How this med student turned Firecracker into a PlayStation game

Posted by Ben Williams on Nov 18, 2013 9:34:57 AM

Firecracker was at the AAMC's annual conference a few weeks ago and we were psyched to run into so many Firecrackers representing so many different schools.

We heard stories about how professors can't get their students to stop "cracking" in class, and how much we helped students crush their finals, Shelfs and USMLEs. Check out this USMLE Step 1 score report we just got (score = 270)!

One awesome story we heard was how an Ohio State student (go Buckeyes!) turned Firecracker into a PlayStation game. We loved the story so much that we asked him (Pat) to tell us how he did it. We hope this will inspire you to do the same, and to come up with other cool ways of using Firecracker to make learning fun, personal, and Über effective!

- Firecracker

Gaming Your Way Through Firecracker?

Having prepared for and successfully taken the USMLE Step 1 in the past year, I can personally attest to the benefits of a spaced-repetition program like Firecracker. While at the time I was studying, it was known as Gunner Training, it’s my understanding that many of the features that made this resource great have been carried on in the new platform. I wanted to share with you a story of how I incorporated one of those features (keyboard shortcuts) in a unique way to better facilitate my daily review.


Prior to medical school, I (along with many others in my demographic) spent a fair amount of time playing video games. As I’m sure many can relate, the rigorous demands of preclinical studies put an end to such pleasures as I entered medical school. Over time, the gaming system that I had brought with me soon began to gather dust as it was relegated almost entirely to the role of video-on-demand services. If that hits too close to home, I apologize ☹

How does this have anything to do with Firecracker and its aforementioned keyboard shortcuts? As you may well know at this point, getting through the vast amount of content that is provided by this platform can be challenging at times, and requires both diligence and efficiency. In the months before taking Step 1, I realized that I was having a hard time getting through the multitude of review questions allocated per day. While I greatly appreciated the keyboard shortcuts provided by the creators of this platform, I found myself getting a little bored and easily distracted (after all your only a CONTROL-T, “fa…., ENTER” away from everyone’s favorite social media sinkhole of productivity).

At some point, I must have thought to myself “Is there any way I can make this routine more stimulating than it already is? Perhaps, more fun? The thought occurred to me that I could make my daily review into a game. After all, there’s a scoring system, and a clear enemy—Step 1. All that I needed was a way to interact with it.

After a quick consult to the world-wide-web, I was able download 3rd part software that allowed for my video game console’s controller to pair with my computer via USB or Bluetooth. In addition, I was able to map specific buttons of the controller based on Firecracker’s built in keyboard shortcuts (see image below for my personal configuration).

Image 1

Note that you can use whatever scheme works best for you and your devices.

This configuration allowed me to flip through topics and select the appropriate recall level in a way that was familiar and efficient for me. While it took a little getting used to, I soon found that my daily reviews were taking less time and were, dare I say it… enjoyable. Even better, I was able to stay focused and found myself hitting that start button (Recall= 5) more and more each day!

Image 2

My set-up at work in my favorite study spot on campus. I also found flipping through topics on the LCD TV in my living room rather convenient when lacking significant motivation.

This is this the story of how I used Firecracker. Maybe you might find this strategy helpful for your studies. I’d love to hear yours!

- Patrick Sylvester, MS3 @ The Ohio State University College of Medicine

Topics: Medical Education

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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

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