Surviving Step 1: Note to 1st and 2nd Year Medical Students

By Walter Wiggins

To the 1st years, welcome to medical school! (2nd years, I’ll get to you below. Feel free to skip down.) You all are about to embark on an amazing journey. There will be plenty of challenges ahead, not the least of which is making the transition from college or post-college work life to medical school. During the preclinical (or classroom) years of medical school, you will be given a lot of information to store in your brain. It can be quite overwhelming. One of my anatomy professors likened it to trying to drink from a wide-open fire hydrant. I’d say that was pretty accurate. If you want to avoid drowning or being washed away, you have to take well-planned sips instead of trying to stick your head in the middle and gulp it all down.

One resource that can help guide your sips is First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 (you can buy it on to which we are the companion website. You may have heard by now that the United States Medical Licensing Exam (or USMLE) has 3 steps, of which the first (Step 1) is arguably the most important for securing residency program interviews. You might be thinking, “Now, hold on a minute…I just got to medical school. I just finished the application process. Why am I already thinking about residency applications?” Don’t worry. We’re just talking about Step 1 for now. It is the culmination of your classroom experience. Think of it as your final exam for the preclinical years, as you’ll be taking it at the end of your 2nd year and it will cover all of the topics you’ll review over the next 2 years. First Aid just helps guide you as to which topics are going to give you the highest reward for your efforts to truly learn the material (see below).

To the 2nd years, welcome back! It’s time to start thinking about Step 1. If you already have a copy of First Aid (on, you’ll want to start using it to guide your studying. The better you learn the material that will be on Step 1 now, the easier recall will be during your dedicated study period leading up to the exam. If you don’t have a copy yet, you might want to borrow an older version from a friend for the next few months, as the new edition will be up for sale in January 2013 (in plenty of time for your dedicated study period).

“Surviving Step 1” is a series of posts that serves to give you information about preparing for the USMLE Step 1, as well as tips from our experience in recent years. Check in with us from time to time to stay up-to-date on what you can be doing to make sure you are ready to dominate Step 1 this year. You can also search our archive for last year’s posts to get ahead of the game.

So, come on everybody, weigh in below. Introduce yourselves and share some study tips. We want to get to know you!


6 thoughts on “Surviving Step 1: Note to 1st and 2nd Year Medical Students”

  1. Hari:

    2nd yr med student…lets begin.


    2nd yr…lets do this

    Welcome Hari and Mark! Keep a close eye on the Study Tips series. We’ll share tips on how to study, when to study, and even what to study. All of our First Aid Team members have passed Step 1, so they’re “in the know,” so to speak.

  2. Callie:

    Oh snap.. Totally not feeling ready for this exam coming up in 10 months…

    Welcome Callie! What study resources are you using?

  3. Walter Wiggins

    We all felt the same way, Callie. But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to learn everything you need to know over the next several months. Good luck!

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