Hindsight is 20/20: Studying MS1 MS2 Year

Hi all! This post will be a bore to those not in med school, but I wanted to mind dump strategies for the first two years of med school before I forget everything that I did. If you are in medical school or wanting to apply, read on! You can also check out the FitMD instagram at thefitMD_ for workout and life balance tips 🙂

This advice is most relevant to my medical school, a University of California med school that has a traditional curriculum (aka normal physiology and anatomy is taught first year and pathology is not broached until second year). For a systems based curriculum (where normal physio and path is taught beginning in year 1 and throughout year 2, going from organ system to system), this advice will not be as pertinent. I’ll do a second post on dedicated boards studying!

MS1 Year

The crucial thing to remember about this year is that it is the easiest (except 4th year I hear) and should be enjoyed as much as possible/responsible.

  • USE FIRST AID. Most second year students at my school advised us to not look at First Aid until second year. I regret this. Physiology was not always taught well, and looking at First Aid would have indicated to me what was crucial to learn and prompted me to seek out other sources to self-teach myself physiology. For every class you begin, open up your First Aid and look over what you are expected to know for your Boards. Make sure you are comfortable with the material you see by the time your class test rolls around. There won’t be another time to learn it until your dedicated boards studying time 2 years later, and trust me, you don’t want to be seeing it for the first time then!
  • Lectures: Our lectures were mostly podcasted so attendance was optional. Some systems were taught well and the lectures/podcasts were helpful. Others were not taught as well any my time would have been better spent self teaching using textbooks and other sources found online, etc. If lectures feel like a waste of time or don’t suit your learning style, then use a different method to learn the material – your time is precious!
  • Study strategy: For first year, you have time to be thorough and study in ‘layers.’
    • Layer 1. Do the readings to obtain a solid foundation of true understanding of the material.  (However many my peers don’t use the textbooks. For some classes it isn’t necessary/possible due to the volume of slides.)
    • Layer 2: Podcast lectures. First year, I had enough time to take notes on the lectures. Second year, I don’t, but instead I make flashcards while podcasting by pausing.
    • Layer 3: Make flashcards and flash card daily. You might not do every single class daily, but most days, depending on the difficulty of the class. Looking back, I wish I had used the Zanki physio flashcards earlier on MS1 year for studying for my classes! The Firecracker app is pricey but also a great option for this (I used it inconsistently first year).
    • Layer 4: As it gets closer to the test, find other resources to self test and expose weaknesses and get alternative perspectives and challenges. I use text book question banks (BRS, PreTest) or use board style question banks.
  •  Throughout the block, I made myself tests and would take them until I mastered the material. You can do this however you prefer. I usually used a spreadsheet with column A as a question and column B as  the answer (which could be hidden), but Anki Q + A would also work.
  • Repetition is key! You’re simply not going to know the material after seeing it once, or twice.
  • Before any class begins, google and look on med school reddit what the best way to learn the subject is and what the best resources are for that subject. This only takes 10-20 minutes!

MS1 Summer

Enjoy!!! This is your last long vacation until… retirement most likely. I traveled the full 2.5 months of summer and have no regrets about that! Others did research or ultrasound trips to other countries (which is particularly awesome). Even if you do something productive, be sure to give yourself a few weeks of adventure/free time. I did review physiology by doing Zanki Physio flash cards on plane rides, buses, etc. I think that likely did help me somewhat during second year and for boards studying, but would have been less needed had I used First Aid and Zanki Step anki decks during MS1 year.

MS2 Year

Again, this advice is just my approach and isn’t necessarily the ‘right way!’ My sequence of study events for each class and block:

