Best Step 1 Study Advice I Ever Received

Benjamin Massenburg is a MedSchoolCoach USMLE and medical subject tutor who shares with us the best Step 1 Advice he ever received.


The months leading up to Step 1 can be stressful. You are still in classes that you hope will be relevant to your upcoming national board examination, and doing dedicated Step 1 studying in your free time. There is a frenzy among all of your classmates, and competition is at an all-time high. Everyone is using different resources. The older students are full of advice, often unsolicited. In an era when most of the basic science classes in medical school are pass/fail, Step 1 assumes an even more powerful role in your future residency application.

You begin to wonder:

Am I using the right resources?

What is she using over there? I haven’t seen that before!

This happens to everyone. You are not alone.

At some point during my time studying for Step 1, an older medical student approached me and said,

“Don’t take anyone’s studying advice. You have made it this far, and you know what studying techniques work for you.”

What he meant was, we should put our time and effort into gaining the base of knowledge necessary for the exam and by doing practice questions, not into worrying about what everyone else may be doing. This couldn’t have been more true and helpful for me, and carried me to my success on that and future examinations.

This may sound strange, as this post about advice is urging you not to take any.

However, I am just encouraging you to stay focused and not to worry about what others may be doing. If flashcards work for you, use flashcards. If group studying works for you, study in groups. If tutoring works for you, find a strong tutor. If you don’t know what your weaknesses are, do practice questions and exams.

This exam is not testing your intelligence or your capabilities as a doctor, it is basically testing how much effort you are able to put into something. This score does not define who you are as a medical student, and does not mean that you are smarter or dumber than any of your classmates. However, with the proper amount of time and effort put into preparation and studying, you will earn a high score. Stay focused, and don’t worry.

Get to Know Our New Advisor, Dr. Emily Singer!

We sat down with Dr. Singer, MedSchoolCoach advisor and General Surgery resident at The Ohio State University, to learn a little bit more about her background and her experience throughout the application process.

Tell us a little bit more about your background.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington. I graduated from Stanford University with dual majors in Russian Literature and Economics. However, I knew I was interested in medicine so I completed my premedical coursework at Stanford and through UC Berkeley Extension to round out my science background. I then worked in health policy consulting and a small Bay Area based pharmaceutical startup during my three and half years between graduating Stanford and matriculating into medical school. I was actually a reapplicant as I first applied at the end of the cycle and subsequently received only one or two interviews and was then waitlisted. During the third cycle, I actually used MedSchoolCoach and was accepted into the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I realized first hand how important the timeline is for the application process. During medical school, I served on medical school admissions for UCLA, both as a subcommittee member and as the sole student representative on the executive admissions committee. I especially advocated for non-traditional students and reapplicants as I was once in their exact place.

What was it that got you interested in advising students?

I really started advising students once I got into medical school. However, before medical school, I started a blog about my experiences throughout the application process because I thought it was important to share some of the information and misinformation that’s out there. That led me to work with some of my classmates on, a website that provides students interested in medical careers a reliable source of information and perspective. We tried to put out important information for people considering a career in medicine. I had limited exposure to advising during undergrad so I wanted make sure there were more resources out there.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you had going through the process?

I think there are several things I was I had known while going through the medical school application process. I cannot overstate the importance of getting exposure to what a career in medicine looks like through shadowing or talking to family friends who are physicians. You don’t need to spend all this time in a doctor’s office as an undergrad but it’s so important to fully understand what this career looks like and how much of a time commitment it is. It’s also important to view getting into medical school as the beginning of this process, rather than the end. Medical school is such a huge investment of your time, your emotions and finances. I see a lot of applicants who have trouble convincing me on their application that they’re fully committed. Getting prospective from people in the field can really help you understand what your future may look like and show the admissions committee your commitment. Another thing is the personal organization that you need to have in the process. It alleviates a lot of stress if you keep to-do lists and a running spreadsheet with notes about the different schools you’re applying to, which ones you’ve interviewed with and what assignments you’re ahead of or behind on. Everyone has their own organization tools, but keeping a spreadsheet with all the moving pieces of my application helped me to stay on top of everything!

Should I Attend a Caribbean Medical School or Try to Stay in the US?

The Post-Cycle Clash: Should I stay (in the US) or should I go (to the Caribbean)? 3 Things to Consider

Around June of every year,  US allopathic schools have sent out all of their interviews and acceptances. For some, the end of this medical school application and interview cycle is full of joy and elation, but for others, career timelines have been dramatically altered. If you are in the latter group and are considering Caribbean schools, this article is for you. Some Caribbean medical schools are still accepting applications and admission during this cycle may represent the last shot at staying on-track with their personal timelines. Here are three considerations to help you decide.

  1. Will another year improve your chances at getting into US allopathic medical schools?

While many factors go into school interview/admissions decisions, there are several easy ways to give yourself a much higher chance next cycle.

  • Apply on time to an appropriate spectrum & number of schools
  • Perfect your personal statement
  • Improve your letters of recommendation
  • Practice your interview skills
  • Get application coaching

Unfortunately, there may also be less-fixable reasons why you didn’t get an interview to US schools (GPA, MCAT, etc.). While these can be fixed with time and hard work, you would be dedicating months of your life to improving your stats. Are you willing to do that? Only you can answer that.

