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My Step 1 experience

Score: 261
Prep time: 15 months
I started my prep in early 2016 and very quickly realized that I was starting off with really poor concepts. It wasn't that I was lazy during
my medschool year, I just had a very inefficient method of studying. I would read through dense textbooks like Guyton and Basis with the
assumption that reading was enough – it wasn't. Those books have so much information that you can get sidetracked by the detail and
lose sight of the bigger picture.
So from the very beginning I realized that this was going to take a ton of time and effort and it did. I spent endless hours studying, it
wasn't easy but it was definitely worth it.
> Section 1: Study pattern
I divided my study into 3 phases. The first phase included FA, UW, pathoma, kaplan and fa express videos. In my second phase i did a
second read of fa and uw along with 100 cases by conrad (ethics), anatomy shelf notes (gross anatomy), biostats subject review by
uworld (biostats). During this phase i also built my Anki decks. In my third phase i did a third read of fa along with nbme and anki.
- First read: The purpose of the first read was to build strong concepts. Here's how I would approach an organ system: Lets say I was
starting with CVS, I would first do CVS physio from Kaplan (videos and text) and then read CVS physio from FA along with FA express
videos and then do CVS physio Uw questions. Then I would move on to CVS patho and follow the same pattern and then move on to
pharma. I used Pathoma for pathology and Kaplan for all the other subjects. This was a very time consuming and tedious process but it
did help me estabilish a very strong base. I did all organ systems using this format and then i moved on to the remaining subjects like
biochem, microbio etc.
- Second read: The purpose of the second read was to solidify my concepts. I did FA and UW for a second time making sure the I
understood and recalled everything that I read. Here's how to make yourself actively learn instead of just passively reading, read a UW
question and then formulate why the correct option is correct, why the incorrect options are incorrect, how the question stem would have
to change to make each incorrect option correct. If you can not express it in words then you don't understand it well enough. Then read
the explanation and anytime you get stuck, you should immediately open FA and make sure that you understand that concept. The key
to acing Step 1 is integrating knowledge and FA is literally the best resource for that. During my second read I also did 100 cases by
conrad (ethics), anatomy shelf notes (gross anatomy) and biostats subject review by uworld (biostats). All three are really good
resources and I highly recommend them. During this phase I also built my Anki decks, and in retrospect this was probably they key to my
success. Making and solving decks can be very time consuming so try not to go overboard with it.
- Third read: The purpose of the third read was to boost up my score. I read FA for the third time, then I took my NBMEs (scores below)
and used the analysis to target my weak areas using FA. I continued to make and solve Anki till the very last day. I can't stress this
enough, Anki is an amazing app and should be put to good use. Build you own decks using FA, UW and other high yield resources and
keep doing them over and over again. I also did Kaplan qbank for biostats and ethics since I was consistently having trouble in these
NBME scores:
7: 239
11: 248
*16: 248
15: 262
*18: 259
*19: 255
(* online)
> Section 2: Daily routine
I study in 50 minute sessions followed by a 10 minute break. I generally find myself losing focus at around 50 minutes and taking a short
break helps me feel fresh again. I start my study session by setting a 50 min timer which forces me take a break. I take a longer break
after every 3 sessions and I generaly aim to study 8-9 sessions per day. I try to keep 3-4 hours between finishing my study and bedtime
to allow myself to recharge for the next day.
> Section 3: If I could do it over again
- Skip Kaplan videos: ethics, psychiatry, biostats
- Skip Kaplan lecture notes: ethics, psychiatry, biostats, gross anatomy (note: I would still do neuroanatomy)
- Instead I would do the following resources during my first read: 100 cases by conrad (ethics), anatomy shelf notes (gross anatomy),
biostats subject review by uworld (biostats)
- I would do a third qbank for ethics and biostats, as these subjects require a lot of practice.
> Section 4: Useful advice
The most important advice I want to give you is to take care of your mental and physical health. In the process of becoming a doctor do
not become a patient yourself. Try to exercise daily, it really helps clear your mind and refreshes your body. Currently I try to weightlift 2-3
times a week and run 2-3 times a week. Even exercising 20 minutes daily can have a huge impact on your state of mind and your overall
well being.
Another important thing is to have goals. Monthly goals, weekly goals, daily goals, 10 year plan and so on. "If you don't know where you
are going you will end up someplace else." Focus all your energy on accomplishing your daily goals. Be on a look out for things that stop
you from reaching your daily goals and be prepared to cut them out of your life.
Have at least 1 or 2 people in your life who you can talk to about anything and everything. There are days when simply talking about how
you feel will make you feel better.
We all go through the cycles of stress, frusturation, hoplessness and sadness. What determines the outcome is how well we are
prepared to deal with it and turn it all around. Do whatever you can to stay motivated and positive. Watch inspirational videos, meditate,
listen to pump up music (Metallica – Hardwired to self destruct – check it out if you like hard rock and metal). Find out what works best for
you. Keeping yourself in the right mindset will allow you to put in your maximum effort and focus everyday.
> Section 5: Exam day
The week before my exam I started sleeping earlier and it helped me fall asleep at the right time the night before the exam. I got around
6 hours of sleep but I felt pretty good the next day. The prometric center is very efficently run and I had no problems of any kind. They
make you put everything in a locker and you can only keep you scheduling permit and passport.
I completed almost all blocks with 5-10 minute to spare which I used to review my flagged questions and even then I had 1-2 minutes left
to relax. I did not take a break after my 1st and 2nd block, took 20 minutes after 3rd (had bananas and cold drink), I took another 20
minute break after 5th and a 5 minute break after the 6th block. I think I should have taken a longer break after 6th because by the mid
of my last block I was feeling somewhat tired. I ended my exam with around 15 min of break time left.
The overall exam is similar to uworld and nbme 18 and 19 in terms of difficulty. The question stems were slightly longer and more
complex but doable. Time is more than enough if you practiced properly with nbme (follow time restrictions even for your offline tests, I
think doing 6-7 nbmes should be enough to perfect your speed. I did not do uworld in the timed mode.) Try to do atleast 2 NBMEs back
to back to give you the real feel for the exam, once you feel that exhaustion you will be better prepared on exam day.
> Section 6: Conclusion
I finished medschool with a cGPA of 2.78, all my life I have been a solidly average student. If an average student like me can score a 261
on step 1 then you can do it too. Believe in yourself, tell yourself that you will ace this exam no matter how much time and effort it takes.
It is not going to be easy, it is not supposed to be easy. Keep in mind that the effort you put in today will directly impact who you become
10 years from now. Your determination and discipline will decide the level of success you will have later in life. Don't be afraid of hard
work, embrace it. Some day when you are an incredibly succesfull attending doctor doing exactly what you love every single day, you will
thank your 20-something self that you went through this journey.
Keep the end goal in mind. Know exactly what you want out of life and how getting a good score will help you achieve your goal. You
have been blessed with this great opportunity to create an amazing life for yourself, don't mess it up. When there is an opportunity you
don't stand around waiting for it to come towards you, you don't walk towards it, you don't stroll towards it, you must run after it. You must
run after it like its the only thing that matters.
So work hard, stay motivated, stay focused and believe in yourself. You can and you will ace this exam! Best of luck and have a great
Dr. Aamir Gilani.