How this Firecracker aced all the Shelfs and scored a 271 on USMLE Step 2 CK

Posted by David Guertin on Oct 6, 2016 4:36:29 PM

For years, Firecracker has proven extremely effective as a resource for preclinical classes and USMLE Step 1 preparation. Thousands of third-year medical students are now also using Firecracker alongside their clinical rotations, and to prepare for major exams including USMLE Step 2 CK, Shelfs, COMLEX Level 2, and COMATs. Suat, a fourth-year medical student who picked up Firecracker as a primary resource during clerkships, graciously shares some wise words of experience here:

"Hi everyone! I’m currently an MS4 at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School. I started using Firecracker two months into my third year, during my Ob/Gyn rotation. I had heard about Firecracker when I was an MS1, but thought at the time that I may end up using too many resources and not be able to effectively concentrate on our school’s classes. Two months into third year, by which point I had already completed the Psychiatry and Neurology rotations, I decided to give it a shot. I initially planned on using it as a supplement to the books I was using to study for the Ob/Gyn rotation. However I soon realized that for third year, Firecracker could be used as a primary resource.

With every new rotation, I started to rely more and more on Firecracker as a resource. Not only did it help me focus on all the right material for the Shelf exams, but it also helped me answer many pimp questions throughout the year. I often found myself answering questions based on Firecracker cards I had done the night before. The day after I learned the gastric emptying study Firecracker card, the topic came up on rounds the next day. When I described how the study is done in detail to the attending, he was amazed and asked how I knew all this and asked if I wanted to go into GI. Most of my third year evaluations had very positive comments about my knowledge base, and I think Firecracker was largely responsible for this.

During the day, I would do Firecracker cards on my phone whenever there was downtime in the hospital. I would do about 250 questions most days, and as the year went on I was able to complete the 250 questions in a shorter amount of time. On some days, I would do less cards or none at all. However, as the year went on I started to skip less days. On weekends, I did more cards as I found extra time. I would also sometimes use the weekend to make up for some of the weekdays I skipped. Throughout my studies I also used USMLE World for questions and listened to Onlinemeded videos on my commutes to help reinforce the material.

During winter break, I spent a few hours a day doing the cards from the Pscyhiatry and Neurology rotations. I was able to catch up very quickly. Throughout the second half of the year, I started taking notes of some of the content that was in the UWorld question bank, and adding images to accompany certain cards. This way I was able to review some of the UWorld charts along with the Firecracker cards.

Firecracker was excellent for retention of the material. For example, I scored in the 99th percentile for the Family Medicine Shelf exam despite not having had Internal Medicine; I believe this was mostly thanks to Firecracker. By retaining most of the psychiatry and general surgery topics, I had to do very little dedicated preparation for the Family Medicine Shelf exam. In general, Firecracker was great preparation for Shelf exams. After every Shelf exam I kept saying or thinking “oh, that was in Firecracker.” Overall, I scored above the 95th percentile on every Shelf exam, and in the 99th percentile for most.


Since I had used Firecracker throughout the year, I only needed 3 weeks of dedicated preparation time for Step 2 CK. Before starting my last rotation (Internal Medicine), I did an NBME practice exam to gauge where I was in terms of Step 2 CK preparation. I scored a 254. A month before the end of the IM rotation I did another practice exam, and scored a 260 this time around. I did roughly 500 Firecracker cards a day for two weeks, making sure that I was able to select at least a “3” for most cards. In the last week of my preparation, I did not use Firecracker at all. I mainly focused on reviewing the notes I had taken, and reviewed algorithms that I knew I was weak on. On test day I encountered many questions which I was only able to answer thanks to the information I learned from studying Firecracker."

Our world-class authors and editors have summarized best practices for success during your clinical years here as well. If you'd like to see how Firecracker can help you for your clinical clerkships, then just reach out at and we'll hook you up!

Topics: USMLE, USMLE Step 2 CK, Clinical Rotations

Welcome to Firecracker

Firecracker is an adaptive learning platform that uses amazing content coupled with spaced repetition to help medical students crush their exams. We offer programs for both individual students, and entire medical schools. If you'd like to learn more contact us at

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts