USMLE Step 1 Exam – How To Master The Microbiology Section Of The Exam

Studying for the USMLE Step 1 exam can be a tedious and exhausting process, mostly because there is such a large volume of information. While yes there is tons of information that can become overwhelming, one of the best ways to overcome this is to know how to organize each subject in a way that makes it easier to master and easier to memorize.

In this short article, I would like to explain to you something one of my professors taught me about organizing and mastering the discipline of microbiology. This is a tough topic to master simply because of the sheer volume and the fact that it is purely a memorization topic.

Below I will explain the three most common ways microbiology questions are asked and then I will give you three tips for organizing and simplifying the studying process:

The three most common forms of microbiology questions on the USMLE Step 1 exam are:

#1 – Most common causes

This is probably the most common microbiology question you will encounter on the step 1 exam, and for that matter you’ll get lots of these on the step 2 ck exam as well. This type of question will basically give you a clinical scenario or description of something the patient did, followed by their current symptoms, then ask you “what is the most common cause?”, or “what is the most likely cause of infection?” An example of this could be something like “Patient was playing with his dog in a field of tall grass, now he has joint pain and is fatigued, what is the most likely cause?” in this case it could be many things but since they mentioned tall grass there is a likely tick bit, ie. Lyme disease.

#2 – Signs and symptoms caused by certain bugs

This is similar to the above type and requires that you know the pathognomonic features of certain bugs. For example understanding what lyme disease looks like, what mononucleosis looks like, what certain STD’s look like, etc. So many bugs have very easily recognizable signs and symptoms, so knowing these will help you score some easy points.

#3 – Descriptive features of bugs

Things like size, shapes, and gram stain are important to know for the Step 1 exam as well as the step 2 ck exam.

Now, here are three ways to study for microbiology that can help you organize the information and simplify the whole studying process:

#1 – Create flow charts/charts

This is one of the best ways to organize this subject, as so many organisms can quickly become frustrating to keep straight. Flow charts that divide them into gram stain, shapes, sizes, and other features will help you simplify the process and allow you to better visualize each organism.

#2 – Create lists of key features

A list of all organisms and their key features is a great way to now only prepare for the step 1 exam, but to prepare yourself for your clinical years, as many things show up on the wards that you learned in microbiology. By creating neat charts of organisms and features you can really speed up the ability to answer a lot of questions you will encounter on your exam, and this will in-turn give you more time for tougher questions.

#3 – Develop a long list of most common causes

While this was mentioned earlier as one of the most frequently asked question types, it should be mentioned here as a way to organize and study the information. Create a list of conditions and the most likely organisms to cause it, then simply go over it frequently. This will ensure you will not miss easy questions on the exam because of confusion.



Source by Jeffrey Anderson, M.D.