How I studied for the exams – part 1

What books and resources should you be using to study for your Canadian exams? For details about what exams are needed, including recent changes being implemented by the MCC for 2019, read my previous post about Canadian exams 101.

You basically have to worry about 2 exams: the MCCQE1 (which is a written exam of MCQ and short answer question) and the NAC OSCE (which is an OSCE that tests your bed side clinical skills). Let tackle them each seperately

As the landscape changes I am guessing schools will probably put more importance on the MCCQE1 score rather than the NAC OSCE as that will give them a much larger range to work with. This is pure conjecture on my part. Nevertheless as a candidate you should treat both these exams very seriously.

This post is about how to prepare for the MCCQE1. For the NAC OSCE preperation, stay tuned for my next post.

Historically most people have recommended the Toronto Notes as the best resource for the Canadian exams. And there is merit to this recommendation. It is a Canadian text and covers all the specialities and subspecialties required for the exam. As it is a local text, it incorporates local guidelines and also local disease prevelance patterns. However I do not recommend this as your go-to resource. The biggest downside to this text, and the main reason I didn’t find it useful personally is that its >1300 pages long! Its HUGE and even though I was a dedicated nerd in medical school who was not shy of a challenge, I found it very hard to commit to memory everything inside those many many pages. It was an exhausting read and I didnt find there was enough agony-to-reward ratio so I decided to look for a different approach.

I recommend the Kaplan USMLE Step 2 CK Lecture Notes books, with some caveats. Those are what I used and I got a very good score. I would recommend you use the Internal Medicine, Surgery, Peads and OBGYN Step 2CK books. These are well written, concise and they get key points across. For students looking for extra explantions there are very good videos available from the authors online that talk you through the concepts very well. I devoured these books! I knew them very very well and I found my knowledge was more than what was required for the MCCQE1 exams. I would recommend, however that you not learn small minutia about rare eponyms mentioned in these books. Those are common questions in the USMLE exams but not the Canadian exams. The Canadian exams are more to do with broad topics and differential diagnosis of common presenting problems.

The first caveat to the above advice I want to mention is that I strongly recommend you learn the Psychiatry section from Toronto notes. The Canadian exams tend to be very heavy about mental health topics and the Kaplan book just does not do it justice. So psyciatry in one section that you SHOULD use Toronto Notes for. Another section you should use TN for is Population health and ethics as these are very Canada specific and again there will be questions on this in your exams.

The other caveat to the above advice is that you have to remember that the Kaplan books use the American units for lab values where as Canada uses the metric system (same as the UK). So for common topics that require lab values ie Diabetes and blood sugar cut off values, blood lipid cut off values, blood pressure targets, do consult TN just to learn the relevant values that you need to be aware off. The Kaplan book will talk about LDL <100 where as that means <2 probably in the Canadian units. Its a big difference to not be aware off.

For the short answer section of the MCCQE1, you may be just fine with the above mentioned resources, however you may find it helpful to read MTB Step 3, not with the aim to learn everything in there as its written very specifically for the USMLE step 3 which is a very different exam but it may help you understand how to approach the short answer section of the exam.

So to summarise, below is a list of all the books I recommend you use to study:

  1. Kaplan Step 2 CK Lecture Notes for Internl Medicine, Surgery, OBGYN and Pediatrics
  2. Toronto Notes for Chapters on Psychiatry, Population Health and Ethics
  3. First Aid for USMLE Step 2 CK – I used this after the above books to revise but you can skip and just revise the above
  4. Mastering the Boards USMLE Step 3 – Not to relearn content but rather to better understand how to approach the short answer section of the QE1

Did you find this post useful? What other resources have you heard other people use? Please leave me a comment below.

Happy studying!

108 thoughts on “How I studied for the exams – part 1

    1. Hi Mashal. I did use MTB Step 2 CK but I used it as my secondary resource. I relied on the Kaplan books as my first line and then consolidate I used the MTP Step 2 CK. If you feel like you have a good grasps on concepts then it would be a great idea to just stick to the MTB Step 2 CK as your primary resource. Keeping in mind that it might not offer you all you need for surgery, psych, peads and OB, for which you will need to go back to the original kaplans. Hope this helps

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  1. Thankyou so much for this.
    Wanted to ask if I should do the CanadaQbank or the uworld step 2 bank? which one is more helpful?

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    1. Hi, Ninna2019. I am glad you found the post helpful.
      Based on my experience wiht the CanadaQbank (which was 5 years ago) I would not recommend you get it as I did not find it very useful or practical. The questions didnt​ seem very well written. I used the UWorld Step2 bank and found it much more helpful. While doing the UWorld remember that you will not score as well as you would like as there is a lot of content in Step 2 that is different from the Canadian standard like vaccination schedules etc – so be mindful and just focus on the content testing and not so much on your score.
      Another big difference is that the UWorld questions will be predominantly from IM and small percentages of peads, OB and psych, while the MCCEE has equal percentages of questions from​ all the subjects. So pay close attention to the non IM questions as they are going to be much more important for you.

