HealthFebruary 06, 2015

How this Firecracker scored a 265 on USMLE Step 1

The most crucial exam for medical students who wish to practice medicine in the USA is Step 1 of the USMLE. A high score on Step 1 is hugely important for matching into the competitive specialty of your choice, and this truth is amplified for medical students from international schools. Roland is a third-year medical student at St. George’s University in the Caribbean, who destroyed Step 1 with a consistent approach to preparing with Firecracker. He details his experience here for you:

USMLE score explanation

“I started using Firecracker in between 1st and 2nd year. I actually picked up Firecracker because I knew I wanted to do exceedingly well on Step 1. My dream has always been to do Orthopedics, for which the average Step 1 score is consistently high. I wanted to place myself in a position where I could be as competitive as possible for whatever program I applied to, which required not settling for only a 240+ Step score. I set a lofty goal of 260+ and began searching for the best way to go about reaching that score. After I spent a significant amount of time researching question banks, books, Step 1 prep programs, and reading student advice, I came to the conclusion that people who finished Firecracker or came close to it often performed in the range of scores I hoped to achieve. I decided to test it out for the free month and got hooked.

Basic Science classes: My weekly goal once second year began was to study whatever daily lecture(s) I had for the day, then also read that same topic in Firecracker and flag it. Early on, I also made a weekly goal of flagging 1st year topics as well, so that by the time 2nd year ended I would have completed flagging all of the basic sciences material. Obviously with flagging a topic, comes the daily question requirement thereafter. Early on the time commitment isn’t a huge issue, but it can become fairly daunting to complete hundreds of questions daily, while also trying to study directly for courses. During the first half of second year, I allotted no more than 1 hour of study time to finish my daily questions and topic flagging. Once the second half of second year rolled around and the question totals started to regularly be between 150-300, I would allow myself up to 2.5 hours to get through the daily questions. I think it’s important to set limits because in order to make it the long run, Firecracker should not consume all of your free time.

Firecracker’s role in my Step 1 prep was largely just giving me constant exposure to all the material that we had covered throughout basic sciences before I narrowed my focus during dedicated period. Most students are exposed to the material needed in order to answer a question on the USMLE, but without the timed spacing format offered by Firecracker, it is very difficult to maintain mastery of all the basic sciences information students cover from day 1. I used Firecracker about 2 weeks in to my dedicated 6-week study period, making sure to bring my mastery % as close to 90% as possible. I chose to forego flagging all of the Anatomy cards. From what I had seen from reviews, the Step 1 Anatomy questions deal with major topics in Anatomy and don’t represent a significant portion of the exam, so having tutored a study session for the course I felt that I would be able to handle any Anatomy questions I encountered.

Firecracker helped me because it ensured that I had a great command of as much material as possible. I did well in basic sciences, but I don’t think there is any way that I could have covered all of the basic sciences material in my 6-week dedicated period and been confident enough with the material to score as well as I did, without Firecracker. A huge understated benefit it provides is having quick recall for a large array of information. Time management is extremely important for the exam and being able to answer questions quickly plays a major roll in how well a student can potentially do. When doing questions from a qbank, I would often finish full blocks with 15-20 minutes left remaining. I was stretched thing down to the last minute and even seconds on multiple blocks and I can imagine that I would not have finished some blocks if most questions had not been relatively easy to answer because I was used to recalling the material while doing Firecracker.

My advice to new users would be to have a plan for how you want to get through Firecracker and stick to it. I counted the number of topics I wanted to flag, counted the number of weeks I had left to study, and would divide up the topics so I knew how many I needed to flag in order to finish. I would highly recommend not just finishing all of the Basic Sciences/Organ Systems info, but to actually finish it at least a month before your dedicated period even begins. Once you get into the grind of Step 1 studying I think the focus should be consolidating and getting into question answering mode through question banks and practice exams. I think it could negatively impact your score if you are still trying to learn a lot of material or if you are spending a significant amount of study time with daily questions by the time dedicated material rolls around. If I had to do it over, I would make sure that I flagged 100% of the Firecracker topics and finish a month before dedicated period. I would then continue doing daily questions up until the day before my exam (by completing flagging early your daily question load will be low enough to allow you to effectively study during dedicated period). I know that I did well, but I honestly believe I could have done even better on the exam had I used that method. It allows for complete mastery of all high-yield information, then a transition period of fine-tuning for the exam which can only be done by doing questions and practice tests.”

Firecracker helps you to manage your time with an adaptive scheduling algorithm and dedicated mobile apps so you can do questions and review topics anywhere, any time. We’re excited to implement new popularly-requested features to customize your study plan, which you can expect to see on and the dedicated mobile app in the coming weeks. Whether you’re a pre-med, a fourth-year Sub-I, or somewhere in between, now is a great time to get started with Firecracker. Happy crackin’!


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