When I started my own prep for the USMLE, I knew almost nothing about this exam. I did not know how to prep for it. I had no idea how difficult it is or what I need to do in order to do well.
I decided that I needed to do something about it. The journey to discovery proved to be quite long and the process far from smooth. I started researching about the USMLE in the 1st quarter of 2004 with the objective of sitting for it in the last quarter of 2004. But the more I learned about it, the more I realized that given my situation, the more impossible it seems for me to do so. I wound up taking it in April of 2006.
Most forums seem to be telling me that 3 to 4 months is enough to prep for this exam with old grads taking one or two months longer, while fresh grads can finish the whole thing in one to two months. Later, I realize that this presupposes you know what you are doing and you just want to pass it. Early in my research I thought, just passing is good enough. It was much, much later that I began to realize that for most IMGs passing equals no interviews and you need at least an 85 to have a decent chance for an interview.
The more I learned about the USMLE and the matching process, the more I am thankful that I took the time to research everything about this exam instead of just plowing right into it and realizing too late that I have just botched any chance at an interview for the match.
I will relate the process I went through in my research, in case you want to do your own research about this exam. Of course, the faster way is to just buy my book on ‘How to Master the USMLE Step 1: Askdoc’s Method of USMLE Prep’ which covers everything I know about the USMLE Step 1 and how to prep for it. This is not only the result of my research into the exam before and during my prep, but also my experience in teaching hundreds of students to pass this exam.
After going through the various forums, I realize that a good starting point would be the book First Aid for the USMLE Step 1. But unlike what some people would like me to believe, it is not THE BOOK for the USMLE Step 1. Because there isn’t one. Nevertheless it’s a good book to start. I used it to learn more about the USMLE and as a guide to what books I needed. I did not trust it’s ranking of the books much because it’s just counter-intuitive that the best books (according to First Aid) to study for an exam that tests how much you know about the USMLE are books that discuss so little about the topics covered. I researched the books it recommended individually, cross-reference it with recommendations from various blogs and bought the books that seem to be the best for each subject. Even then I wound up throwing away half the books I bought anyway (resold some of them through eBay)
The main problem came when I reached Kaplan Lecture Notes. People either loved it or hate it. But you can only get it either from joining Kaplan Prep Courses or buying it on eBay from people who took the course and the price was expensive. Anyway, although Kaplan Lecture notes are good, there are reviewers out there which are so much better, especially in Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and Pharmacology.
I pored through hundreds of exam experience in the forums to get a gauge of what the exam was all about. What topics will be covered. How the questions look like. How hard the questions really were. To add to the confusion, the exam experiences contradicted each other. In the end, I had to use my own judgment on who is telling the truth or who is lying. Some, I was only able to confirm after I aced the exam.
You can learn more about this exam, by reading through my blog. But there are too many details for them to be discussed easily in a blog. Listed below are some of the posts that discusses the exam in more detail. But for a more complete and detailed coverage, I still recommend you get my book ‘How to Master the USMLE Step 1: Askdoc’s Method of USMLE Prep’ at US$ 12.95, it’s a small price to pay compared to the amount of time and effort you have to spend to do the research on your own. Plus after spending ~ US$1000 for the exam, around the same amount for various review books and probably the same amount on coffee and cakes in Starbucks for the entire review process, it is really a small price to pay to insure you do it right the first time.
Posts about USMLE: