My Study Method for Preclinical Years of Medical School: How to Best Prepare for Boards

One of the hardest parts of first and second years of medical school is figuring out how to best digest and memorize the large amounts of material! I personally recommend seeking advice from different people with various learning styles, then trying them out to see what works best for you! We all learn differently. Some like reading textbooks, others like watching videos. Some like taking handwritten notes, others like typing their notes. It takes trial and error, so be patient with yourself while you’re figuring out what works best for you!

In this post, I’ll share how I structured my studying during my first and second year of medical school. This helped me do well. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful and can incorporate it into your study method as well! 🙂

Step 1: Review your class schedule

To get a gist of how the block was structured, I started off the block by reviewing the schedule of lectures. Some things I made sure to note were: the duration of the block and deadlines for assignments. I scheduled in important dates into my planner.

Step 2: Create your study plan

I created an excel sheet and listed all the lectures for each block. I made columns labeled with tasks I had to complete (i.e. watch lecture, take notes). Each time I completed that task, I put an X or that day’s date in the corresponding box. Sometimes I put “Pass 1, Pass 2, Pass 3,” indicating how many times I’ve reviewed that lecture.

Click here and here for examples!

Step 3: Watch lecture

At the beginning of my first year, I attended lectures in person. However, towards the middle/end of first year, I started to watch school lectures from home. While watching lectures (at 1.5x speed), I reviewed/took notes on our class “noteset.” At my school, we have a student notetaking service where a classmate attends the lectures and takes notes on the material. The notes are then published for the whole class. If your school doesn’t offer ‘notesets,’ follow along with your class’s powerpoints and take notes on those.

Step 4: Watch supplemental material

After watching my class lecture, I either reviewed the corresponding book chapter (1st year) or watched Boards and Beyond (B&B) and/or Pathoma (2nd year).

An example of what I did during 1st year: If there was a lecture pertaining to sex hormone physiology, I read that chapter in the BRS Physiology textbook and took notes on it before lecture. (TBH, while I did this… upon reflection, I felt like I could skip this step for 1st year).

For second year, I watched either Pathoma and/or B&B. If we were learning about heart murmurs, I watched the B&B video on that topic. While watching B&B videos, I took notes in First Aid. If I watched Pathoma, I took notes in the Pathoma textbook. In blocks that included microbiology and pharmacology, I watched the corresponding Sketchy Micro/Pharm sections.

Step 5: Incorporate Anki

I started using Anki flashcards towards the end of my second year. It was a great way to nail down dense amounts of material. I used premed decks (mostly Zanki and Pepper for Sketchy material). I wish I incorporated it sooner.

Step 6: Complete Practice Questions!

About 1-1.5 weeks out from the block exam (blocks were usually 4 weeks long), I started completing practice questions.

For first year, I used questions in the back of textbooks or those provided by my school.

For second year, I used the USMLE-Rx question bank. I recommend saving Uworld for when you get closer to dedicated.

Step 7: Rewrite my notes

When I didn’t take my own notes (e.g. took notes on a powerpoint lectures or my class noteset), I would spend a few days writing out notes in my own writing. I didn’t do this for each class, but try to focus on important pathways or anatomical structures. I would also focus on topics that I constantly got wrong on practice questions.

This helped me visualize and condense my notes. I would review this set of notes before the exam instead of the large packets of class material

Step 8: Review notes or First Aid

Lastly, I would review my notes (1st year) or the corresponding First Aid sections (2nd year) 1-3 days out from my exam.

General Advice

  • You WILL be overwhelmed by the amount of material during the first and second years of medical school. Make it easier on yourself by picking a few solid resources and sticking with them.
  • During my first year of medical school, I didn’t purchase any Step 1 prep resources (Pathoma, B&B, Uworld) and would recommend against it. There’s enough material to get through and most of the Step resources cover content during second year.
  • In general, the majority of my time during first year was spent learning the material offered by my school. During my second year, I spent about 60% of my time reviewing class-related material and 40% on supplemental content.
  • For second year, I recommend using B&B, Pathoma, Sketchy, USMLE-Rx, and First Aid.
  • Since the material is extremely dense, the more times you review, the more likely you’ll be able to conceptualize it. Even if you watched a lecture and think you learned everything from it, you’d be surprised by how much more knowledge you’d pick up by reviewing it 2-3 more times. Focus your time on review and really mastering 75% of the content versus trying to learn all 100% at a superficial level.
  • Remember to prioritize self-care. The work will always be endless and if you don’t make a good habit of getting good night’s sleep, eat well and exercise regularly, you’ll get burnt out. Medical school is a marathon, not a sprint!

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions by commenting below!!



  1. lary in Las Vegas
    08/21/2021 / 8:48 pm

    when you say that medical school lectures are too detailed to be high yield, i take it that you feel that Step 1 is NOT detailed and is more basic than the medical school curricula. is that what you mean?

    • Lily
      08/21/2021 / 9:22 pm

      Yes, exactly!

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