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Jefferson Medical College Alpha Omega Alpha Guide to USMLE Step 1
Systems Based Schedule
What is the Systems Based Approach?
Another approach to studying for the boards is to use the systems based study method. If you use this method it means that you will basically follow the template of how you learned the material in the first two years, which is also the way the material is arranged in First Aid. The big difference between the two study methods is that using the systems based approach you will study physiology, pathology, and pharmacology by system (i.e. cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, etc.). All other subjects like anatomy and biochemistry are studied separately just like everyone using the subject based study method.
Why do people choose this approach?
One reason some people like the systems approach is because it is very similar to how you studied during FCM (which is the bulk of your boards knowledge). Also, pharmacology can be dense and tedious when you study only pharmacology for 3 days. However, divided throughout the systems, pharmacology is less tedious and is only studied within a context (the context of that system).
If you want to study for 4 weeks, you can still use the systems approach. This approach can also be easily adapted to any schedule between 4-6 weeks long because you can just adjust how many days you spend on each system, thus physiology, pathology, and pharmacology, which are very high yield subjects for the boards.
So how do you determine your schedule?
Let’s start with the subjects not studied as part of a system. Just follow the same model as students using the subject based approach.
Then divide the rest of your time amongst the individual systems. You will study each system for 1-2 days depending on how many days you have left to study and how much time you want for each subject. However, remember just like biochemistry, systems like dermatology and hematology/oncology could be studied for several days and you won’t know everything. So remember you shouldn’t "favor" your weak subjects, focus on your strengths. So if you only have time to study a couple systems for 2 days, focus on cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and pulmonology, NOT dermatology or musculoskeletal, for example. Therefore, plan on studying each system for 1 day and add extra half days or a second day to some subjects, as your study schedule permits.
Other tips for this approach
You may want to consider starting each system by reading the relevant First Aid section. This will help you quickly refresh and will focus you in on the major concepts to focus on when reading your other resources (such as BRS physiology and Rapid Review Pathology or BRS pathology). If you have extra time at the end of the system, consider rereading the First Aid section with your added notes.
Also, plan to study the systems first and save the other subjects for last. Subjects like microbiology and biochemistry should be studied towards the end because they are more memorization heavy. The earlier they are studied the more likely you are to completely forget things you already studied. The systems however, are more fresh in your mind from FCM and are often more conceptual, so you are more likely to retain this knowledge if studied early on.
What are some common questions about this approach?
First, since anatomy is actually divided by system, many people wonder how to approach studying for anatomy. Go ahead and read through the anatomy when you read that system’s section in First Aid. This should only take you about 10 minutes - don’t spend more than 15 minutes. You will still have one day to study anatomy, and at that time you will review the anatomy in each section.
Also, in First Aid there is just one section that has all the neuroanatomy as well as the clinical neurology. This is a large section so spend one day studying the neuroanatomy (just like everyone else) and one day studying neurology as a system (the pathology and pharmacology.) So in essence you will spend 2 days studying this section as a whole in First Aid.
Finally, there are also short sections in First Aid for Pathology and Pharmacology that we haven’t mentioned studying yet. These sections have some very high yield concepts and should be reviewed. However, they are also very short. Either work these two sections into your schedule somewhere spending about a half-day for both sections or just plan to review them on a day or two when you have finished your material a little bit earlier than planned. Although reviewing these sections will not take long, there are some important points that are purely memorization (specific genes, carcinogens, antidotes, autonomic drugs, etc.), so think of what will work best for you to make sure you know this material by the end of your boards studying (flashcards, quick reviews of the material, outlines, etc.).
Last updated: April 2011