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  2. Hey Alies 14,

    First of all, I just wanted to say – THANK YOU – I’ve been searching tirelessly online and you have provided so much quality information on here. Not only on MCCQE1 but on other important topics as well. I have a quick question. Are there any video lecture series you recommend? Like OnlineMedEd or the Kaplan video series. Also I know Kaplan has a Test Prep session but its geared towards the USMLE exams. Do you know if anything similar exists for MCCQE1?

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    1. Hi Jay! Glad to hear you found the blog helpful. I was in your shoes many years ago and like you, I had a very hard time finding good information online so I decided to write this.
      Regarding you questions about video series, I believe I used the videos by Kaplan. However I only used the videos for topics I found hard to understand (like the OBGYN book) and not for the entire syllabus. This was a personal choice that helped me out. Certainly you may find other series out there that help you understand better. I am not aware of video series for MCCQE1.

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  3. Thank you very much.I was sailing but your explaination is very helpful.I have clarified alot of areas.I am now preparing for Qe1

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  4. Just wanted to know if the Kaplan books you used were soft copy or hard copy. I have the soft copy,reading from a screen is another story.I live in Africa,the hard cop6 a bit difficult to get.

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    1. Choosing between soft copy and hard copy is totally a personal preference decision. Personally, I prefer hard copies (actual books) as I find them easier to read

      Like

  5. Hello I am an IMG from Jamaica looking to get into a residency programme in Canada. Would you recommend doing the USMLE exams in addition to the Canadian exams? Is there any benefit when applying for residency?

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    1. Hi Lisa
      Many IMGs who apply to Canada also write the USMLE exams as well.
      Benefits: opens up your options to be able to apply to residencies in USA as well at the same time. Exams are harder so you study harder and improve your overall knowledge bank.
      Cons: Increased expense of more exams. Time consuming exams to prepare for and write.

      In terms of benefit of the USMLE specifically for your Canadians residency application, I would say there is no HUGE benefit. If you have a very good Step 1 score and you mention that on your CV, that may be a plus point which may impress certain program directors however I didnt write the USMLEs and matched just fine. Your score on the MCC exams is MUCH more important than the USMLEs. So if you think that writing the USMLEs will dilute your ability to study hard for and focus on the MCCQE1, then I would advise you skip it.

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    2. Hi Lisa
      Many IMGs write USMLEs along with the MCC exams.
      Pros: You can study for both exams parallel so it increases your knowledge bank. You can also apply to residency positions in USA so you increase your chances of matching to your chosen speciality
      Cons: Expensive. Time consuming (USMLEs take about a year to get through)

      Regarding writing the USMLE exams just for applying for Canadian residency positions, I would say there is NO HUGE benefit. If your Step 1 score is really good, you can mention it on your CV and that might impress some program directors however what is WAY MORE important is your MCC exam score. I did not write any of the USMLEs and did just fine.

      Hope that helps

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  6. Thank you so much!!! I really appreciate you posting this! I have been looking everywhere for some guidance on how to tackle the MCCQE1!

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  7. Your advice seem honest & reliable ! Thankx again.. please do give ur experiences on the osce & your journey to Canadaian Licensure

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    1. I am glad you find the blog helpful.

      I did not take the NACOSCE as it was not mandatory the year I applied so I dont have any personal experience with the exam. However many people have asked me to write about the NACOSCE so I am considering interviewing other successful IMGs who did write the exam on their insight.

      Stay tuned

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    1. Hi Veenita. Rules are the same for everyone applying from any country. Rules may vary however if you already have some previous post graduate training. My blog is specifically for medical students without any post graduate training

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  8. great info!
    so all we will be tested on for the MCCQE1 are IM, OBGYN. Pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, ethics and population health no other subjects needed right?

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    1. Hi MikeCF. I matched to my residency in 2014. So at that time I was only required to write the MCCEE which I wrote in Aug-Sept 2013. I wrote the MCCQE1 in April 2014, AFTER I had already matched to a residency position (not started the residency yet). The NACOSCE was not mandatory that year so I was luckily not required to go through that ordeal.

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  9. Hi, thank you for your post, it is super helpful. I am a resident from the UK and graduated 6 years ago now. I am contemplating making the move to Canada and so have booked the QE1 in 3 months time. As I am revising alongside work and time is precious I wanted to ask if you felt “First aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK” was enough as a text alongside the Toronto notes chapters you mentioned? I have graduated medical school already and am working as a surgical resident at the moment having passed my UK MRCS exam, and so will not be learning the material for the first time but rather revising. Secondly, did you use any question banks and if so, which ones?

    Many thanks for your help,

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    1. Hello Nader
      Good luck with your prep. These are the only resources I used, as I have mentioned. They were sufficient for me. I hope they will be for you as well. Make sure you pay special attention to epidemiology, ethics etc as those are the unusual things we dont think of every day.
      I tried the CanadaQBank but did not find it helpful at all and ended up asking them for a refund. Then I used UWORLD for Step 2 mostly. Keep in mind that many of the UWORLD step 2 questions will be highly irrelevant for canada, like vaccination rules etc, so just skip those and dont take your UWORLD score too seriously. Good luck!

