Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Should I Start Preparing For The 2012 USMLE Step 1?

How about... right now?

That's right: even though the exam is several months away for most students, the time to start preparing for the 2012 Step 1 is today! Why so early, you ask? Simple: USMLE Step 1 is an exam that tests your cumulative knowledge. The sooner you start accumulating this knowledge, the better. This is not crammable knowledge. I repeat, this is not crammable knowledge. Yes, I know, you're a medical student - you live off of cramming. It's worked so far, right? Why not keep pushing your luck? Trust me: this is *not* the test you want to cram for, nor is it the test to take chances with. Most residency programs heavily weight Step 1 scores when determining which applicants to interview, let alone rank. Remember, this test is a means to an end: getting into a great residency program.

Hippocrates
So, now that I've got you properly on edge, how do you start preparing for Step 1? The key is to gradually build up your knowledge in a Step 1-specific way while you are studying for your basic science exams. As I've mentioned before regarding Step 1 preparation, you should purchase a general USMLE Step 1 review book such as First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2012 and annotate it with your own learning as you proceed through your basic science courses. Using this technique, when it comes time to study for Step 1, you are not reading some unknown professor's notes, but rather your own in a language you can understand. And, you will also become very, very familiar with the review book that you intend to use, which is quite helpful. You will start to notice certain topics end up being covered in multiple areas. For example: meningitis is both an infectious disease topic as well as a neurological topic. Both chapters will likely mention it but with a different focus. Knowing this well in advance can help you annotate one section with a note saying "Hey! Check out the other section for more info on this!" Remember, the body does not have chapters or sections. Disease is not neatly organized, so the key for your preparation for Step 1 is to be as organized as possible.

If annotating is not your thing, there are other options. You can purchase a USMLE Step 1 Qbank now and start looking at practice questions now. Simply take a section related to a topic you are working on and go through it. Figure out what your weak areas are and study them doubly hard. Whatever method works best for you is fine. It does not how you are reviewing for Step 1, but that you are doing something specific to prepare. Even doing as little as one hour per week can give you as much as a 30% head start over your peers in that final stretch before the exam. The key is to start doing something every week now so that when it is crunch time you feel prepared and confident to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. Good luck!

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