I have to admit, I have been putting off this particular blog for awhile for more reasons than I can name but mostly because I wasn't sure if I wanted to influence what people did for one of the most important tests you could ever take. I have decided to detail what I did for my boards and hope that you guys take everything with a grain of salt and develop a plan that suits your learning style.

Background: I did fairly decent on class exams but I am not naturally a good test taker (I.e. I have to work quite a bit to maintain my grades). Knowing that this would be a struggle, I gathered the resources I found the most helpful during classes and utilized them during boards.

An Overview of Medical School Boards:
  • MD's take the USMLE. DO's have to take COMLEX but can also take USMLE. 
  • These exams take place following the 2nd year of medical school
  • Both exams are roughly 8 hours long and arguably the most important exam in determining which specialties you can/cannot do
  • If you pass, you cannot retake the exam for a higher score. If you fail, you may retake it depending on your school's policies

Studying during class/months before boards
I did minor studying the months before board exam time because I wanted to really focus on class material. I still believe that learning class material is going to benefit you more than sitting and doing 100s of questions 6 months out from the exam. I do suggest doing some questions daily but on the subjects you are currently studying in class.

Definitely utilize Pathoma and Sketchy throughout your classwork so you can familiarize yourself with the resources come board time.

****** BUT FIRST. Download my Sketchy Medical and Pathoma checklists!

Resources I used:
  • Doctors in Training (DIT): 240+ videos that walk you through First Aid for USMLE
  • Sketchy Medical (Pharm and Micro): AMAZING and helped me score in the 90+ percentile in pharm and micro
  • Pathoma: absolutely a must and I can guarantee you this is all you need for pathology
  • First Aid for USMLE 2016: the bible for Step 1
  • Question banks: UWorld and COMBANK
Alotted time for studying: approximately 60 days (beginning of April to June 10th). My USMLE test date was June 4th and my COMLEX was June 10th

Daily schedule (subjected to change depending on my feels that day)
  • 8am: wake up, eat breakfast, pack lunch and dinner
  • 8:30am-10am: take a 50 question exam on either UWorld or COMBANK
  • Break
  • 10:30a-1pm: go over questions and summaries
  • Lunch
  • 2pm-7pm: watch 7-8 DIT videos and any correlated Pathoma or Sketchy videos 
  • Workout
  • Dinner
  • 8pm-10:30pm: review material from the day
There were a total of 240 DIT videos and I finished them 2.5-3 weeks out from my test dates. After I finished them, I upped my questions to 75-125 a day. See below for specifics.

Utilizing Doctors in Training
I don't believe you need this to succeed on the exam. I used it as a tool to walk me through First Aid for USMLE because it explains it page by page using mnemonics and visual aids. I realized early that I can't memorize by reading so watching these videos helped me a lot with getting concepts down.

Tip: when it comes to the pathology, micro, or pharm videos, I ended up opting to watch Pathoma, Sketchy Micro, and Sketchy Pharm in place of these because I knew I would learn better through these resources. I would then watch the DIT videos on these subjects on 2x speed to make sure I didn't miss out on any cool mnemonics.

Daily Practice Questions and Review
At the beginning, I did 50 random, timed questions in the morning (alternating between UWorld and COMBANK) and spent 2-3 hours reviewing them with First Aid. I upped these to 75-125 questions a day. Initially, I used an Excel sheet to type up my questions but this took entirely way too long. I ended up solely taking notes in my First Aid and Sketchy Micro/Pharm book. Ideally you don't want to spend too much time on reviewing questions and this is something I wish I could've realized earlier. But do make sure you are reviewing them adequately!

I did half of UWorld and completed all of COMBANK (a total of 3000+ question)

Full Length Practice Exams
Our school requires you to pass a practice COMSAE (a practice COMLEX) in order to sit for the real boards. We took this one month out from my real exam. These practice exams are only half the questions of a real test (i.e. 200 questions). Timeline for when I took practice exams

  • 5.5 weeks prior to COMLEX
  • 4 weeks prior to COMLEX
  • 2 weeks prior to COMLEX

I took two practice USMLE's at some point but I don't recall when.

Why I didn't end up taking the USMLE
I studied for the USMLE up until two weeks from my exam. Although I was passing, I was not happy with my practice scores and really weighed my options at that point. I consulted several third year students on what to do and the majority suggested I try doing really well on one exam instead of doing mediocre on two. I also had the misfortune of dealing with a breakup during this time so ultimately I decided to devote the rest of my time to COMLEX. I have no regrets at all about this decision.

See my friend's blog post about this here because he does a heck of a job better than me! I believe that if you get down micro, pharm, physiology, and pathology, you will do well on both of these exams.

The day before the exam
I had to travel a bit to my testing site but I laid in my hotel bed with ice cream, Nerds rope, nail polish, and Netflix the day before my exam and I don't think I could've been more relaxed! I ended up sleeping 9+ hours the night before and was well-rested. The only things I looked at the day before was my Sketchy book and OMT viscerosomatic levels and Chapman points.

