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The Ultimate Guide to Study Skills in Medical School

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Days 3-6: Step 1 Preparation - Biochemistry and Anatomy

Hey all,

Quick note. I've been crunched for time. I've been doing biochemistry for the last two days. I went through all of First Aid. I read selectively and quickly through Lippincott's Biochemistry. I really like this book. If I had more time, I would have read even more closely, but at the moment, I had to move quickly.

I did all the UWorld biochem questions, scoring >80% on nearly every test. USMLERx was OK, but the questions are not very realistic. I see a lot of recurring themes though.

I also made some Anki cards for things that I care to remember regarding biochem. Nutritional biochem is one of those topics that I see great utility for in my career and just in life. So I paid close attention to the sections on metabolism and I made a lot of cards. I won't do all those cards right now, but they're banked for future learning and retention.


- Know the genetic diseases cold.
- Whole pathway memorization is not necessary in most cases. KNOW THE REGULATORY STEPS! That is key. Ex. glycolysis. Know about PFK and its regulation.
- Pathways that show up a lot: glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, glycogenolysis, urea cycle, heme synthetic pathway
- Vitamins - know what they all do.

Day 6 (today). Starting anatomy! It's also going to be a quick ride.

(1) Read all the "Blue Boxes" in Moore's Essentials of Clinical Anatomy. Make cards as needed.
These Blue Boxes are super high yield and I swear I've seen UWorld questions that look like they got ripped right out of there.
(2) Underground Clinical Vignettes: Anatomy. Will do a quick read time permitting.
(3) First Aid of course
(4) UWorld/USMLERx questions

Anki: So making cards is a time-consuming endeavor. Whenever possible, I want to minimize the work and maximize the benefits. Thankfully, Anki has powerful ways to batch import information and greatly minimize the work.

So this morning this is what I did. I found muscle tables online. There are lots of sources, but this is the one I used. I then copied the tables, pasted into an excel file and imported to Anki. Before that, I created templates in Anki that would accomodate the formatting of the tables I imported. The result: 1500+ cards, perfectly structured, ready to use, all in the span of 10 minutes. Doing something like this is one of life's pleasures... feeling like you're cheating the universe a bit, or getting a really deep discount on something. : )

Here's what my setup looked like

I'm not going to post this deck since the information I put into the deck hasn't been rendered in any way by me. But anyone who wants to do this can easily do it in a few minutes with these instructions:

Importing files Fields and Templates

Anyway, that's all for now. Time to read those Blue Boxes. Happy studying.


  1. Thanks for showing me how to set up the various fields. With Michigan's tables however, how is it going to be possible to incorporate these into the Step 1 studying? Many of the details are low yield, and there is a huge number of them. Will you study them after Step 1?

    1. Hey. No problem. Yah, let me be clear. Those muscle tables are definitely low yield for Step 1. I'm not studying them now. But since I'm reviewing anatomy, I wanted to build a comprehensive deck for the future and with the batch-importing feature, it's nearly effortless. I'll study that new deck slowly over time.

      Sorry for the confusion.

    2. Thanks! I am just starting my first year of med school with anatomy and I want to get going with anki. Since I am new to the game, I am trying to get an idea of what is the proper depth of knowledge for the boards. The tables have a LOT of information. Would you recommend I resolve to learn them via anki because I have time to incorporate them into long-term memory before the boards? Or, are they so low-yield for the boards that I would be better off making cards from Essential Clinical Anatomy and The Big Picture that focus on clinical and functional anatomy?

    3. Hey. The tables do have a lot of information and in all honesty, a lot of it is even low yield for life. I won't do all of them. But I'm interested in the MSK system and want to do pain management in my clinical career, so I want to know more rather than less of the neuromuscular stuff. So these tables are for my personal learning. I would not recommend using them for boards.

      With that said, your anatomy class itself might hone in on the level of detail seen in the tables, in which case, it might not be bad to use them for cramming. Keep only the clinically important cards in your general review for the long term.

      I think ECA and Big Picture are really good at helping you make sense of what's important, and those blue boxes are definitely high yield for step 1. So if you want to make cards from them, i think that'd be a good idea.

      Bottom line: If you want to build a good deck that is both useful for boards and wards, and you don't want to get bogged down in a sea of cards I'd do:

      Everything in First Aid (anatomy)
      Blue Boxes from ECA

      Then, add anything else that strikes you as memorable or noteworthy in your general anatomy class readings.

      Stuff that seems to show up a lot:

      Cutaneous innervation patterns
      Brachial plexus
      Lumbosacral plexus
      Major vasculature of the aorta
      Cranial nerves

    4. Great, thank you! I will follow that advice and focus on ECA and Big Picture. With that said, do you suggest keeping the flashcards in your anatomy.anki deck?

      Don't mean to belabor the point about anatomy, but your advice is golden!

    5. That is so cool! I had no idea Anki could do something like this. I've got a lot of learning to do with this program. Thanks so much for sharing all of your methods.

  2. Hey Dr. Willbe!

    Thank you very much for posting your decks. You are awesome! I am new to Anki and have a technical question:

    I downloaded your decks and opened the "anki" file within the Anki program, the problem is, some of the media isn't synced... I can see some of the media in the 'answers' section (like in biochem) but I can't see some of them in the radiology section (Example: -Front- "What disease is indicated in this image"... but there is no image). Any way I can sync them up?

    I have searched high and low on the anki site but I can't figure it out.