Using Firecracker Between Year 1 and Year 2

Posted by Trevor Rosenlof on Jun 12, 2015 3:41:00 PM

It’s summer time!  Congratulations on surviving your 1st year of medical school.  You are likely done with the smell of formaldehyde.  You’re ready for a well-deserved break.  It’s time to catch up on sleep, visit family and friends, travel, or maybe even do a research project.


Most people say to use the summer between 1st and 2nd year as a chance to enjoy life since it’s the last free summer you’ll have for years to come.  And that is definitely true.  But what if you could enjoy life and do a few really simple things that would give you a leg up come 2nd year and would really set you up for a more successful Step 1 experience?  Is it possible to do some studying without getting burned out?  Definitely!!

And Firecracker is the tool that will let do so.  With Firecracker, you can study during the summer, get ahead for 2nd year and Step 1, and not get burned out.

The key is to be consistent.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Doing a small amount of studying on a regular basis does a few things.  It prevents you from getting burned out.  It also protects your brain and study skills from atrophy.  One of the hardest aspects of starting another year of school is you have to relearn how to study, and you feel like you’re playing catch-up from the get-go.  But not if you keep your mind active and “in the zone” on a consistent basis.

So how much should you study?  What should you study?  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here at Firecracker.

How much should I study each day?

My personal recommendation is to spend 40 minutes (or more) each day doing Firecracker recall questions.  For some people, 40 minutes each day during summer might sound like a lot.  But not if you break it up into small chunks throughout the day.  Take out your smart phone and do a few questions here and there when you would otherwise be sitting around wasting time:

  • during a commercial break

  • while eating breakfast

  • while going on a walk

  • for the first 5 minutes of your workout at the gym

Maybe you can commit to doing just 10 minutes of Firecracker in the morning and 10 minutes at the end of the day.  Firecracker’s recall questions are designed to be answered super quickly, so you can probably average a few each minute.  

So say you do 2 questions a minute.  If you spend 40 minutes doing Firecracker everyday (10 in the morning, 10 at night, 20 at random times in the day), you’ll end up doing 80 questions by the time the day is over.  What’s pretty awesome about that is the median Step 1 score for Firecrackers who do 80 questions a day is a whopping 14 points higher than non-Firecrackers (243 vs. 229).

A strong word of advice is to not study to the point of betting burned out.  I genuinely think that all of us can study 40 minutes a day without any issue (if not, medical school probably isn’t for you).  But I would probably stay away from pulling Firecracker all-nighters during your summer break.

What should you study

There are a few different approaches to this.  If you’re a long-time Firecracker user, you probably have a lot of topics already flagged and part of your study schedule.  You might have enough material to last you without adding anymore.  But even so, you should at least consider adding a few more topics to your schedule.

One thing I actually did during the summer was flag new topics I was going to cover during 2nd year.  My school has a traditional curriculum, so we learned physiology, histology, and anatomy of all the organ systems during 1st year, then pathology and pharmacology during 2nd year.  I felt that once I understood physiology, a lot the information from pathology and pharmacology made sense to me.  So I didn’t have any issues flagging a lot of 2nd year topics.  It actually made 2nd year much easier for me than 1st year because I spent my summer getting a head start.

Maybe there are topics you haven’t flagged yet, but you feel comfortable studying on your own because you’ve had the material before (maybe in undergrad) or the material is just really easy for you.  There is no rule that you can’t study Firecracker material before you see it in medical school.

If you’re not a seasoned Firecracker yet, consider going through this list of topics we feel are good for students between 1st and 2nd year.  They are both high yield, as well as foundational concepts that provide a lot of the concepts that the rest of medical school is built on.  Knowing these will be helpful for your Step 1 experience, as well as help you learn everything you’re going to cover in 2nd year.

Even if you’re just starting Firecracker, look for any topics you covered during 1st year.  This way you’ll stay sharp on that material and you won’t have to waste precious time relearning it during your dedicated Step 1 prep.

What about practice tests?  Is it ridiculous to start those?

Not necessarily, depending on your approach.  Firecracker has hundreds of Step 1 style clinical vignettes, and more coming every week.  So you might consider going to Firecracker’s question bank and building practice exams.  While you certainly can do full blocks in one setting, you might consider turning the intensity knob back a few notches.  After you build an exam, do just a few questions.  Save the exam, then come back and do a few more the next day or a few days later.  This way you’re not getting overwhelmed with too many questions.  It’s summer break after all.  But by doing just a few you’re studying the material from a different angle at the same time that you’re getting gradual exposure to the types of questions you’ll see on the real deal.

Also, for those of you entering the summer before your second year of medical school, check out this blog to keep track of the most high-yield material you should cover. 

Any other suggestions?  What have you done to effectively use Firecracker during your M1-M2 summer break?  If you’re not there yet, what are you planning on doing to make the summer effective?

Good luck studying, and have a happy summer break!

Topics: How to Use Firecracker, Summer Study Plan

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