blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: Studying for Step 1

January 27, 2014

Studying for Step 1

Any of you in your second year of medical school are probably getting deep and dirty into Step 1 studying. I apologize if it seems like this post is coming late, but in all honesty this is around the time I started actually studying for Step 1 (and trust me when I tell you it's definitely not late). I'll start by saying that much of the preparation begins during your first and second year classwork, so doing well then will definitely be helpful now! But that's by no means enough to do well, so in this post I'll outline the resources I used when studying for Step 1!

A few useful numbers for Step 1 - a passing score just recently (this January) got bumped up to 192, the average score of those who pass is in the 220s, and the average for the super competitive specialties is in the 240s and up. I scored well enough to keep myself in the running for the super competitive specialties, so I'm hoping you'll find some of these quick points helpful! As always feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and happy studying!

First Aid for Step 1 - This is sort of the backbone to any Step 1 study plan. I'd memorize it (haha so easy to say, right)? I read this book multiple times, first by subject (and read the same subject in Goljan), then just repeated to solidify facts. 

Goljan Pathology - Another review book, this was a great addition to First Aid. I also used the Goljan audio lectures for "downtime" studying - listening when on the train or in the gym. They're great lectures although this type of "passive" studying isn't the most efficient. If anything it helped me feel less guilty about spending time in the gym or cooking myself a fancy dinner :) Most days were spent initially getting through these two books subject by subject. Then came the Q bank. 

USMLE World QBank - There's some debate about which Qbank to go with (Kaplan vs UWorld), and in my opinion, UWorld was much better. If you're someone who learns from questions,  you'll appreciate the explanations provided by UWorld - I felt they were superior to Kaplan's (but I'll also admit I only did a few Kaplan questions before not liking it too much). Some people do questions by subject as well, but I wasn't a fan of that method (if you're doing cardiology questions, and happen upon a question that seems to have nothing to with cardiology except for one answer choice, well there's your answer)! Some people bought both, and if you want to do so that'd be fine - in that case I would do the Kaplan questions by subject after I studied each respective subject and save the World questions for random order. Make sure to do all of the Qbank questions, you can have all the books you want memorized but you need to familiarize yourself with how these questions are actually asked. And really pay attention to what you're getting wrong and understand why. Some of my classmates annotated their First Aid books with details from questions. I personally found this a bit excessive, and instead opted to review the key "learning objectives" at the bottom of each question the last week before my exam. A three month subscription was perfect. 

Make sure to take a practice test a few weeks before your scheduled exam- if you're where you want to be score-wise, bump up the date and take it sooner! There's definitely a peak of knowledge so to speak, and a burn out period that comes after, so know where you are and use it to your advantage. 

Also, if you're school still follows a more traditional curriculum, you'll likely be headed into clinical rotations right after finishing the boards. So please, take a vacation!!! I could have studied for another two weeks, but (after following the advice in the previous paragraph), I took my test and then went on vacation!! I also took the day before my test completely off to help relax pre-test day jitters (although if not studying will only freak you out more, a little light review won't hurt). 


  1. WOWWWWWWWWWW. Thank-you so much. This is much needed!!!! You have no idea. :) Do you plan on doing your residency also at Boston?

    1. Not sure if we'll stay in Boston. Since we're likely couples matching in 2 really competitive specialties we'll have to apply all over the country!

    2. I understand. Great! Thanks for responding :)

  2. Do all of the board exams carry equal weight for residency applications, or do certain exam(s) carry more weight? Thanks!

    1. Nope, Step 1 is the most important for some reason, Step 2 matters but some people haven't even taken it before applying to residencies (although more programs are now requiring a score), and I haven't even thought about Step 3 yet (but I've heard no one cares about it).

  3. Hey Laura,

    I'm a first year med student and recently stumbled upon your blog while preparing to start my own fashion/medicine blog. You're posts are so great and such an inspiration. This one comes at a great time for me because while I'm not currently having to study for Step 1, it's good info to keep in mind for the future! Thanks for all the great advice!


  4. Thank you so much Laura! Yay!! I feel like I'm on track after reading this, which calms me down. Although I still don't know when to review Pathoma/Goljan. I should start throwing reviews in throughout FA prep. It is just so hard/tricky to keep up with all our course work and still study.

  5. thanks for the quick tips, laura! much appreciated by the knees-deep-in-boards though it's challenging to fully focus when med2 is still happening with all this polar vortex nonsense. isn't goljan the cheekiest? i listen to him when driving on long trips

  6. Best of luck - sending good vibes your way! My hubby is taking Step 2 this Summer and I think I'm more nervous than he is!
    xx Lexi, Glitter, Inc.

  7. Hello, Laura!

    I just found your blog this morning, and I've been completely obsessed with it. I am a medical student (2nd year) and I am about to write Step 1. Thank you so much for your tips! They have come in handy.

    Are there any other review materials you can recommend? Or are FA, Goljan, and Qbanks enough?

    Thanks for everything you do! You are superwoman!

  8. Hi Laura!

    I love your blog and Instagram! I'm currently a second year medical student. I was wondering your opinion on using Uworld before step prep month. I have been thinking about starting Uworld in January and resetting it during step prep month. I have heard mixed reviews and would love your opinion. Congrats on baby number 2! You have a beautiful family and its so nice that you share your life. I got married and started medical school at the same time so it's wonderful to see someone balancing it all :). You're an inspiration!

  9. Our program is the most dedicated to your success on Step2 CS. With our usmle study course it is almost impossible not to pass this test. The secret is that we have the most dedicated and highly experienced team of professionals that will guide you every step of the way.

  10. Hey Laura,
    How did you use First Aid, Goljan and Uworld daily? About how many questions did you do per day and how many videos/pages id you watch and read?

  11. Hey Laura! Thanks for the post, very helpful! Quick question- what are your thoughts on "Physiology" by Linda S. Costanzo? It's a student consult that I've heard about, but I'd be interested to know how helpful it would be for Step 1 studying. Thanks!

  12. Hey Laura, Thanks for this! Any advise on resources for Step 2??

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