January of your second year is the ideal time to buckle down and start preparing for the boards. My biggest piece of advice I can offer is to not overwhelm yourself with too many resources. Pick a couple that work for you and stick with them. Because 10 books or study resources would be way too many to recommend in good conscience I decided to offer some non-traditional recommendations to prepare for boards. The first half of this “Top 10” will be the resources I used to study and the last 5 are the things that kept me sane in this trying period.
Side Note: For all you DO students out there, check out my previous post Should I take USMLE Step 1?
1) First Aid for Step 1
This is the bible of the boards and for good reason. This is the only item on this list that is absolutely essential for taking the boards. If you are in your first year or early in your second year I recommend buying First Aid and annotating it as you learn the coursework. Once you are in the second half of your 2nd year I recommend buying a new version of First Aid and starting with a blank slate. Then read and annotate your First Aid while doing the associated UWorld Questions (See #2)
I often have DO students asking me if they should use UWorld or if Combank is sufficient for their board prep. In terms of learning the material, UWorld is a must for all medical students. The questions are hard, but the explanations are gold. Take time going through the questions and read the explanations to understand why the correct answer was selected and why the other options were incorrect.
With that being said, I don’t think DO students should blow off Combank completely. The question styles of USMLE and COMLEX are very different and Combank does a better job to prepare students to take the COMLEX. Many questions on the COMLEX include viscerosomatic levels and describe Chapman’s points so being prepared and familiar with the basics of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine will result in a higher score.
A subscription to Pathoma includes 35 hours of pathology lectures and a corresponding textbook. Dr. Satter’s lectures make difficult to understand pathology concepts and breaks them down into clear and concise high yield material. The videos are relatively short and the textbook is written in bullet form and has bright high yield classic pathology pictures that are likely to show up on your exam.
3) Sketchy Medical
Visual learners rejoice! Sketchy medical is a series of videos in which they animate a scene and use colors and items in the scene to convey the most high yield facts about the bug, drug or pathology concept. The videos are relatively short and the themes carry forward in other videos (ie. gram negative bug videos are usually abundantly pink, where as gram positive bug videos have more purple shades).
Back in my day “Sketchy Medical” was known as “Sketchy Micro”. They had just finished rolling out the entire selection of Microbiology videos and had just started releasing a handful of psych medications. So while I cannot speak to Sketchy Pharm or Sketchy Path, I highly recommend Sketchy Micro. Two years later I can still recall some of the videos I watched preparing for boards which is saying something because I swear most of the time information goes in one ear and out the other.
5) DIT or Kaplan
If you have the funds and/or need a little more direction with your board prep I highly recommend Doctors in Training (DIT) or Kaplan courses.
Several of my friends used Doctors In Training and raved about the program. When you enroll in DIT you are sent a workbook which coincides with their video series. Each video starts off with 3 random review questions and then progresses into a lecture on a given topic. At the end of the video there are several review questions on the topic to ensure that you understood the material.
I won a Kaplan course for my MCAT prep and the instructor I had was so useful. She taught us the highest yield tid bits and cleared up those subjects that trip up a lot of test takers. When it came time to take the boards I looked into a Kaplan course and had sticker shock with courses ranging from $2000 to $4000. Ouch! Well good news for medical students who don’t want to blow their budget, Kaplan has now introduced an Integrated Program at a much more reasonable price point of $300. The Integrated Program combines 70 hours worth of online lecture with a question bank. This plan also gives the user access to 2 full-length stimulated exams and a personalized study plan.
6) Meal Service
So we’ve all been told money can’t buy happiness right? Well a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates otherwise. This study found that when people spend money on time-saving services it can increase happiness.
When I was studying for boards I really struggled with eating healthy meals. I would lock myself in the library for hours and be so famished when I was done studying that I would order take out and gorge myself on terrible food. When I would finally drag myself to the grocery store I would feel horrible guilt for “wasting” an hour that I should’ve been studying. Enter: Hello Fresh. Quite by chance I received a promo code to have my first box discounted so I figured I might as well give it a shot. My box had 3 different meals with 2 servings each and it made a ton of food. I was able to split each meal into 3-4 servings and ate like a king (err queen?) for a couple of weeks.
I highly recommend trying one of the meal service boxes. They’re time saving, the meals are tasty and the recipes are quick and easy. In the last two years it seems there have been numerous meal service companies that have sprouted up so you should be able to find one that fits your appetite. Check out Plated, Sun Basket, or Blue Apron for more options.
7) Noise Cancelling Headphones
Misophonia(a strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds) is real y’all. If you’re like me, your study focus can be completely thrown off by people talking loudly, smacking gum or pen clicking. Thinking I would have to spend hundreds to get a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones I tried everything to dull the sounds I could hear over my headphones. I eventually settled for using wax ear plugs and then playing classical music through my headphones, which truthfully didn’t work all too well. Thank goodness I found this pair which is well worth the $70. I just wore them on my 15 hour flight to Dubai and slept like a baby with no distractions!
8) Stress Relief
Sitting hunched over a book or a laptop for hours can put a great deal of strain on your cervical spine and back. Add to that many people tend to carry stress in their shoulders and it is a recipe for tension headaches and tight muscles.
I just received this acupuncture mat for Christmas and man I wish I had it 2 years ago. I don’t know how it works but I will tell you it is amazing. I lay on this for 20 minutes and I can feel the stress melt away and tension headaches disappear almost instantaneously.
If you need a little more aggressive therapy for your tight muscles, consider getting a trigger point massage hook. The design of the hook allows you to work out pressure points in your neck, shoulders, back, hips or feet with ease.
If you really want to treat yourself consider getting a massage. Some companies such as Massage Envy offer student discounts or if you’re really committed you can sign up for a massage membership.
9) An Organization Method
Find what works for you and stick with it! I know many of my friends relied on preformed Step 1 study schedules like this one, but I didn’t like that there was no room for flexibility. I needed more time on some of the topics (here’s looking at you Biochem & Renal) so I decided to use CramFighter to keep track of everything I wanted to get done. I highly recommend CramFighter because you can input all of the resources you want to use and it sends you daily to-do lists. Closer to dooms day err test day, my roommate and I turned our dining room wall into a huge calendar to keep us accountable on our studying. Whatever you decide to do, sit down make a plan and stick to it! Be sure to give yourself some days off because life happens and if you have no wiggle room in your schedule you’re destined to get off track.
10) A Vacation
Boards are hard and you deserve a break! Even if you can only get away for a weekend plan something fun to look forward to after your boards. Where would your top vacation spot be? Let me know in the comment section below!