This is an updated version of the guide we published last year, updated to reflect the new Firecracker MD/DO and Q-bank integration on Firecracker. Thanks to Firecracker editor Dhara Kinariwala for making this update!
Third year has finally arrived. You get to do what you’ve always wanted to do: see patients. Step 1 is long gone, and you’ve hopefully had some time to rest and relax before starting clinical rotations.
So how can you study effectively during your clinical years?
I noticed quite a few obstacles to effective studying during clinical years. During 1st and 2nd year, I felt like I knew what was going on and how to prepare for my exams. However, there was a lot more uncertainty and difficulty studying during rotations. So what are some of the obstacles you might encounter when trying to study during your rotations?
- Your schedule is much less predictable than it was in M1 and M2.
- The nature of the material is different from pre-clinical years.
- You’re on your feet a lot more and actively doing things. Contrast this with pre-clinical years when all of your responsibilities revolve around sitting down and studying.
- You’re likely to be a lot more tired than you were during pre-clinical years: physically, mentally, and even emotionally.
- What you need to know for your exams doesn’t always correlate with what you need to know for your day to day activities, especially if your attending likes to ask you really esoteric questions. You might spend all your time studying that stuff at the expense of being prepared for a shelf exam.
- There are way more resources to choose from. When preparing for Step 1, there was a pretty good consensus of the resources you should use. For Step 2 and shelf exams, there are all kinds of books that people recommend.
So how can you overcome these obstacles and make the best use of your limited time? That’s where Firecracker comes into play. Firecracker has quality content in a format that will let you study effectively whether it’s for an hour or two minutes, on your feet seeing patients or studying in your "free" time.
What are some specific methods for effectively using Firecracker to dominate your clinical years?
- Prioritize the content, focusing first on the rotations you are currently in and on patients you are seeing.
- Pull out your phone and use the Firecracker Daily Review app, even if you anticipate you will only have 60 seconds. Put the mobile app on your homescreen so it’s easy to access.
- Use Firecracker’s QBank questions during dedicated study time at the library or at home
Prioritize your studying based on your current rotation
This should be pretty obvious. If you’re in pediatrics, mark and study the peds topics. If you’re on internal medicine, mark those topics. Whatever topics you mark are going to be useful for the Step 2 CK exam. But if you focus on your current rotation, then you’re going to also be preparing for shelf exams at the same time.
Mark content that is pertinent to your current patients.
The best approach is to mark content that is pertinent to patients you are seeing. That way you have a solid foundation on the basics of pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of your patients. And it’s still useful for your shelf exam as well as Step 2. Plus, you’ll remember the content better because your mind will remember it in the context of an actual patient. If you are not sure where to find a topic, simply use Firecracker’s search function.
Doing this will let you kill 3 birds with one stone. You’ll better understand how to care for your patients. You’ll be better prepared for your shelf exam. And you’ll be better prepared for Step 2.
Mark content that you have a small amount of familiarity with
If you’re an expert on a topic, then it’s probably a waste of your time to study it. You won’t learn anything new. But if you know close to nothing, it might not be the best use of your time to focus on it. It can take a lot of extra time and mental effort to master something you know nothing about. But if you know even a small amount, it’s a lot easier to pick it up. So if your time is short, then within the set of topics that are pertinent to your current rotation you should consider marking those that you know a small amount about. I have found this is better than going to stuff that is completely foreign. Also, if you want to brush up on a particular topic that you haven’t marked, just use the Study Something Specific feature to go over those topics.
Use Firecracker even if you think you only have 60 seconds
Your schedule during 3rd and 4th year is often going to be very unpredictable. This makes it tempting to not study. You don’t want to pull out your materials because you might get interrupted after only a few minutes. But during any given day you will probably have dozens of small chunks of time that are only a few minutes long. Add all these up and you might have a solid hour at the end of the day. The nice thing about Firecracker’s app and content is you can get through more than one question in a minute. So even if you think you only have 30 seconds, pull out your phone and start answering questions. This honestly might be the single best way to effectively study during your rotations.
At the least, you’ll answer 1 or 2 questions before you have to run off. But in the event that you don’t get interrupted as soon as you thought you would, you have your phone out and can just keep on answering questions. After 5 minutes, you’ll be at 10-15 questions. After 10 you will have answered a few dozen questions. And you didn’t have to pull out a book or set aside time later in the day to do it. If you wait until you have a convenient time to study, you might end up waiting until your rotation is almost over.
Put the app in a quick, easy to access location on your phone
This is pretty self-explanatory. But in order to make use of any break, even a super small one, you want to put the app in a quick, easy to access spot on your phone so you don’t waste anytime trying to get to it.
Make use of Firecracker’s Question bank under Study Something Specific
Firecracker is often thought of as a flashcard app and nothing more. And while we do have flashcard-style recall questions (tens of thousands, in fact), we also have close to 1,000 clinical vignette style questions (USMLE-style questions) for clinical subjects in “Study Something Specific”. Check out this video to see how to access them in your regular Firecracker account: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xDvMdrMtOw
These questions might not be best suited to use during a 2-minute break. But if you have 10 minutes or more, you can get through at least a 10-question block. These are very strategically designed to mimic the content and style of the questions you’ll actually see on your shelf and board exams. So make use of them!
We also have practice exams for many of the Shelfs you'll be taking: Psychiatry, Surgery, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Emergency Medicine - and the list is growing. Find these practice exams under "Exams" on Study Something Specific.
And, when you're in the final weeks before your Step 2 you'll be able to switch over to Dedicated Test Prep Mode to go through Q-bank questions daily and track your progress toward your exam. When you're ready, here's an overview of DTP Mode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuf9M8kLM1s
Make Firecracker the resource you use to study when you’re too tired to do anything else.
Many of the recall (flashcard) questions on the app are designed to be answered quickly, and without too much thought. Not only are they ideal for very short periods of time, but they are also ideal for when you’re too tired to do a lot of thinking. And you’ll have these tired moments on a very regular basis during rotations. So if you’re too tired to do much, just spend 15 minutes answering Firecracker’s review questions. It won’t be too taxing on an already tired mind.
Do you have any other suggestions? What has worked for you? Comment below and let us know!