Using Flashcards for USMLE Study

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Flashcards are best used as a supplementary study aid, where the cards support knowledge retention from other core resources. For students preparing for USMLE Step 1, these core resources can vary but often UWorld, First Aid and Pathoma are mentioned in most conversations with students. The general idea is that a question bank is paired with flashcard resources for learning content.

While we do recognize that there are students out there who strongly prefer to use flashcards as a primary resource, and we certainly believe that can be compatible with a strong examination performance if tailored appropriately to the student. This blog post will detail how to best use flashcards in conjunction with other resources for the USMLEs but also delineate an approach to use flashcards as primary resource if preferred.

 

So Let’s Talk Flashcard Strategy.

At the start of your study period, determine the number of UWorld questions you will need to complete daily to finish a pass through UWorld. On your first pass through UWorld, we recommend using timed tutor mode and having Anki running in the background of your computer. Note that you will not be able to copy and paste anything from UWorld into Anki but you will be able to type whatever information you deem necessary from a particular UWorld question into an Anki flashcard.

In determining what information to include in an Anki flashcard, many students feel like they have to include every detail about every answer choice in every question into a single Anki flashcard (or even multiple Anki flashcards), but this strategy is not the most efficient use of your study time. Instead, we recommend focusing on the main points(s) from a UWorld question, which are always found summarized in the educational objective at the very end of a UWorld question, and consider writing down that information on a flashcard.

After reviewing this educational objective for a given Qbank question, make a determination regarding whether you feel you will have a difficult time remembering the key fact in the educational objective. Think about if you were asked the question again a second time, be it on another practice test or on your actual examination, would you be able to answer it correctly? If you feel you will need help remembering this key fact, go ahead and make an Anki flashcard. However, stick to the rule that, on average, you should have no more than 1 Anki flashcard/UWorld question. Even better is the idea that a single UWorld question should require at most one Anki flashcard.

 

Our Logic

When a student has to find the most important fact from an educational objective/UWorld question, they are better able to remember what is the most high yield piece of information to take from a vignette. Regarding information gained from other incorrect answer choices (which is not focused upon in UWorld), we believe that these certainly can contain important information for your exam. However, they are likely to show up again as the focus and educational objective for a different UWorld question where they are the correct answer.

We hope this post has shown you how easily flashcard resources can complement Qbank study and make your retention of material from your core resources more efficient and fun at the same time. As always, if you find yourself in need of guidance or help during your USMLE study process, we are always here to help!