How this Firecracker scored a 247 on USMLE Step 1

Posted by David Guertin on May 10, 2017 4:21:37 PM

Lee is a medical student at Florida State University in the class of 2019 who was interested in optimizing study efficiency from the beginning of medical school. To stay on top of coursework through his preclinical years, Lee found Firecracker's content, questions, and related context links to be helpful in pushing him towards relevant materials for learning. Balancing coursework and developing a consistent routine of reviewing content from day one of medical school all the way through dedicated board prep, Lee leveraged Firecracker's spaced repetition-rooted recommendations and USMLE-style practice case questions en route to a stellar Step 1 score:

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"I started using Firecracker at the start of M1. Coming into school I knew that studying smarter, not harder, was the way to go. So when my classmates were front-loading themselves with work, making their own flashcards, I realized quickly that I could eliminate that entire step. Personally, I’d rather read a curated, cherry picked resource to study from rather than my own immature understanding of a topic. So I started to use Firecracker and realized it was different, in that it wasn’t so much pure memorization but rather required a brief chain of logic to answer each card. If I encountered a review I had little background on, I could read more if my schedule allowed. As an early adopter, I was able to rate cards at a 1 or 2, and I’d eventually see them again. I’m against brute memorization, and coming from trying Anki’s algorithm, I didn’t like seeing a card I’d just reviewed a few minutes prior, I preferred just putting it to the 1 or 2 pile, then coming upon it again when I had strengthened my knowledge on a topic. 

In my school’s curriculum, we would have 4-6 weeks to learn any given system. At the start of each week I would mark the relevant topics in Firecracker, and work through those cards at about 200 a day. I would get through the majority of these cards in my hour and a half workouts, making my exercise a mind and body enhancing experience. My gym buddies knew that I’d time my rest between sets by doing 3-5 cards in between, giving myself around a minutes rest. This allowed me to have a schedule of 7 days a week of exercise, which is necessary to maintaining eustress in medical school, while also hitting my flashcard daily goals. As each week progressed, I would see the cards initially scored as 1-2’s come up again and I’d have better knowledge this go-around, whether it was from using other resources, my lectures, or just more cards being done. Once I got into a rhythm like this, I didn’t stop, and used Firecracker throughout M1, M2 and USMLE Step 1 studying. 

The highest yield part about Firecracker, to me, was the ability to quickly add topics as I learned them, and access them wherever I was. Standing in line for chipotle, walking to class or sitting in required lectures that otherwise may not have been high-yield, were now seen as opportunities to ‘crack’ more. Situations where I’d be on time-waster websites became times to compete with friends to see who could get more card reviews done. When my school dictated how my time and tuition would be spent determining my own future, I decided to alter that with the Firecracker Daily Review application on my iPhone which led to me learning a lot more than whatever lecture I was being required to be in at that time. 

For new adopters to Firecracker, I would suggest doing as I did. Learn the material using all your resources available to you. Firecracker can be a one-stop-shop, but worked best for me as a way to challenge and test me on topics as I learned them. Really understanding a topic will increase your review speed on Firecracker, increase scores, and make it significantly easier to review when returning to the material during USMLE Step 1 studying. Mark topics as you go while accepting that scoring low is what’s expected when you’re just starting out, but as you progress and see cards again, you’ll notice a sharp increase in performance. I would recommend Firecracker to anyone looking for a solid resource to accompany their M1 & M2 curriculum, especially if you want something that is well organized, accessible and easy to use from day one to USMLE Step 1. I look forward to giving it a chance to help me perform well on my clerkships in the upcoming year. 

My school was partnered with Firecracker to align our curriculum with review topics cherry-picked for us by staff & our professors, along with weekly quizzes in a q-bank style for those courses. In regards to the weekly quizzes, they were a good way to test ourselves when none of us had q-bank access. In hindsight to USMLE Step 1, I realized that doing board style questions are the best way to prepare yourself for the actual exam; they were also helpful to preparing for my school’s exams. I had gone through some of Firecracker’s cases (their q-bank style questions), for certain block exams, and found them to be a good way to test my knowledge and find weak points." 

Firecracker and Florida State University School of Medicine have worked closely together to build curriculum-aligned content and assessments, share data about students' outcomes, and provide customized materials to faculty members and students alike in the medical school. The collaboration is just beginning, but we've already published the case study that you may request here, which dives into detail on some of the partnership perks that Lee mentions above. We are looking forward to further explorations into performance data and deeper integrations with our ever-growing school partnership network. As always, we'll keep you posted on what we find!

Topics: Big Data, Learning & Memory Science, USMLE Step 1, Exams

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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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