I am a third-year medical student at California Health Sciences University, College of Osteopathic Medicine (CHSU-COM). If you're reading this, you're likely in the process of gearing up to take your COMLEX 1/Step 1 Board exams in the coming year, and I'm here to tell you about my experience taking boards with the aid of MedStudy!
In this blog, I’ll cover what I did well, what I wish I did differently, and the keys to studying success!
Spoiler alert: I passed
Where do we start?
Many medical students wonder when the process of preparing for their board exams really starts. And to that, I say, the first day of your second year of medical school! This does not mean that you are going through 500 anki cards a day or doing forty questions from your question bank, but rather putting 110% effort into learning what is expected from your school’s curriculum.
If your school, like mine, follows a two-pass curriculum, this likely means that in your second year, you are focusing a lot more on pathology, pathophysiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. These are all heavily tested subjects on both COMLEX and USMLE. Learning these subjects well the first time will come in handy when you begin to enter your dedicated period of studying.
How did I study for my course exams?
Contrary to the “typical” medical student, I never was able to grasp the well-renowned app, Anki. However, I was able to apply its core principle to my own studying: REPETITION.
- Prior to every exam in medical school, I would ensure that I was seeing the lecture material a minimum of three times. My first pass of the material would be a preliminary glance of lectures, which involved reading, highlighting, and noting the major topics.
- My second pass focused on consolidating the material in the form of note-taking.
- My third pass typically consisted of a review in the form of going through my high-yield notes and supplementing that with questions.
The added benefit that I had while studying for my own block exams was MedStudy. MedStudy is a thorough and unique tool that I used to digest material that would sometimes be too confusing when just coming from my institution. It’s designed to prepare students for boards and helps you understand what is highly relevant for board examinations—not just the basics.
Being able to review material with the MedStudy Medical Student Core also gave me a clinical understanding of the information that was being presented throughout second year, which further helped the information be more digestible. Utilizing the subject-specific booklets alongside the material provided by my curriculum was the harmonious blend I needed to succeed academically.
As I started my second semester of year two, the firehose of content did not slow down—but I found myself better adjusting to the onslaught of information. With this adjustment, I began to do questions early in my second semester. Every weekend, I would do questions in sets of 20. I quickly realized that this process would be extremely demoralizing if I focused on my averages as my scores would often be 20% below the national average for the respective question sets.
I quickly changed this mindset to think of the questions as a way to better learn the material and patterns. As the number of questions I did increased, naturally, so did my percentages. I started to get excited to do questions, and as we approached the last block before our dedicated period, I found myself doing close to 80+ questions a day!
What dedicated looked like for me
“Dedicated” is a period of time that many schools provide their medical students where their primary focus becomes preparing for their national board exams. At my school, we were given seven weeks to prepare, which provided ample time to complete hundreds of practice questions, review content, and feel confident going into the exam.
When school officially ended, it was go-time! I started weekdays with a morning gym session where I would work out while watching Dirty Medicine videos to review high-yield information while also ensuring ample blood flow to my brain. After that, I would make a hearty breakfast before migrating to a local coffee shop, where I would do anywhere between 80-100 questions.
After completing this goal for each day, I would scrounge a meal before reviewing topics that I felt were high-yield that I missed from the questions of that day.
An additional tool that I utilized during this process is MedStudy’s Heart Sounds and Skin Signs! These are amazing tools that in my opinion, set MedStudy apart from other third-party sources. They helped prepare me for audio clips that I heard on the exam (e.g. differentiating mitral stenosis from mitral prolapse) as well as identifying key characteristics of various skin lesions like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These materials were instrumental in enhancing my knowledge base for COMLEX as well as providing me with an impressive foundation for my clinical skills.
Lasting tips as you go into the exam
- Appreciate the art of gaslighting. This is a tool that you need to inspire confidence in yourself as you begin to tackle these 280+ question exams! Stamina is the name of the game and you do not want to find yourself getting hung up for lengthy periods on one question because you think more time spent on it will lead you to the right answer. If you aren’t entirely sure, mark it, select the answer that your gut is telling you to go with, and move on!
- Have a light breakfast on exam day and bring snacks, a light lunch, and plenty of water. I found that I needed minimal caffeine from my normal latte a day intake because the adrenaline helped me power through the first half of the exam without many hurdles.
- Celebrate however you get the most enjoyment after the exam! This is a momentous occasion in your medical school career and no one aside from yourself truly understands all of the emotions, struggles, and energy that you put into taking this exam! You deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Excelling in medical school and preparing for boards is a challenging journey that requires dedication, effective study strategies, and valuable resources! As you approach the exam day, remember to trust your instincts, manage your time wisely, and take care of your physical well-being. And, don’t forget to celebrate your achievements and the hard work you’ve invested.
The COMLEX/Step 1 exam marks a momentous milestone in your medical school journey, and you should savor the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. Best of luck to all aspiring physicians on their path to success!