How to Use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1

Hopefully you ordered your copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 early in your medical school career.  If you haven’t, I would get a copy sooner rather than later.  This is the ideal study companion for your pre-clinical coursework and using it in the correct manner will help you maximize the utility the resource will have for you.

I do not recommend reading the textbook cover to cover.  That is a daunting task by the sheer volume, and most students won’t remember much utilizing it in that manner.  While the textbook provides a fair amount of detail in and of itself, the resource is formatted so that there is ample room for annotation and addition of your own notes alongside any topic.  Adding in these extra details and writing down your own memory hooks in the text while you’re going through the coursework the initial time will pay dividends when you revisit the topic in another course, preparing for Step 1, or reviewing a topic during a clerkship.

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One downside of writing down items in your first pass of the material is that you may not have a good barometer for what the really high-yield information is and what facts will serve you will in the future.  For example, I remember writing down a preliminary research finding from a lecturer’s lab in the text.  While that detail might have been helpful for my didactic exam for that particular course, it really served me no purpose moving forward with other courses and studying for Step 1.  Discernment of relevant and irrelevant information comes with time, and you’ll certainly improve drastically in your ability to differentiate what you should include from what doesn’t make the cut.

A great tool to accompany your textbook referencing and annotation is flashcard learning.  Anki is an ideal resource for flashcard based learning and has built into its algorithm spaced repetition.  One of the great features of Anki is that it allows for the crowd-sourcing of decks, and the Zanki decks have already compiled flashcards that are largely derived from First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and other great medical student resources.  Use this flashcard learning tool in your pre-clinical years.  It will aid your performance in your coursework and simultaneously prepare you for your board exams.

How do you use First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 in your studies? Note: I have no financial relationship with any of the resources mentioned in this post.

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Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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