In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Here’s my full experience and advice for USMLE Step 2 CK takers in the near future.
Background: Recent Cairo University graduate. Didn’t do Step 1 or CS at the time of writing this article.
My Goal: +240
PHASE ONE (more than a year of almost wasting time!)
That was during my “internship” year here in Egypt or what we call according to the British system we’re following to some extent “training year as a Preregistration House Officer”. I just watched the whole 140-hour Kaplan video lectures except pediatrics because I couldn’t stand that guy (The Kaplan pediatric book is great but the video lectures are just the author reading his book out loud!). Then I spent about 3 months doing almost nothing regarding my USMLE preparation because of getting married 😅.
220+ vs. 240+ vs. 260+
So, about this phase: This was a huge waste of time! Don’t get me wrong; Kaplan is great and I’ll write about that in details just in a minute but doing one lecture this day and another the next week and then get busy with hospital shifts then go back to do another lecture is just not the optimal way to prepare for the USMLE. 140 hours means about 30 days of 5 hours a day and another 30 days for reading the 1400 pages set of lecture notes. That’s enough and much better than what I did, not just because of saving your precious time but also because spreading the studying over a long period of time doesn’t help in making connections between information sets you’re learning about. So, the first lesson: study every day for a decent amount of time & don’t make gaps in your studying timeline.
About Kaplan Video Lectures: all of the doctors are great (except the pediatrician). Conrad Fischer is great and everything but he tends to drop out a lot of important material, so you have to do an extra effort to understand the chapters explained by Dr. Fischer! On the other hand, you have tutors like Elmar Sakala, Charles Faselis, Steven Daugherty…you won’t really be required to do anything other than listening to them carefully and reading lightly after the lecture is finished.
If you want a solid introduction to USMLE Step 2 Ck do Kaplan videos.
About Kaplan Lecture Notes: They should be your main study material in all disciplines except internal medicine and surgery. Kaplan Internal Medicine is good but not very well organized (I used Master The Board for most internal medicine chapters). Kaplan Surgery book is 2 parts, part 2 is the cases that Dr. Carlos Pestana use in his lectures, those are great. However, part 1 which you’re required to study on your own is so cluttered, not organized at all and lacking a lot of stuff. So, for surgery, you can use a combination of Kaplan surgery book (part 2 only) & Board and Wards surgery section.
PHASE TWO (4 months)
I began this phase by doing Kaplan Diagnostic Test (150 questions) and I got 51% correct answers. That was on the 6th of September, 2015; i.e. 7 months before the exam. Then I started doing Kaplan Question Bank and it took me forever because I was over-annotating my books with every question bank trivial piece of information. So, it took me more than 4 months (to the 10th of January 2016) to just finish 1200 questions out of 3000! I took NBME 3 in late November and I got less than 150! (My test date was the 29th of December so, I extended the eligibility period and delayed the test to the 29th of March) and then I continued to do Kaplan Question Bank and did NBME 6 on the 10th of January 2016 and got 150! So, at this point, I said to myself: enough is enough; and started USMLE World QB.
I was doing Kaplan QB because I wanted to begin UW with a high initial score but it turned out that Kaplan QB is just not good for CK. Explanations weren’t as good as UW, questions were full of tricks… although some pros are that the question stem was long so that you can train in time management and there wasn’t a lot of outdated information like some people say. Yes, the QB may be outdated regarding recent exam question style changes but the information itself is solid and you can count on it.
If you want to do Kaplan QB do it after doing UW first time and don’t bury yourself into details, do 2 blocks a day and read the key concepts in the explanations.
