"Oh, make sure you start studying now."
"Be sure to get this, that and the other book to study for the Boards."
"If you want to match in a competitive residency, you need to get such and such score on the Boards."
I was on SDN recently and there is a thread on when and how MS II students are planning to start studying. Needless to say, with all this talk going around the "B" has been on my mind A LOT, and I am starting to get a bit anxious. I didn't ace the MCAT; in fact, I took it twice. I'm not saying this to imply I'm not good at taking standardized tests; I simply did not prepare well enough. Looking back at that time in my life, I can clearly recognize some of the mistakes I made. I will most definitely not repeat those with Step 1.
These are the two of the biggest things I need to work on:
1) Minimize distractions, i.e. focus on studying when I need to and not be doing a million and one other things. I am very involved with volunteering and professional organizations at school, and sometimes tend to get carried away and end up devoting too much of my time to extracurricular activities. This coming school year, I have attempted to limit the number of these activities I am involved with, and I'll have to learn how to delegate and say "no" more often. I am also really close to my family, which is great, but too often I let their personal issues overwhelm me and interfere with my ability to focus on school. This is something I've struggled with for a long time and know I need to work on.
2) Make sure I have a plan that ensures I cover all the material THOROUGHLY.
After talking with my advisor and some senior students at my school, it seems that the best way to prepare for the boards is to do well in classes. This totally makes sense since this is the exact material that will be tested. However, I'm not entirely comfortable with this plan. For one, first year is already gone and there are some classes that I didn't exactly "do well" in, such as Biochemistry. Genetics wasn't very well taught, so I'll practically have to teach myself that. Developmental Biology was very well taught, but we didn't cover most of the Embryology that's tested on the boards. The point is that there's a lot of stuff from first year I need to cover while learning the material from second year. Thus, I need to come up with a plan that will facilitate that.
From everyone I've spoken to, the general consensus is that First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, 2010 (First Aid USMLE) is golden (i.e. a MUST HAVE). Thus, this will be my primary study guide. I have the 2009 version, so for each system I cover this school year, I will go through and annotate the crap out of it. I also have First Aid Q&A for the USMLE Step 1, Second Edition (First Aid USMLE); it's a question book and is great because it follows the organization of FA text, so after each system I'll do the questions to help prepare for tests and also test my understanding of the material in FA. I recently ordered Robbins and Cotran Review of Pathology (Robbins Pathology) which is another purely question book; I haven't gotten it as yet but I love the Robbins text book Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access (Robbins Pathology)so I think having the question book will be a great complement. Goljan Rapid Review Pathology: With STUDENT CONSULT Online Access also gets mad props from virtually everyone; I like it because it has great path pictures and is pretty concise. The thing is, it is truly a review book and is organized in bullet point manner so it sometimes doesn't really cover things I need to know for class. For this reason, I imagine I will use Robbins during the school year, then use Goljan when I really settle in Boards prep.
Realistically, I don't think I'll have much free time during the school year to go back and review first year stuff. I'll be an Anatomy TA this fall, so this will of course be a great source of review. I have a few weeks of spare time before school starts; my plan is to read up on Renal during this time since that's our first system for fall. If I have enough time during those few weeks, I'll try to do some microbiology and cardiopulmonary stuff from first year. I'll also use Thanksgiving and Christmas break to review first year stuff and organize my study material.
In January, I'll get a three month subscription to a Qbank, probably USMLE World, and start working on that. From what I've heard, you should go through your Qbank at least twice. We get 6 weeks in March-April to study, so at this time I'll buy FA 2011 (I think it comes out in January?) and go through it with a fine tooth comb.
Of course, none of this is set in stone, so as time goes on and I figure things out, I'll modify/ refine this study plan. I'll keep you in the loop, and if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them (particularly if you're in the same situation as I am, or if you've already taken the boards). Till next time,