very good explanations for right and wrong answers). Emily Hudspeth and Seth Bayird made this website with practice questions also. There are a ton of other resources with practice questions. Kaplan online board prep should be made available to you 2nd semester, which has videos, PPTs, practice questions, etc. Random tidbit: Kaplan practice questions saved me in FHC1 (biostats, prevalence/incidence, sensitivity/specificity, etc).
Pre-reading everything isn’t really practical… but always 100% of the time helped me. So, if you have time, do the pre-reading. Or find videos online that correspond with the pre-reading subjects.
Ninja nerd. Watch all of his videos for everything. Everything.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
Generally, this is going to be a very hard year and you’re going to feel mostly inadequate the whole way. That’s a normal feeling, but it does not mean you aren’t learning. I would consider this your first pass through the material and as such some things are going to stick and other things aren’t.
First let’s talk about board prep materials. I don’t think you need to start “prepping” for boards during first year. However, after officially going through all the material there is to offer, I do think it would be extremely beneficial to start going through even Anatomy with these resources to help guide and focus your studying on what is board relevant (even if you still have to know more detailed things for the actual classwork).
“UFAPS” is considered the gold standard for board prep and it consists of 5 resources that are all but essential for medical school. The earlier you get these an integrate them into your studies, the more successful I believe you will be.
UWorld: Considered the best question bank (at least for the USMLE). I would start using this 2nd year.
First Aid for the USMLE Step 1: buy this right away, and as you go through anatomy, just see what’s in the book. Same goes for biochem, micro, etc. Physio especially, it will help you hone done what is super important. It’s a great reference book for everything. Just don’t be scared to open it up day 1.
Anki: This is a flashcard service that uses spaced repetition to help you retain the information maximally. Medical students have already made amazing decks with what is essentially all of First Aid, Pathoma, Sketchy, etc. You can find a deck of pretty much anything or make your own. I would suggest using this (especially for things that are new to you). Download the software and search for shared decks. Some great ones to start using are Zanki, Brosencephalon, Pathoma, and the Sketchy decks by @nicolet.life
Pathoma: The pathology guide by Dr. Sattar. Super helpful with your first pass through pathology during 2nd year (which is when I’d suggest to use it)
SketchyMedical: This is absolutely amazing for teaching yourself pharm and micro. I can’t speak for pathology, but if you combine this with Anki flashcards (the decks that reference the sketches) you will thrive. I would start this 2nd year and go through it with your systems.
+ Boards and Beyond: The only one not in the acronym, it is still considered an amazing resource. This is and sketchy are the only resources that people substitute something in depending on their learning style. These powerpoints are straight and to the point, but Dr. Ryan hits all the good stuff in these and they have a TON of practice board questions. I would get this for 2 years and just watch the videos as you prepare for different topics. It is essential for board prep 2nd year in my opinion.
First year summary: First Aid, Anki, Boards and Beyond, class work
While doing anatomy, crack open first aid and see what’s more board relevant, just to get an idea. Do anki for tricky areas to remember muscle attachments, nerve associations, etc. Watch the summary anatomy videos from B&B
with Biochem, check out first aid. Go through B&B. Remember to keep an eye out on the pathologies and where they develop. These are highly tested of course.
Second Year Summary: First Aid, Anki, B&B, Pathoma, Sketchy, stay away from class work until a few days before the exam I’d say.
Highly recommend using Cram Fighter to organize a board study schedule over the next 2 semesters. The earlier you start, the less you will cram in and the more time you will have to free study over what you really need to hone in on.
First semester: Start doing some questions every day and as you go through the systems, I’d also go through Pathoma and an Anki Pathoma deck if you haven’t started that already. Start going through Sketchy Pharm/Micro if you haven’t already. Pharm can be completed with each system, but I would try to be a little ahead of the game. Micro never really fits in anywhere, so just do a little at a time. You shouldn’t have to focus on class stuff until a few days before the exam to do well. You are already studying for class by board prepping. The class material is helping you with the powerpoint specific information they will test you on.
Second semester: continue what you are doing, but do more of it. Up the questions every day, do more videos, do more Anki cards. Focus less on class except right before the exam. You will do well enough and boards are more important. Again, if you haven’t made a schedule, get CramFighter and make one if it helps, or make your own.
I didn’t go through Pathoma more than once, I just did B&B again because it is more comprehensive. Your anki flashcards should be enough than going through the material again.
Take each practice test seriously. Buy a few extra practice tests (UWorld has some that come with the subscription, COMBANK has an extra one, COMSAE has a few extra).
If you have any questions about this feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I didn’t look at advice during first year and this is what I wish someone had told me. It may suck at first, but it will be so helpful.
What is your end goal that you plan achieve through studying?
Having a good foundation for clinical medicine.
Having a level of understanding that is suitable for academia or medical education.
Scoring points on exams.
Purely for reasons of self-satisfaction and improvement.
Each of these are perfectly fine goals, and all of us likely have a mix of all of them. However, if we find ourselves struggling, it is a good idea to focus in on the one most important to us and be sure we check off that box before addressing other factors.