  1. Have you considered the advantages/disadvantages of Caribbean school?

The Pros:

  • Become a MD
  • Easier admission requirements
  • Bigger classes/staggered start dates

The Cons:

  • Lower residency match rate – Unless you do residency, you will not be able to practice as a doctor. Many Caribbean schools have a far lower US residency match rate. If you are considering a competitive specialty such as orthopedic surgery, dermatology, or urology, you will have an arduous path ahead.
  • High drop-out rate – This displays a poor academic support system for medical students. Students who drop out do not get refunded their tuition.
  • Less collaborative – While most US medical schools facilitate teamwork with a pass/fail system, Caribbean medical schools grade on a curve. You’ll need to compete against your classmates for the top ranks.
  1. Do you have a compelling reason to begin medical school this cycle?

At the end of the day, the decision to stay or go is a personal decision. Some people have circumstances in which starting an international medical school this cycle is the right decision. Others may believe that Caribbean schools are the best they can get. If this is you, please seek some counsel from us. We’d be happy to provide an assessment of your application and your options.

To conclude, please remember that medical training is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Once you get in, you’re committed to 4 years of medical school, 3-7 years of residency, and possibly more for fellowship. Taking a year off to improve your application might be worth the price if you can set yourself up for more long-term success.


Get to Know Our New Tutor, Jennifer Chyu!

We sat down with Jennifer, MedSchoolCoach tutor and fourth year student at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, to learn a little bit more about her background and her experience throughout the application process.

Tell us a little bit more about your background.

I received my undergraduate degree at University of California, Los Angeles, where I conducted research in cardiology and took on numerous leadership positions teaching everything from college-level organic chemistry to middle school violin lessons to high school choir classes. I was actually considering being music teacher during my first year in college! After graduation, I took a gap year and worked as a full-time research assistant in Seattle while applying to medical school. Throughout my time at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, I’ve taken on many leadership roles tutoring fellow medical students in the pre-clinical curriculum and Step 1 while continuing to be actively involved in clinical research.

What was it that got you interested in advising students?

I’ve been very involved in tutoring while at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Currently, I’m the lead for our tutoring program and I oversee the other tutors, organize lectures, and prepare handouts for students. I’ve also put together USMLE Step 1 guidebooks for second year students. During your first and second year of medical school, you are mostly taking basic sciences courses and I’ve loved helping students understand why they’re learning this material and how it will benefit them in the future. It’s also been helpful for me to continue reviewing first and second year material as a fourth year student!

What is one piece of advice that you wish you had going through the process?

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help! When I was studying, I definitely felt that I needed to be alone and independently focus on my own material and notes. You don’t necessarily need to be isolated; group studying can be very beneficial and make you feel that you’re not alone in this process. It’s also healthy for your overall “medical school well being”, and can help to give you perspective. Don’t hesitate to study in groups or with a tutor!

Applying to Med School: The Importance of a Personal Statement

Medical school is the bridge to something more meaningful than just a career—it is the gateway to a lifetime of service, of knowledge, of power, and most importantly, of humanism. The urge to join a profession so intricately intertwined with the pillars of science—research translated to bedside care—often seems distant and unobtainable. ‘What makes me different from all those other students?’ This question pervades the minds of many ‘traditional’ applicants—those who may not have performed such groundbreaking research as curing cancer or who may not have engaged in outreach that entailed building an entire new hospital and supplying water to a village in a third world country. However, students without the most extraordinary accomplishments should not fear—medical schools are consistently looking for specific attributes, most importantly accountability, reliability, and maturity. As long as a student displays these characteristics, they can distinguish themselves from all other students with more than just a stellar MCAT score. Easy, right?

Well, of course not. How can someone convey maturity, accountability, and reliability? Most vividly, through the interview. However, to even have the opportunity to interview at a medical school, these characteristics must be evident in the personal statement and description of activities. The personal statement is an opportunity for a student to show some creativity, ingenuity, humor, and character. However, students often push showing character a little too far. The anecdote that is supposed to grab the reader’s attention is too long or too funny or too immature. Moreover, students misconceive the need to draw together one’s pertinent accomplishments to synthesize a clear and concise rationale for why one would make a reliable and knowledgeable physician. This is especially important for BS/MD applicants, who are often perceived as having pushy parents that want their children to be physicians more desperately than the child himself.

My advice is this: start off with a short story—a reason for why you wanted to pursue medicine. Try to incorporate a motif that can be restated in the conclusion. I suggest the anecdote reflect one of your activities. For instance, I concisely described my time in EMT class. It was a short and entertaining anecdote but also reminded the readers that I am an EMT, and therefore, I have engaged in patient care and documentation first-handedly. After describing your reason for wanting to do medicine, you should dive into your accomplishments. In particular, medical schools are searching for three main targets: research, volunteer activities, and mentorship, as these are the three cornerstones where doctors can impact. Emphasize these activities. Leave out your more lighthearted interests unless you can demonstrate clearly how they apply to medicine. Your activities portion of the application can cover these in more depth. In addition, if you try to describe every one of your accomplishments, your personal statement will become a list. Pick three activities that touch upon research, service, and mentorship and bring together how these activities allowed you to develop attributes that are essential to physicians. This also conveys to readers that you have insight into the demanding but rewarding nature of the profession. Moreover, these may serve as talking points during the interview, when you can re-emphasize your most meaningful accomplishments (after all, the more your interviewer hears or reads about your most impressive achievements, the more he or she will remember them). Most importantly, this will demonstrate a commitment to medicine and level of maturity. The conclusion should revisit your introductory anecdote, the reason you wanted to pursue medicine, to remind readers that this is your dream, your goal, and your dedication.

A good personal statement is the bridge to a great interview. But of course, that topic is for another discussion!