Test Day
  • If you have to travel to your test site and staying at a hotel the night before, check out your test site location the night prior so you know where it is
  • Arrive early, you will have to go through security and identification measures. Sometimes they will allow you to start early
  • Wear comfortable clothes. I wore leggings and a zip up sweater with my hair tied up so it wouldn't get in the way
  • Bring snacks and a lunch that won't spoil if it sits around (although many people lose their appetite!)
  • Bring water, Advil, and a caffeinated beverage if you need it! Also if you're like me, take your allergy medications
  • Make sure you are looking at the clock often to keep pace 
  • Take your mandatory lunch break to cool down and refuel
  • Treat yoself after the exam (for me a nice alcoholic beverage ;)

So how did I do?
Initially I was surprised and then sad and then happy about my score. I fell a little short of my goal and although I won't say my exact score, I am still competitive in the specialties I want (emergency medicine and general surgery).

My opinion on the COMLEX
I honestly felt that the exam did not do a very good job of testing what I knew. I walked out of the exam feeling like I could have taken it 3 weeks prior and gotten the same score. I believe that learning how to take the exam was more beneficial than actually studying material for the exam. So if I could provide one huge advice: practice questions practice questions practice questions!

The topics I found easiest to answer were pharm and micro because simply, there are only so many ways you can ask questions about these. The dean at our school gave us a chart in the beginning that showed a higher correlation between a good score and pharm, micro, and physiology. I think this is very true for COMLEX.

Some tricks, tips, and myths
  • Board studying is truly a marathon and you will find yourself getting frustrated but it is better to take the day off to cool down and go 100% the next day. There were many days I would spend 12+ hours in one seat and forced myself to get up and exercise because I knew I was hitting a wall.
  • Exercise as much as you can
    • Not only will it allow you to take a break, it will also boost your energy and clear your mind. I watched a lot of Pathoma and Sketchy while walking on the treadmill.
  • Always get adequate sleep
    • It is not worth getting 5 hours a night if you can't concentrate the next day. I consistently slept 7 hours a night during board studying.
  • "My friend scored in the 99th percentile and said they did _____"
    • You are going to hear so many tips from people once boards rolls around but ideally you want to get advice from someone who tests similarly to you. Ask how they did in class because it might not be ideal to take advice from someone who has a photographic memory or tests differently. 
  • How many resources should I use? 
    • The less the better, typically. Do what you feel is comfortable because it can be overwhelming how many resources there are
  • Give yourself a half day to a day of "catch up" time a week
    • Just in case you fall behind on studying or to do weekly chores
  • Crockpot meals are your best friend during boards haha
  • Take plenty of timed tests
    • The COMLEX in particular has a weird timing system where you take the first 200 questions within a 4 hour time slot and you have to pace yourself the entire time. I would recommend finishing the first block of 50 questions in 50 minutes and giving yourself the last 10 minutes to review your marked questions
  • Take the day off the day before your exam and give yourself some "me" time! 
Woof, that was quite the blog post! Let me know below if you have any other questions!



  1. Thank you so much for providing your own and your classmate's insight into what you did. It is so helpful to us second years who are basically panicking right now to figure out the perfect schedule. I really appreciate you sharing your checklists as well; I think those are a wonderful tool that can help me keep organized! Thank you x a million!!!!!

  2. Wow, what an incredible post! So much honest and helpful information. Kudos to you for being able to let go of Step 1 and focus all of your energy on COMLEX (and through a breakup nonetheless!). I'm sure I'll be referring to this post when I'm preparing for boards next year!

    At what point in your first two years did you start using Sketchy and Pathoma? I currently have First Aid and have just started Sketchy, but am not sure if I should purchase Pathoma now or wait until second year.

    1. Hi Victoria! I'm so glad you liked the post!

      I started Sketchy pretty late into 1st year, which I totally regret because it is such an awesome resource. I used it and Pathoma pretty much any time pathology or micro came up in class! I think it's totally worth getting Pathoma now since I think they have different month options plus it's the only way to get the book! Hope this helped :)

  3. Such a great post! I love your laid out daily schedule. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Thanks for the concise post.

    I'm going to print out your sketchy checklists! Great idea. I learn so well from them and always feel guilty if I don't do them. I'm currently studying for my STEP and am going through a break up...It's tough. I really respect how you pushed through. I'm struggling with it atm, I've pushed back my test date. Dealing with that and then getting ill, I felt I was robbed of a few weeks of my studying. I hope it works out for me. Alot of my friends are taking it this month so I know it's going to be hard to see, as I want nothing more than to be done with it too! But I also deserve a fair shot. I just hope I have the stamina for it. Like you said, it's a marathon!

    All the best x

    1. Good luck with everything! Honestly, studying for STEP 1 helped me get off the struggle bus with personal stuff so if anything, use your breakup as a light to fire you up for the exam! Do what you feel is comfortable and have confidence (which, I think is half the battle)!

  6. Thanks so much for the post! Any chance you'd be willing to share the cover Sketchy Micro and Pharm covers that you have? I really want to print the workbook out as well, and would love that pretty cover to accompany the checklists you created! Thanks!

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