5 Study Tricks To Use in Your First Aid for the USMLE

5 Study Tricks to use in First Aid for the USMLE for medical students

For medical students everywhere, First Aid for the USMLE is a book that is an absolute gem. In my opinion, it should be in every medical student’s inventory, even if you don’t plan on giving the USMLE. It’s a bit of a difficult book to handle at the start since it is absolutely crammed with high yield information and there is nothing mentioned in the text that can be described as waffling. It’s to the point, concise and as a result, a trainwreck of information.

You need to make this book your best friend though. You need to delve deep into its spine and become familiar with its contours.

Here’s what I did

Go Through Your First Read of First Aid With Your Med School

Getting a hang of First Aid is really hard and it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed with all the information and feel like you don’t understand anything. I personally think the best way to go through First Aid is with your course. Buy a copy at the start of school and use First Aid as your guide through all the courses. Consult it as a sort of study guide and study at school with the intention of eventually understanding the relevant chapters from First Aid completely.

If it’s too late for that, then I highly recommend watching some sort of companion video to walk you through First Aid. I assure you, a passive first read of the book is not going to be very helpful.

There are a couple of such videos you can try out, like First Aid Express, DIT or Boards and Beyond. I personally have only watched First Aid Express, as I used it to get through a read of the book, however, I have heard a lot of praise for both DIT as well as Boards and Beyond. I do intend to check the other two out and see which resource overall is better.

Spiral Bind Your First Aid

Trust me, the binding will last longer and you won’t have to keep worrying about the spine cracking down or pages falling out. Even better if you manage to get it spiral bound in a way that lets you take out or insert sections.

During my third year of medical school, I ripped my First Aid and used paper clips to hold various sections together. So when we were studying the cardiovascular system, I would have the paper clip with the cardiovascular section nestled in my bag. It helped conserve space, made it super easy to whip the section out for consultation and also helped me to make myself familiar with the text of First Aid as I studied the topics in school. It also helped that First Aid guided towards the really important and testable concepts. It’s safe to say that if what you are studying isn’t in First Aid, it’s probably not that important.



Add in Extra Review Material From Your Course Books

Whenever I found something in my course books that I thought summarized chapters and topics really well, I would bookmark it and eventually photocopy that page to attach to my First Aid. It personally helped me a lot to add supplementary notes to my copy of First Aid, whether it was in the form of photocopied tables, personal printed notes (like the ones here), or other notes of my own.

Of course, I had ripped my First Aid open and so inserting notes was really easy! Unfortunately, I ended up almost doubling the size of my First Aid and so when I got it spiral bound, I ended up with two volumes, and this makes the next study tip even more relevant.

Use The Index At The Back of the Book

I can’t even begin to describe how useful it is to consult the index, especially since the table of contents for First Aid doesn’t really exist (and I can totally understand why even making a Table of Contents for First Aid is a bad idea). It’s a great way to look up anything you’re studying or any questions you may have and see it’s context in First Aid.

Since I had to split my First Aid in half, it got really difficult trying to find some topics on top of the supplemental notes I had inserted in the pages. Was Huntington’s Disease in Biochemistry or Musculoskeletal or Neuroscience? It would take me several minutes to locate it and it was made even worse by the fact that I had had to remove the index thanks to my First Aid doubling over in size.

To make up for it, I downloaded a PDF of the First Aid index and am now using that to locate what I am looking for. It’s a great help and I really think it’s a fantastic way of constantly referring back to First Aid and building up your concepts in terms of repetition and memory building.



Color-Code Your Highlighting

A commonly shared sentiment among students is the fact that every single line in First Aid is important, so what exactly are we supposed to do, highlight everything? To that I say yes, but selectively. Using colored highlighters is a great way to organize the information given in the text and to make it visually appealing. Several people do end up using colored highlighters but again, without any rhyme or reason. I think it’s really important to have a code when it comes to using various colored highlighters.

My personal code for highlighting in First Aid is something like this: pink is for pathology pathophysiology, blue is for clinical presentation, green for histology and lab results, orange is for epidemiology and risk factors and yellow is for the occasional thing that I want to highlight which doesn’t fit any of these categories.

If there’s some additional piece of information or a piece of information that I want to highlight on top of the highlight, I’ll probably end up using a colored pen (or even just a black one!) to underline or circle the words.


These are five tips that I used in my First Aid and I think these are pretty useful! If you found this helpful, let me know in the comments below! What are some study methods that you use to organize information? Have a nice day!

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Author: Kanra Khan

I'm a Pakistani American student of medicine, or more precisely, an almost-graduate of MBBS Class of 2019. I like to write about my experiences in med school and my adventures in life, which range from traveling, to art, to blogging and photography. Like what you're seeing so far? Consider exploring a bit more! The Lunar Descent is endless.

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