My Step 1 Experience from 220 to 251 – Rachael Kim

I just wanted to get back to this thread since SDN/Reddit users have helped me quite a bit with Step 1 prep. I wanna write about what I did, hoping it’d be helpful. Feel free to message me with any questions. I don’t remember the specifics of my prep but if anybody is curious I can dig up and figure out what I did. I exceeded my original goal (230) and preparing for this exam was probably the hardest academic thing I did in the first two years of med school. I’m not the smartest person in class or the quickest learner so I wanted to write something to ease other people’s test anxiety.


background: US DO. Above average in M1, M2.

NBME scores

Starting NBME score: NBME-13: 220 (about 2.5 months out) Afterwards: NBME-15: 230; NBME 16: 226; NBME-17: 242 (over the next 2.5 months)

UWSA-1: 251 (~ 1 mo out)

UWSA-2: 254 (a few days before the test)

Real deal: 251

Materials used


Questions were gold for me; you should put more stress on solving questions especially if you aren’t a great reader like me. I also tend to forget the questions I got wrong so I ended up doing A LOT of questions near the end). In the order I used them:


Qbanks and comments and timings of them:


=> Kaplan Qbank – Old one I used during school years to prep for the unit tests – Started using it around late September/October


=> USMLERx – Used to familiarize me with FA – Started it in the second semester


=> UW – Timed, subject-based – 1st time UW; started after Rx was done, around late April


=> New Kaplan Qbank – Tutor, subject-based. I did A LOT per day during my dedicated study period – After UW 1st pass was completed.


=> UW – Random, timed – 2nd time UW; did it along with the new Kaplan Qbank


I know this is really a ton of questions compared to other people. Maybe I’m stupid but I really needed a load of questions to meet my goal.

My favorite question bank – UW >= New Kaplan QBank (I don’t know if Rx helped at all TBH).

I honestly don’t think that doing it in timed mode (compare tutor mode) was that much necessary, as long as you make sure you don’t have the timing issue by practicing in the timed mode a few times beforehand.


Other Materials

FA (read it 3-4 times)

Pathoma (watched it once during school year. watched them all over during board prep)

Sketchy Micro (tried Sketchy Pharm for a few drug classes that I just couldn’t understand) – I loved Sketchy Micro! TBH I ran into some questions that couldn’t be answered with just Sketchy but I was willing to take the hit. Sketchy Pharm isn’t all that necessary. FA is perfect for pharm if you understand what it says on the FA pages. I started watching Sketchy Micro around January of 2016 and made the first pass through before the school year ended. I rewatched them during board prep season.

DIT (ONLY for biochem and biostats) – I sucked at biochem and biostats so I watched some vids on these units during dedicated board prep. I think biochem diagrams here are way better than FA especially if you forget a ton of biochem like I did. I wouldn’t really recommend it for other sections.

I experimented with a lot of resources other than the ones listed but I don’t think they were too helpful. Questions worked out the best for my learning type. Feel free to try out other resources, but don’t waste too much time or get stressed out about them like I did. Again, feel free to PM me I’ll try to answer any questions.


Make sure you take care of yourself! Studying in the same spot every day for months really got me down and stressed out classmates didn’t really help me feel better either. Try to figure out what makes you calm/happy and stick to those. I reluctantly took 5 whole days off from fourth of July, just a few weeks before my test but I was so happy that I didn’t look back at it. As recommended by my friend, I spent at least an hour each day watching a TV show with my boyfriend or playing with my cat, etc. You can do it too!

Doubts Solved by the Author

Q – How much was your UW percentage?

A – I think my first pass (subject based, timed) was 69% (?). I just checked my second pass and it was 82% (random timed). The previous record gets wiped out when you reset so I’m not 100% sure on my first pass percentage. I wouldn’t stress out over UW percentage but do a couple of NBMEs and UWSAs to make sure that you can comfortably pass. Even with NBME scores, don’t stress out over it if your score fluctuates. It was definitely upsetting for me; but it happens and by seeing how it wasn’t predictive, my friends and I learned to take it as a test. You should do it just to make sure you can safely pass.

Q – Congratulations on a great score! I am in MS2. I also learn more through questions. I would like to know whether you started UWorld at the beginning of your MS2 or you saved it for the dedicated period. Would you recommend me to start UWorld now (in MS 2)? Also, when did you start studying for step 1? How long did you study for? What would you recommend me to do now to prepare for the board exam next year? (Sorry for all the questions, I’m just a very naive and confused msII).

A – NP. So I did Kaplan (during the first sem), Rx (during the second sem); then around spring break started UW (might’ve been as late as April) first pass. I then made a second pass of UW and Kaplan till my exam (Aug 2). I was supposed to take my exam mid-July but I panicked and pushed my test back. TBH, I don’t think I learned more by pushing it back. I really needed to calm my nerves down.

I started reading FA after winter break (I did glance at it a few times earlier for the systems we were going through but didn’t read it page by page). My school curriculum focused on path and pharm only starting in the second year so I felt as though I should try to learn the school material well at least until the middle of the second semester. That’s what I’d suggest.

As for starting UW now vs later, people will tell you different things. I don’t think it makes a huge difference. I realized I went overboard with questions so I wanted to make sure I got through the questions I had access to.

Q – I see. Thank you for getting back to me! I really appreciate it. I guess now, I just gotta figure out which resources I want to use and how to incorporate them into my schedule on top of studying for block exams… Congratulations again on such a great score!

A – NP. If you want a clear-cut answer, I don’t think UW is good to use NOW especially THIS early into the school year unless you go to one of those schools where they teach you enough path and pharm in the first year. I knew nothing so I couldn’t answer any of those questions. I felt like Kaplan was great to reinforce what I learned in class & try out some board questions. That’s why I used Kaplan to prep for school tests in a system specific, usually timed mode. I tried to finish all questions in the system that our school was teaching us at that time.


TBH = to be honest

NP = no problem

UWorld/UW = USMLE World

FA = First Aid

MS = medschool


Rachael Kim

If this experience helped you, make sure to check out the following experiences:

USMLE Step 1 Experience – 256 – Dr. Karim

USMLE Step 1 – 256 Experience

USMLE Step 1 – 258 Experience

December 25, 2017
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