Αξιον Ωφελειν τους Αλγουντας.” --Be Worthy to Serve the Suffering.

Member Profile

Daniel Choi (2013)
Member Type: Student, Junior Member Campus: Chicago
Specialty: Ophthalmology Program: University of Miami - Bascom Palmer Eye
(Remember this is opinion, so take everything with a grain of salt and ask other people you trust)


For those who are unfamiliar with USMLE Step 1, it is a crucial component of your application to residency programs but it is NOT the end all be all. Soon after you are done stressing out about this one test, you will realize it’s just one part of an ongoing education and dedication to a profession. However, along with recommendation letters, clerkship grades, and research experience, it is an essential and probably the most unbiased way for residency directors to filter out potential candidates.
Beyond that, Step 1 is part 1 of 3 in being able to practice medicine independently. Not only is Step 1 used to evaluate you as an applicant, it is a rite of passage all doctors must take - approach it as an opportunity to learn as much basic medical knowledge as possible that you will utilize daily in order to care for patients. In the future your patients’ lives will actually be in your hands and you will have that responsibility. No one will ever ask you for your step score as a practicing physician but they will know if you are a bad doctor based off of your work and the foundation starts now.
Keeping the proper motivation, mindset, and end goal will carry you throughout the process and make it seem much more worthwhile than simply studying for another test. You will freak out at times, be stressed, and feel a lot of pressure but when pressure and anxiety arise from the right reasons they will be turned into energy and effort. If you approach Step 1 like some monster that you cannot defeat or some obstacle in your way you will never reach your potential. Always look at it for what it is - a chance to learn everything you’ve been meaning to learn and prove to yourself you can take on the next phase of your career. In the end Step 1 and second year will turn out to be a big confidence booster.

*Most of the advice below is based off of what I did and that process was based off of a graduate who was Junior AOA. We have similar learning styles and approaches to school so it worked for me. Seek out advice from other successful individuals and tailor them to what works for YOU.


The overall goal in preparing for Step 1 is to master the underlying principles and BIG PICTURE ideas within each domain. Once that foundation is built you need to be a problem solver, this is what medicine is about. In addition, you will have to learn some annoying details but in the end that is the easiest part (because anyone can do that). The first two parts will be the difference in your performance.

a. How? HONOR YOUR CLASSES. READ. READ. READ. Simply put mastering something at UIC doesn’t directly translate to outside success but it is a great indicator at how hard you are working. I always studied UIC course material from the lens of step 1 (more specifics below), but also made sure to honor every class second year. To balance between the two you need to READ. A lot of stuff you get from lecture is piece meal chunks here and there- there’s no way to see the full picture from this. You need well-written, comprehensive sources (listed in the next section).

a. How? QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS. Did I mention you should do questions? If you take away one piece of advice from this guide please make sure to get USMLE WORLD QUESTION BANK and go through the question bank AT LEAST TWO TIMES (specifics in a later section). Answering questions forces you to think critically, evaluates whether or not you actually learned the main concepts, and will build your confidence. In the later stages I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TAKING PRACTICE TESTS- NBME and the assessments provided by UWORLD. Many classmates were “afraid to find out how they were doing”….how myopic is that? Would you rather find out in July when your official scores are in? Whatever score you get on practice tests…you know its PRACTICE and that you can IMPROVE….and once you see your scores increasing (THEY WILL) you will gain confidence and motivation to take it up another level. Like any form of training you need to recreate the scenarios you will face on game day so do a lot of questions and take practice tests.
a. It will be perfectly NORMAL to FREAK OUT at times. I remember thinking….holy crap I have not learned anything from medical school and now I need to learn it ALL! When you take a moment to breath and calm yourself down and take it one day at a time it becomes enjoyable. Like any other long-term project, you must take care of your body (SLEEP, EXERCISE, EAT RIGHT, HAVE FUN) in order to maximize your abilities and that’s what this period of time will be all about. Release your stress, go out once a week, STUDY IN GROUPS WITH EACH OTHER. Find support from medical students and those outside of medical school who will understand you.

Behavioral Sciences-
Section in First Aid
Biochemistry, Genetics and Nutrition-
Lange Biochem Flashcards, Kaplan Biochem lecture notes
High Yield Neuroanatomy
Gross anatomy and Embryo-
Rapid Review Anatomy, High Yield Embryo
Histology and Cell Biology-
First Aid (not really a high yield topic)
Microbiology and Immunology-
Micro Made Ridic Easy, MICROCARDS, High Yield Immunology
Goljan Rapid Review, Goljan bootlegged audio lectures, Goljan slides to go along with audio
Pharmcards, (Lipponcott’s illustrated review for school), First Aid pharm sections
BRS Physiology
USMLE WORLD QUESTION BANK BOUGHT IN THE FALL (only really began in the second semester)
DOCTORS IN TRAINING VIDEOS AND HANDOUTS (explained below) completed in the final two weeks of studying.

