How to Survive Medical School: Second Year Overview

Dedicated study period for Step is inching closer! Yes, I just used an exclamation point — if I channel positivity, will that make everything better? We are in our last week of lecture!!! How crazy is that? The psychiatry examination on March 4th (aka my little sister’s 19th birthday!) and that rounds things out until in-house final exams and USMLE 1. I figured that now is as good a time as any to start rolling out content about how I survived second year. I’ll post about my favorite resources, strategies for each class, and USMLE 1 (after I take it, of course).

This post will serve as an introduction in which I’ll provide general tips about how to effectively use your study time (based on what worked for me) and which resources (outside of Tulane materials) were particularly beneficial.

Study Strategy: My approach to second year was similar (in part) to that of first year. First year, I found that I retained a lot if I made flashcards, but I didn’t want to take the time to take notes and make flash cards and read textbooks and take notes from textbooks so I let the flashcards slide. This year, I found the best way for me to balance in-house material and the outside resources (I’ll address these later) was to use flashcards. Flashcards made it quick and easy for me to get through material on a regular basis.

Sleep Schedule: The 🔑 to success is sleep. Seriously! Don’t fall into the trap of not taking care of yourself second year. It’s hard to keep up with the material and it’s even more challenging if you aren’t well rested and happy. I make sure to get at minimum 7 hours of sleep (usually 8) and I sleep more the week of an exam or if I feel under the weather. I usually wake up between 3:30 AM – 5:30 AM. You’re doing the math aren’t you? Yep, that means I go to bed pretty early. I study more efficiently in the morning and so I structured my sleep schedule to optimize how much time I have to spend to study. By no means am I suggesting that you should adopt my schedule but definitely try to get enough sleep.

  • Day Before Class: I completed recommended readings / watched Sketchy Micro videos (or replaced the recommended readings with those of a preferred text, I’ll get into specifics in subsequent posts) for the next day of class.
  • Class: I actually attended class this year. I know, that’s crazy! I did not attend class at all last year but I knew that if I did not attend class, I’d never listen to the lectures (it’s so easy to get swamped with Pathoma, Goljian, question banks, and other resources) so I used lectures in order to make Anki cards. My goal was 20-50 cards per lecture. Some lectures that were more detail oriented would end up with about 50-100 cards.
  • After Class: I would Firecracker the topics discussed in lecture that day; I made sure to review my Anki cards for the first time (at latest) the next morning before the next set of lectures.
  • Weekend: I would Firecracker topics related to the block (anatomy and physiology pertinent to the block) and I would review all of my Anki cards for the block thus far. Depending on the block, I would listen to Golijan’s audio.
  • Week Out From Examination: Questions, questions, questions! I would run through Sketchy Micro, USMLE Rx, Osmosis, Lippincott’s Q&A Pathology, Robbin’s Q&A, and WebPATH questions. In blocks when I had a lot of MPH coursework, I would do at minimum: Sketchy Micro, Lippincott’s Q&A, and Robbin’s Q&A. Most of my review was very pathology oriented. I learn a lot from questions and repetition and I found that the more questions that I did, the more comfortable I felt during the in-house examination. I also made sure to go through my Anki cards one last time.

I made checklists and calendars for each block to make sure that I was on top of my self-studies and goals before test day. This definitely helped me stay organized.


calendar part deux


Subscriptions: You really have to figure out what sort of outside resources you need. There are plenty and I’m not here to tell you what is going to work best for you but here is what I really loved using!

  • Osmosis: Osmosis is a really awesome program. If you need a central hub for all of your material, Osmosis is your place. I’ll take a moment to mention some of the features that I appreciate the most. 1: Course document upload — the Osmosis team then suggests questions from their database and flashcards (from the infamous Brosencephalon deck) based on terms pulled form the course document / powerpoint. This really helped me to zero in on what material is most pertinent to USMLE 1. 2: Question bank — the questions are different from what  you’ll see in most question banks. There’s a lot of true/false mixed in which I appreciated in regard to preparation for in-house examinations. I don’t know how USMLE 1 applicable these questions are but they are definitely comprehensive.
  • Firecracker: Like I mentioned above, I used Firecracker pretty extensively. It was sort of my way to learn First Aid and what I appreciated the most is that there are explanations everywhere. Firecracker was the quickest way for me to review first year material during each block second year and it definitely helped me shave time off my studies.
  • USMLE Rx: This question bank is an amazing way to learn the material in First Aid. If you’re looking for a question bank to use during your blocks, this is the one to purchase. Seriously!
  • Pathoma: Pathoma is not enough detail for in-house examinations but it is pretty close. I appreciate the teaching aspect of the video series and it was a really great tool for me to understand pathological basics.
  • Sketchy Medical: I’m not the most visual learner and still Sketchy Micro and Pharm have been instrumental tools this past year. There’s no quicker way to learn all the nitty gritty details about bugs and drugs. I seriously endorse this program!
  • First Aid Express: One of my grievances with First Aid is that it’s dense but not detailed. There are so many times when I read and a sentence and go, “but why does that happen?” First Aid Express is a video series that is essentially the Pathoma video series equivalent for First Aid. I really appreciated listening to the videos during my first-pass of First Aid. If slogging through First Aid is painful for you, you may want to look into it!
  • UWORLD: I am sure you’ve heard about UWORLD. It’s praised as the most similar to USMLE 1. I can’t speak to that but I can say that the questions are of a different breed (compared to Osmosis and USMLE Rx.) It’s demoralizing but really effective. I recommend saving it for dedicated study period. Don’t exhaust the questions during your blocks (unless you want to run through it twice / don’t like USMLE Rx).

I’m looking at that list and it looks absurd! Believe me, second year is do-able. Just find your rhythm and figure out what works for you. I tried to read Robbins for a bit and then quickly dropped it; it wasn’t worth the time for me. I tried Picmonic and I wasn’t a major fan. I tried First Aid Flash Facts and it wasn’t for me (I much prefer Firecracker). Basically, there’s a lot of trial and error at the beginning…but I’m still here!

Good luck with your studies! I have faith in you!


4 thoughts on “How to Survive Medical School: Second Year Overview

  1. Go you! I had almost the same study goals throughout my 2nd year (this year) but I did not always get all of those goals checked off each day 🙂 . I can’t believe you are already out of school almost! We have until the first week of May – I’m taking boards late June. When are you taking your step 1? I’m happy I stumbled upon your blog – I’m new to the blogging community and have been searching for fellow med-student bloggers!


  2. Pingback: How to Survive Medical School: Second Year Coursework | Stilettos + Stethoscopes

  3. Pingback: How to Survive Medical School: USMLE 1 | Stilettos + Stethoscopes

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