  1. Review the normal anatomy, physiology, embryo using First Aid, BRS, USMLE RX videos as needed. Go through the corresponding Zanki physio deck 1x. This required 1-3 days (which meant that my peers would already have “gone through” the Pathoma or slides before I had even started, and that was a good mental exercise in ignoring what others are doing)
  2. If time allows or it is a high yield organ system, read the full book chapter. Half day.
  3. Watch Pathoma and annotate anything in Pathoma that is not in First Aid into First Aid. Watch Pathoma a second time a few days before the exam. Half day.
  4. Slowly read the First Aid chapter on the system, using Rx or similar videos to explain sections as needed. Half day.
  5. Zanki the pathology you just learned.
  6. Do relevant UWorld Questions and annotate key info into First Aid. Some people will say you should save this until dedicated but I am EXTREMELY glad that I did it during MS2 year. I got through it once during the year and was able to do it a second time during my dedicated study period. I am not a great test taker and getting comfortable with the complicated way they ask questions earlier on was very helpful for me. I did not remember any of the questions except the soft skills ethics questions.
  7. Watch associated Sketchy pharmacology videos, then Zanki what you watched.
  8. If you have time, a few days before the exam, do pathology book review questions (this is where they often take/convert questions for our tests) and review class slides for testable tidbits you didn’t already learn via First Aid/Pathoma/reading/questions.
  9. I wish I had listened to Goljan during MS2 year!

MS2 Winter Break

ENJOY!!!! TRAVEL!!! LIVE LIFE! I went to Australia and the only thing I thought about was whether rose or chardonnay paired best with my meal.

Australia for break!

MS2 USMLE/STEP1 Studying Post-Winter Break aka “Pre-dedicated boards study”

This is when I began my boards studying. Some people started earlier, and most people started later or not until dedicated. I’m a person that needs an insane amount of repetition to retain material and am not a natural test taker, so I am glad that I started at this time, not earlier and not later. Overall, from the day I got back from winter break until dedicated boards study time, I studied ~2 hours per day of material prior to winter break that would be on boards, but was not what I was learning in class at the time (another good exercise in ignoring what others are doing). The other hours of the day, I was learning my current material with the method above. I had time for all of this (and working out/seeing friends) because I rarely attended or podcasted a lecture – they were not helpful for me (not an audio learner). I will say that this method worked very well for me as reflected in my class exams, even though I focused 90% on boards material.

  • Rather than forcing myself to stick to a strict schedule of what I would do by day, I made a list of objectives and moved on to the next goal or organ system as I completed my list. The only set in stone dates I had were by what date I wanted to have finished review of that organ system. (I chose these systems because these were what we did prior to Christmas break.)
  • Early January: General Pathology and Neoplasia
    • Rewatch Pathoma 1-3 and annotate into First Aid (since I hadn’t started that practice until a couple months into second year)
    • Thoroughly review First Aid
    • Uworld Qs (or other Q bank)
    • Zanki general pathology
    • RX videos as needed
  • Mid January: Cardio
    • Review anatomy, physio, embryo in FA/BRS/Osmosis
    • Rewatch Pathoma and annotate into First Aid
    • Thoroughly review First Aid
    • Uworld Qs
    • Zanki physio deck
    • Zanki path deck
    • Associated sketchy pharm review
  • Heme Onc – By early February
  • Respiratory – By mid February
  • Renal – By end of February
  • Basic Pathology and Immunology: review just before shelves
  • Pharm: Start 1-2 weeks before shelf as possible
    • Review Sketchy – I did this by rolling over the “review” images and reading the captions and only taking the time to watch the videos for drugs I was bad at remembering
    • Zanki pharm
    • Skim First Aid pharm by system, thoroughly review “General Pharm”
    • Focus on autonomics > cardio > renal > abx
  • Public Health/Biostats: Review before Behavioral shelf
    • First Aid Review
    • Zanki
    • BRS Qs (I used the wrong review book and one that was 12 years old. Don’t do that.)
  • Biochemistry: Reviewed biochemistry the weekend after shelves but before dedicated, and again towards the end of dedicated
    • First Aid
    • Uworld Qs
    • Rx Q bank / Pastest Q bank for more questions (because I was that bad at it. Repetition!!!)
    • Board and Beyond videos – I borrowed account access for just biochemistry and Cardio, both of which it was great for. More detail than needed for biochem but probably still worth it since this was my weakest subject according to Uworld.
  • Microbiology: Reviewed a little bit daily during dedicated board study. Literally only watched sketchy videos 1x, a few per day. Skimmed First Aid Microbio 1x.


Next post is how I studied for Step 1 during our 6 week dedicated period!

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