After 12 long weeks of studying, I finally sat for my Step 1 exams. While I won’t know my score for at least another month, it’s nice to know that I’ve put one of the biggest chapters of my medical school career behind me.
The last 2 weeks of studying were particularly brutal. This is when exhaustion and apathy make the final bits of studying feel futile. After 2 Q Banks, thousands of flash cards, and hundreds of pages of First Aid, and many hours watching videos through Osmosis, I felt as if I’d learned all the information, and that I was simply trying to prevent me forgetting old information.
Taking the test itself too was physically draining. You have 8 hours (seven 1-hour blocks, and a 1-hour break), which in itself required training. Just learning how to sit and focus without stress or anxiety is tiring. If you stress too hard during the first block, by the last one you are too tired to focus. After going through the roller coaster of emotions during the independent study period, this is how I felt during the actual exam:
The first 3 blocks I felt great. Each section I finished early, but not too early, so I could have at least a 5-minute break after every block. Yep, even the first one. You gotta keep your bladder empty. Section 2 I took a 10-minute break, and 5 minutes for section 3. Step felt manageable.
And then I was hit by the 4th block. Perhaps it was the endurance of the test, or perhaps it was the quality of questions I got that block, but I left that block requiring a much longer break (20 minutes) to just breath, focus and refuel with lunch. This lead to a solid 5th block.
The last 2 blocks, however, were a blur, and no matter how much training and studying, physically you are just wiped. By the 7th block, when I finished my questions, I just let the timer run out rather than end early. I could not give any more.
By the time I got home, I was able to hang out with some of my good friends and not talk about the exam as I let myself decompress (I’m still decompressing).
Did I do as well as I wanted? Who knows. Did I do the best I could in that very moment? Absolutely. I don’t think I could say otherwise.
So now I get to enjoy a week off with family and friends before I start my first rotation in psychiatry. I’ll be heading to San Francisco to complete it, so it’ll be nice to see medicine in an urban context.
While step 1 was probably the hardest of the 3 step exams it wasn’t really all that bad. It was certainly was much easier than my written board exam and orders of magnitude less stressful than my oral boards.
Everyone has a slightly different approach to studying and at some point the returns do significantly diminish. Studying beyond that point does not really help and a student is better off getting some exercise or doing something else that they find pleasurable, then returning to their studies refreshed.