PHASE THREE (2 months and 18 days)
I did UW first time subject-wise timed-tutor. One day I do 1 block, another I do 2 blocks and another may be nothing at all or half a block or something. I took 50 days to finish the QB and some of the Clinical Mastery Series forms. My cumulative was 60% (My Kaplan cumulative was 55%) but I felt like I’m learning a lot and the explanations make sense. Everything is well-done in UW. I was annotating my books and printing a lot of print-screened UW tables and diagrams BUT I learned my lesson and didn’t pay much attention to what I thought was trivial details, I even managed to do about 250 questions without annotating at all 😀 That was very hard for me because I’m kind of a “perfectionist”. Then I did NBME 3 again! The first time I did this form I didn’t study the questions and answers from the offline copy that was available because the score was too low and I thought I might do it again in the future (and that what turned out to happen). Anyways, I got 192! I was devastated but I managed to start my second round of UW random timed about 3 blocks a day. My cumulative was 78%. I did NBME 6 again halfway through UW second time and I got 235 (I didn’t revise the questions and answers after the first time I did this test either) then I completed the second time of UW and did NBME 4 with a score of 237, and after that NBME 7 (1 week away) and I got 237 then UWSA (4 days away) and got 242 and finally the 141 free questions from USMLE.org (1 day away) and got 82%. That last week was full of doubt because I didn’t know what to do, UW third time? CMS? Dr. Ali Notes? Reading my books? So, I ended up doing a little bit of everything!
Do UW 2 times and learn everything in it.
Anxiety was the major theme during the first 2 blocks and a minor one in the next 2. I wasn’t sure about any question and I think this is normal. Try to take a little break after each block. I posted my impression 2 hours after getting home from the test center.
4 Wednesdays after the exam at 10:45 a.m. Philadelphia time: PASS, 243
CK BEFORE STEP 1
Step 1 will definitely help but not in terms of information i.e. there are no questions that require you to know stuff only found in step 1 books and question banks. Step 1 can help you understand better and save time, however, UW and other CK sources have all that you want for the exam.
For example, UW doesn’t have direct neuroanatomy questions or explanations and you won’t find that on the exam either BUT if you already know the neuroanatomy from step 1 that will help you understand topics like “stroke” better.
One last thing: the basic science information that you’ll actually be required to know for the exam (mostly pathogenesis) is covered by CK sources especially UW.
FOCUSED AND DIFFUSE MODES Those are the 2 main ways of thinking involved in learning scientific facts as well as the creative acts of artists and scientists according to Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. This woman is the main instructor of the course “Learning how to learn” I took a while ago on Coursera. She’s also the author of the book “A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (even if you flunked Algebra)”. The course was great and very well-done. The thing is that the idea of focused and diffuse modes of thinking is worth entertaining and I think it’s important for the USMLE and any other exam you’re preparing for. Focused mode means what we all know, put your head down into something, reading, writing, solving questions, looking things up… etc i.e. you’re concentrating and trying to learn or reinforce your learning of something. We all good at that. Diffuse mode, on the other hand, means that type of thinking that you enter while in a relaxed mode. Avicenna (Ibn Sina) said once that he often falls asleep while struggling on some intellectual issues and he subsequently dreams about these issues to the point that the answer appears before his eyes in the dream. He then wakes up and writes those new ideas down. This happened to almost all of us one way or another. The idea is that your brain (while in a relaxed mode) wonder and try to make connections between information and concepts you learned before in the focused mode, so you got to give your brain this opportunity especially when we’re talking about a huge exam like USMLE which demands a great deal of integration and connection-making ability between subjects on different levels. So, what can you do about this? Sleep well, take long walks, exercise, relax on your chair for a little bit every day and think lightly about what you learned this day or the day before. This will have a huge impact on your performance. Don’t just study, watch TV, scroll down your Facebook homepage, watch YouTube, talk to people… etc You have to do some relaxed “diffuse” activities. Cooking is one of those by the way 🙂
+220 vs +240 vs +260
There’s no difference in studying sources, IQ or timelines! The only difference is the intensity of studying, focusing, taking everything seriously and not panicking too much.
Do your first assessment (NBME 4) after “Recap” i.e. after #4. Do NBME 6 when you’re halfway through your second UW round. Do NBME 7 after finishing second UW round. Do UWSA in the last week and FRED 141 free questions in the last day.
For me, this was the most important part of my preparation and the most important tool throughout my life. Praying (making Duaa) i.e. asking God, has almost always worked for me. Asking God isn’t just words you utter. It’s an intense process. You want something and you believe God is the only one who can truly help you get it, so you ask him for help. Ask for guidance, ask for knowledge, ask for understanding, ask for courage, for strength and finally ask for the score.
“In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the world,
The Compassionate, the Merciful,
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee we worship and from Thee, we seek help.
Guide us upon the straight path,
The path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those who incur wrath, nor of those who are astray.”
The Opening (al-Fatihah)
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Dr. Abdulmunaim Eid