If you picked either of the first two, I would suggest using outside resources as your main source for *learning* (different than studying, we will get to that). This does not mean only use these resources, but rather spend probably anywhere between 45-50% of your study time using board review sources and text books and the rest using ppts given by professors.
When going after these two goals, it is important to make a conscious divide between learning and studying. With the attitude of maintaining core fundamentals for years to come, I feel that learning should be done at a slightly more meandering pace, using videos and keeping note-taking and studying to a minimum. Spending time trying to soak things in without moving your hands is important (in my opinion). Take time to think about how you would explain these topics to a patient, family member, or colleague. Consider how patients would present to you as a doctor if they had the conditions you are studying. If you really HAVE to take notes during this period of learning, keep your notes future-focused. Instead of copying out everything you just read or heard, bookmark the video or page and make a note to come back and write out some word tables or lists later during study time. With this approach, you should make *study* time a time of intense, drill-focused activities. Set a timer to make sure you use your time effectively. 25 minutes is a good time frame for each study block. In that time, try to stay off your phone and limit distractions. This is your time to drill, drill, drill. This is about memorization of tricky little pieces of info or lists or tables. Don’t ever do more than an hour of true studying at a time. It WILL be a waste of your time with minimal returns the longer you go. Over time, your stamina for studying will go up, but it is important to break up your day to get the most out of your time. Go on a walk, go eat, do your planning for the next day, or go pre-read for your next lecture.
If you answered “scoring points on exams” for your goal, your main way of spending time is now studying, drilling, practice questions, drilling, and more practice questions. You need to spend the vast majority% of your time on the faculty ppts. Rewatch lectures (at 1.4 or 1.6x speed) and take notes while rewatching. Try and pause after they finish each slide and really ask yourself if you have squeezed everything out of what they said. After you have rewatched the lecture once, try to condense all of your notes into a single page. You should spend most of your time you would normally be watching outside videos just rewatching lecture videos. Then find as many practice questions as possible and keep doing them until you can answer all of them in one sitting without missing any. Talk to professors often(ish) to try and catch any hints possible that may net you one or two extra test questions (remember, this is the grade-grubbing method). For this method, being able to essentially rewrite the ppts from memory is probably the level you should shoot for. You may not have the best long-term retention with this, but I know some very successful students who are using this method.
If you picked the last goal listed above as your primary driving factor, I think you should do a bit of a hybrid from the past couple study methods. Make sure to use timers liberally, but take a bit of time every few days to just sit and think about the material without using any visual or audio cues. Take as many little victories as you can and take time to remind yourself that you are making progress. If your goal is self-improvement, please do not get caught beating yourself up of not being perfect or having a 100% in anatomy and BECOM. Remember your goal and take time to appreciate your progress.
Next, I think it is good to ask ourselves why we use the study methods we use. More precisely, we should ask “When I do X, why do I choose to spend my time doing that instead of Y?” It is easy to latch onto old study methods out of habit, even if they aren’t yielding results or are not well suited for the type of material we are studying. Next, when we use one method, we should ask “What do I expect to get out of my time right now?” This needs to be asked *every* time we study. Studying just because that is what we are “supposed” to be doing will lead to a lot of unhappiness and ineffective studying. Make sure to always think about what you want to get out of the time you spend. Finally, remember than you have a finite amount of time with each exam block’s information. There will come a time where, for each lecture ppt, you will have to ask yourself “Will I ever see this information again?” Decide what to take with you, and what is no longer worth your time.
Some Study Suggestions
Block your study time. Slow and steady does not win a 100-meter dash. Not every race is the same, and sometimes two intense 20 minute blocks are better for the task at hand than a stretched out 3 hour stay in a study room.
Sleep. Especially sleep at the right time for you. If you need more time, take more time, it’s worth it. You want you to be studying, not a zombie version of you.
If you use outside resources, budget them. None of us can afford to sit and watch Ninja Nerd or Osmosis all day. Pick a time of the day to watch your videos and try to stick to it. I do mine early in the morning. If I miss them that day, I catch up on the next morning or the weekend.
Don’t spend too much time pre-reading. This is where asking “What do I expect to get out of this?” really shines. Are you expecting to know all the information for the lecture after prereading? No? Then don’t spend 2 hours doing it. Spend 30 minutes at the most. If you want to go longer, take a break, see what you retained from the first block, and then decide if it is worth the time.
Get at least a little bit of exercise. Especially if you are driven by personal improvement. Getting little wins can sometimes further drive us to succeed on the harder tasks.
Take time to test your recall. Spend even just 10 minutes a few times each week sitting down and staring into space while you try to recall everything you can about the current exam block. Sometimes this is best way to identify areas of weakness. If you know a concept exists that you are supposed to know, but you can’t reproduce the information, that is the next place to start studying.
Don’t group study too much. Sorry. Honestly, though, the majority of your time should be spent studying alone. Even if you don’t like it. Sometimes studying independently but with a friend in the room to bounce ideas off of can be a substitute for solo studying in short amounts.
If you use notes, take them. If you spend two hours making a perfectly crafted set of note cards or one-page summary…READ WHAT YOU WROTE. If you are not revisiting your hand-written notes every few days, you are taking notes for the wrong reasons. If revisiting your notes is too daunting, you are making too many notes. Remember to revisit the basics regularly.