How this Firecracker scored a 246 on USMLE Step 1

Posted by David Guertin on Jan 29, 2015 9:18:48 AM

Firecracker members averaged in the 240's on Step 1 of the USMLE in 2014, and we anticipate even greater success in 2015. We've found that most medical students use three or more resources to gear up for Step 1, and Firecracker's strength is not only integrating well with other resources, but also providing an advantageous study service even if you don't have much time to devote. Perhaps the most popular and effective combination of USMLE preparation resources we've heard of (commonly referred to as the UFAP method) is detailed below. One exceptional third-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh has generously shared strategies and experiences that led to this score report:

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"I started using Firecracker on and off starting with 2nd year. A lot of my classmates were using it, so at first I just tried the free trial to see what the fuss was about. I then found it to be a really helpful study tool, so I continued using it.

My goals with Firecracker were to supplement my classes with Step 1 relevant information, and to have something relatively quick and easy to keep old information fresh in my mind. Our classes were fantastic, but they are focused on the most clinically relevant information, which unfortunately isn't exactly what is on the boards, so going through the Firecracker questions on a topic usually helped fill in those gaps. For example, we barely learned about antiarrhythmic groups in our cardio class, but because I used Firecracker, I was already familiar with them when I started studying for Step 1. I also knew that I didn't have the self discipline on my own to sit down and re-read notes on old subjects, but I thought that something that I could work on for a few minutes at a time would be much more achievable.

I didn't find Firecracker very helpful for conceptual stuff. I think a lot of the physiology and abstract concepts of how organ systems work you just need to have a well defined mental picture that you can refer back to, so flashcard-style questions don't help. In organ systems I would typically only flag more factual questions. It was INCREDIBLY helpful for things like equations, drugs and side effects, or specific normal values.

During organ systems classes, I typically only flagged the organ system I was learning at the time. I just found it much more helpful to focus on one thing at a time. I would keep old basic science topics flagged to keep myself fresh.

I am someone who typically builds a good internal model of how a system works and then derives answers from that internal model, but there are several topics on the Step 1 exam that just require rote memorization: Micro, Drugs + Side Effects (ESPECIALLY THOSE GOD-AWFUL ANTIARRHYTHMICS), Pathology keywords (e.g Keratin pearls), Congenital Diseases. About 2 months before our committed Step 1 study time, I got rid of all my old basic science topics, flagged all these questions, and began studying theses topics exclusively.

I used the UFAP (Uworld, First Aid, Pathoma) method to study. I would read a chapter of first aid every morning and take notes, and then do 2 blocks of Uworld questions, hopefully watching the pathoma video on the same topic during the day, with the goal of going through FA twice, and taking extra time to review tough topics. I quickly noticed a few topics, such as biochemistry that I really needed to review more, so I started flagging biochem in Firecracker as well. I did NOT use Firecracker every day; I probably used it every 3 days when I started to get mentally fatigued.

I think Firecracker really helped me to learn the little facts and details that require memorization. That's where I'm personally weak, and now I'm one of those weird people who remembers the obscure side effects of the 3rd-line anti-epileptic drugs. You HAVE to see those things a lot or your brain will just filter them out.

I started out using Firecracker in the prescribed way, but as I continued to use it, I found that the conceptual questions didn't help me much and just frustrated me, so I stopped using them. I would recommend that any new user follows the same pattern. The logic behind the system is sound; try it out as recommended, but feel free to adjust it to suit your learning style."

We hope you find these blog posts helpful as you develop your own study strategies, and we're excited to hear similar success stories from our members who crush the USMLE this year! Firecracker is free to try for a month when you sign up, and you'll immediately get full access to all of our content, questions, and features. If you haven't started yet, then what are you waiting for? Get crackin today!

Topics: USMLE, Medical Education, USMLE Step 1

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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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