I did absolutely no step 1 studying throughout first semester. Instead, I focused on learning the foundational material in pathology (first 7 chapters of Goljan if I recall correctly) and just simply enjoying myself. I began studying for step 1 beginning of second semester and really kicked it into gear about a month before April practicum. During the second semester, I would read chapters in Goljan, listen to his lectures on the train and at the gym, for whatever unit we were on in pathology. I broke up my studying into systems so when we were learning renal pathology I would read/learn the normal and then the pathology- read BRS physio then read goljan RR and do questions in the Qbank for that system. This process continued throughout the second semester and I would pick certain weeks where I would cover older first year material such as immunology, micro, neuro, etc. I would use the corresponding books above and take notes as I went along…actively learning. Of course I would find periods away from exam times to cover old material. For the last week approaching exams I would focus more on UIC lectures and their notes.

For school, I did not watch all of the pathology lectures, however, I watched most of the CPP lectures and DEFINITELY watched all of Zar’s reviews. To make sure I did well in school I did the following for each course.
Pathology- read Goljan, listen to all of his lectures, some school lectures, DEFINITELY ATTEND KBAUM REVIEWS and read the handouts provided by school lecturers. I would use the school lecture handouts as my study guide template and fill it in with information from Goljan (sometimes this included straight up copying goljan texts). Second semester I would do Qbank questions on the topics we had covered and would be tested on. Before exams I would attend Kbaums review and read through my monster study guide that I made for myself.
CPP- CPP exams are all based off of Zar’s reviews. Print out Zar’s review ppt or if you take notes on the computer…download it and annotate notes from lecturers onto that powerpoint. I would do this and go through his review and look for some smaller details from each lecturer before the exam and it worked out great.
Pharm- I studied absolutely nothing for pharm. I would go on the society for prospective surgeons website and print out their pharm review or get a pharm study guide from a classmate and go through it a few nights before an exam and cram like crazy. In retrospect, it’s not a good way of going about the course…but it worked for me. Instead I would recommend going through the lecture objectives answering those questions and memorizing the drug lists throughout the semester using pharmcards or whatever works for you.
Psychopath- just follow the UIC lectures, the psychiatrist that lecture are awesome and psych is super straightforward.

The goal for the end of the school year is to have gone through BRS physio and Goljan chapters for all the systems so you have all the big picture stuff down and that you have gone through ALL of the Qbank 1 time since those questions will help you think about what information you need to know and constantly guide your studying. You must be constantly figuring out WHY and not just WHAT- something Goljan says. Majority of Step 1 questions are secondary or tertiary, you will rarely get a regurgitation question. You will see a ton of students pulling out their First Aid throughout first and second semester and I think this is fine to do as a reference but it is NOT sufficient and not useful alone. Many students annotate First Aid, but I used it as a check of “oh I know that plus more” you can of course annotate but I decided to leave it blank for the last 5 weeks of prep after April practicum. Many students straight up try to memorize all of First Aid…don’t.
So by the time we finished finals and were about to start practicum, I had completed majority of qbank first pass (I finished halfway through practicum)- do a few questions a day such as 25/day and REVIEW THE ANSWERS- I actually sat down and took notes from the explanations and I LEARNED A LOT FROM QBANK DIRECTLY. It will be time consuming to read the explanations and study them but it is WELL WORTH IT. I also felt great about all the systems in terms of physio and pathology. So throughout the two weeks of practicum I covered: biochemistry, neuroanatomy, immuno/micro. I took blank sheets of paper and took notes after I read sections of the relevant books. Forcing myself to synthesize the material was great, you can also annotate in First Aid if you prefer. I had tried to cover all of the first year material such as biochem etc throughout second semester prior to this period but I’m not sure how helpful it was. Going over that stuff during the final weeks of focused studying was more high yield.

By the time practicum was finished, my goal was to get through all of the systems again and cover all the relevant: pharm, physio, pathology, relevant histo and anatomy. This would take around 2-3 days per organ system and I also made sure to do at least 48Qs/day with the goal of completing a second pass through qbank (which I finished 1 week before my test date). Over the last few weeks I would take a practice NBME on Mondays, my scheduled test day and picked one night a week to take a break.
I completed going through all the material and had nearly gone through all of qbank two times when I had 2.5 weeks left. Originally I had scheduled this time to go through first aid completely and memorize it over 1 week and do the same with goljan rapid review…but I realized it was 1. Boring 2. Inefficient 3. No real structure. Instead I went through Doctors In Training lecture series. DIT is basically a companion to first aid with additional worksheets and quizzes you must do. It feels like you are back in high school where you have a workbook to work along with the textbook. It is one doctor reading first aid and adding additional comments but at that point in my studying I wanted something different- it was way more chill studying the last 2 weeks than the weeks before. I would wake up and do the respective days lectures: 3 lectures about 1.5 hours each and review that material and do questions at the end of the day. I would recommend doing DIT. (If you do it legally…they start sending you first aid related questions every week in the spring). I’m not sure it added any points to my score but gave me something to do the final couple of weeks. Other students did DIT during practicum which I think would be smart because they literally cover everything in first aid and a bit more over 15 days of lecture. I choose to do it last minute and it was great to have it fresh in my mind.
The day before the test I watched Hangover II- (I don’t care what the critics say…it obviously was going to be the same plot so once I accepted that it was a GREAT movie…other movies to consider: Wedding Crashers, Swingers, Billy Madison, Dumb and Dumber) and most importantly made a sweet playlist for my iPOD. I woke up walked to the testing center listened to some tunes and cranked out the test. I took barely any break time and left feeling great.