When I finished the USMLE Step 1 exam, I was almost too eager to finally throw away two years worth of medical school notes, old textbooks, and study guides. It was a cathartic release and a final closure on two years of hard work. But still sitting on my shelf, nearly three years later, is my UWorld/Step 1 journal.
I think I kept it all these years as a reminder to myself about how important it was. I still sometimes pick it up and show it to students during a tutoring session to prove to them that I really did keep a journal and that they should too. Making and using a UWorld Step 1 Journal can be a golden ticket to a high Step 1 score. Read on for how to get started!
Should my UWorld journal be electronic or paper?
The type of journal you make is ultimately up to you. It largely depends on your personal preference and what method you feel will be most beneficial to you.
For most students, I suggest purchasing a blank 5-subject notebook to use as their journal. This traditional type of notebook has its advantages – it’s easy to use and accessible anywhere.
I preferred this method because I was able to have the journal open simultaneously alongside UWorld and felt that studying off of paper gave me a break from all the screen time review.
However, some students opt for an electronic journal. For students who choose this option, it is also advantageous if you have two computers to study with so that one can be open to UWorld and the second can be open to the electronic journal.
How do I organize my UWorld journal?
No matter what medium you choose to use, organization is key! I suggest all students create tabs in their journal to correspond to the different USMLE subjects.
For students with a handwritten journal, I recommend placing different colored sticky notes at the top of every 20 or 30 pages in the journal and labeling them as biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, neurology/psych, MSK/derm, etc.
Be sure to provide enough pages for each subject. Most students who use a 5 subject notebook should not run out of room if they evenly space the tabs and are taking notes correctly (more on this below!). For those opting for an electronic journal, different pages and sections can easily be created in OneNote. Organization into subjects will come in handy when reviewing the journal later on in the study period and will make it easy to find a note later if you want to update or add something.
What should I write in my UWorld journal?
Ah, the million dollar question! Well, okay, maybe not, but what you put in your journal is actually very important. As a tutor, I typically dedicate a few sessions with students specifically to working on this journal together.
When it comes to studying for Step 1, it can easily feel like everything is important. The point of a UWorld/Step 1 journal is to pare down some of this information and create a personalized study tool based on information from UWorld. Those who have begun to use UWorld realize that it contains a massive amount of material.
Yet, is every single little fact in UWorld equally important? Should a Step 1 journal be merely a complete transcript of UWorld? No, and NO!
The point of a Step 1 journal is to create a highly personalized set of notes based on high yield facts and information you didn’t know or forgot. A big mistake most students make is writing too many notes. This is because they feel that they need to know everything, are worried they might forget something, or aren’t confident in what they do and don’t know.
Creating a Step 1 journal is definitely an acquired skill and most students get more comfortable as they go along. For students who have problems with over-writing, I encourage them to limit themselves, such as only allowing themselves 5 minutes to take notes on incorrect questions or letting themselves write down only 3 facts from each explanation.
Think short phrases, quick facts, lists, and basic tables or sketches when it comes to keeping a journal. Some students create the journal in a question/answer style in which they turn UWorld factoids into questions that they answer in their journal.
Remember, the journal only needs to make sense to you! Don’t worry about being overly neat, coordinating with different colored pens, or writing long, drawn out sentences.
UWorld Journal Templates
A UWorld notebook provides much easier access than searching through the qbank and allows you to create a collection of everything you don't know so that you can be sure to have it all mastered by test day.
Here are two templates to use to build your Step 1/UWorld journals. The first template is an Excel sheet where you can record the UWorld ID, topic, and a succinct 2-3 sentence or less summary of what you didn't know about that particular question.
Continuing to build this resource as you study, you can eventually use the sort functions in Excel to group all of your notes on a particular subject together, if you choose.
By listing the UWorld ID, you also have the option of revisiting a particular UWorld question in the qbank while studying your notebook if you feel it is a topic you want more information on.
The second UWorld Journal template is a Word document with a table of contents and headings for each subject. You can fill in bulleted notes under each heading.
This Word document gives you flexibility to write a few more notes or include pictures or tables as you choose. However, you will need to be sure to write your notes under the correct heading for each question.
With any UWorld notebook, I always emphasize to students that it is extremely important to only write down brief, succinct, high-yield summaries in the notebook. If students copy whole paragraphs from UWorld into their notebook, the notebook will soon be hundreds of pages long and impossible to review.
When should I review my journal?
Even when students focus on efficiency, making and using a UWorld journal can be time consuming. However, it is time well spent if used appropriately! The first step is taking correct notes as detailed above, but the second step is using the journal effectively.
If you make a beautiful journal packed full of high yield facts and information you missed in UWorld, it won’t be so helpful if you never review it. Taking the appropriate notes and working through UWorld is important, but committing this information to memory is even more important. There is no golden rule as to how often students should review their journal.
Some students prefer to spend 10 minutes before bedtime each night studying their journal. Other students like to review the whole journal once a week or will review the sections they feel are weaker areas more frequently.
In general, I recommend students try to spend at least 1 hour per week during their dedicated Step 1 study period reading this journal. Then, in the last few days leading up to the exam, students should study the journal once or twice more in its entirety until they feel it is committed to memory.
A good Step 1 journal is paramount to a high Step 1 score. This is because when created and used effectively, this journal serves as a high yield study guide for the Step 1 exam. An effective journal helps a student to better master UWorld which is absolutely crucial to Step 1 success.
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