This is the second article in our series discussing how to study for challenging courses in the second year of medical school. In our first article, we covered How To Study for Pharmacology. The second year of med school is extra-challenging for many medical students because not only are they learning more, but they have to also study for the USMLE Step 1 or the COMLEX Level 1, typically taken at the end of the second year.

To help students understand how to study for second-year courses, we conducted a survey of our Campus Heroes to learn how they approached difficult topics. 80% of our respondents studied the corresponding topic in their First Aid and about ⅔ of the med students surveyed said working with a study group helped them. Finally, watching supplemental videos was also a popular tactic that helped students understand challenging subjects.

Campus Hero Survey

We’ve heard time and again that Microbiology is one of the most challenging classes during your second year of med school because it requires so much rote memorization. In Microbiology, you’ll be learning about all the different organisms that cause diseases in the human body.

With hundreds of pathogens, and tons of facts about each one (class, distinguishing factors, and their associated diseases), success in Microbiology comes down to successful memorization.

We talked to Elizabeth A., a fourth-year med student. For her, Microbiology was the most challenging course of her second year. Her biggest piece of advice for how to study Microbiology? “It’s all about memorization, and this comes best with constant reviewing of the material.”

Elizabeth told us, “qbank questions over and over again” were what really helped her to memorize all the info for Microbiology. She continued, “I initially used SketchyMicro and the First Aid to learn the material, but I felt as thought that this was only a first pass. I used the UWorld and COMBANK to reinforce the information that I had learned from Sketchy. The continuous repetition of the material through qbanks made the material stick in my head.”

Rather than offering a specific Micro class, Elizabeth’s school used a block schedule, where students learn microbiology in the context of a systems-based approach. “For example, in the GU section, we learned about the common bugs associated with UTIs. I found this approach helpful to have an understanding of what bugs belong where. Unfortunately, I felt that class fell short of the comprehensiveness of my personal studying. In class, the details were not included (details like whether the bug is catalase positive vs. negative, acid fast bugs, and the algorithm tree for gram negative/gram positive). I also found that I had to study the antibiotics necessary for treatment of the bugs separately. I found it more helpful to relate specific antibiotics/classes of antibiotics to groups of bugs rather than to learn separately about bugs or drugs.”

In addition to qbanks, Elizabeth also used flashcards. “Flashcards were helpful. I used ones that I found online. It was too time consuming to create my own.”

Elizabeth’s biggest piece of advice for second-year students studying Microbiology was to dedicate plenty of time to it! “Be sure to dedicate enough time to it. Micro is a large part of the boards, and studying Micro is time-consuming.”

If you need help studying Microbiology, Cram Fighter can help! Cram Fighter goes beyond study plans for the USMLE and COMLEX board exams. We can also help you plan study schedules for your med school courses, including Microbiology, in parallel with your Boards study plans. View our help article for more info. Or, email our support team at to make your course schedule available on Cram Fighter for you and your classmates, so you can see your boards prep and course prep tasks in one cohesive study plan.