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      1. Thank you for your advice? May I ask what your background was at the time of applying? Where did you graduate from and what speciality you were in? How are you getting on now? Are you settled in Canada?
        Best wishes
        Nader

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      2. Hi Nader. I was only a medical school graduate when I applied. I did not have any additional training. I graduated from medical school from Pakistan in Oct 2013, participated in the match the same year and started residency July 2014. I have now finished all my training and have my own speciality practice in Canada, so yes, things have gone well.

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      3. Thank you so much for the info..Very helpful. I was wondering for ethics which of the qbanks will you recommend, canadaqbank or Uworld

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  10. Hey Dr T, thank you for taking the time to create this blog, really really helpful.

    I wanted to ask how long did it take you to prepare for the MCCQE1? Roughly I mean.
    Also did you take any practice tests before taking the actual exam? If so which ones did you use.

    Again thank you so very much!

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    1. Hello Yara. It took me a long time to prepare for the exam because I was doing it during medical school, at the same time as my usual coursework. If you were doing it as the only thing, I would think around 6 months should be good.
      I tried CanadaQbank which I did not like at all and got a refund from them. I used UWORLD for Step 2 as the only practice tests but you have to remember that I lot of UWORLD step 2 questions are just not relevant for Canadian, so dont take your score too seriously. I could not find any better practice tests. MCC has a couple of practice tests available on their website. Do check those out. Good luck!

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  11. Hello thank you for this post. IT was very helpful. I have a few questions, are there some topics that are more important than others? Is there a specific pattern the MCCQE1 follow? What is a suitable time frame I should have in mind for finishing the syllabus and revising? How did u set a daily schedule as to how much u should cover? Did you study the books first and then do U world or did you do both side by side? What would be the most effective way to study? With all the resources it’s easy to get detracted and lose focus , how does one make sure they are studying precisely and good enough to pass the exam with good marks?
    Thank you so much in advance 🙂

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    1. Hi Realityfashionguru. I feel like a lot of these questions are answered in the next blog post called Canadian exam 101. Have a look a that. It certainly takes a long time to prepare for the exams well, I would say 6 months atleast for the whole process so keep yourself motivated by keeping your goal in sight

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  12. Thanks for your post. The internet is full of negative experiences by IMGs in Canada so it felt good reading something positive. After searching for so long, this is the first post I found in which an IMG actually matched to a residency program.

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    1. Hi Bharat! I had the same feeling all those years ago when I was looking online for tips and advice on what to do after graduating. I really struggled with finding positive advice and encouragement, someone to tell me that it was ok to aim for this seemingly impossible goal. That was always my motivation to write this blog. To tell other people in my shoes that “look! I have done this and you can too!” Good luck!

      Like

    1. Hi oviedostudy
      Im glad you found the post helpful. Yes, 6m should be enough time. However it may be tight if you are going into studying after a long break. If you are actively involved in medicine these days then 6m should be a very good time plan. Good luck.

      Like

  13. hi
    many congrats and thanks to u for this wonderful detailed blog !
    im struggling hard in making a study plan for myself
    can u help?

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    1. Hi Macy Khan
      Thanks for the comment. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling. I was never into detailed study plans when I was a student. My strategy was to pick a book and start from the first page and then keep going.
      I would recommned you start wtih the Kaplan books. Note how many pages each book has and set yourself a goal of finishing x number of pages a day so you finish in a timely manner. You may also consider watching the Conrad FIsher videos with the Kaplan books if you can find those. I would often read books twice before moving on to solidify concepts. Then you could move on to the First Aid when you are done the Kaplans. Good luck!

      Like

  14. How Kaplan Books are faster to study when each Branch is about 500 pages, 500×5=2500. Meanwhile Toronto notes overall is 1300 pages for all Branches

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    1. Dear Kamil
      Thanks for your comment. I am not going to challenge your math, I am sure you have counted correctly. However, in my experience the kaplan books are faster to readier and easier to digest. Toronto notes is MUCH denser. Each page in TN is probably equal to 2-3 pages of kaplan in their readability.
      That being said, everyone has different reading and learning styles so you might not agree with my characterisation. Let me know what you think

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  15. Hi Alies14. Thanks you very much for all the useful information. I graduated from Pakistan. I had completed my specialist training in GIM and working as consultant now. I am thinking of moving to Canada and i believe have to take all the exams. I have applied to MCC for the approved jurisdiction of training. please can you guide me about this.
    is there any difference in the exam taken after graduation or after specialist training to get licence?
    I have read your responses regarding preparation, and you have mentioned some differences in Uworld questions and Canadian healthcare system. do you still think that the Uworld q bank is worthwhile or in the last few years there is better q bank which is based on Canadian system.

    I shall be very grateful.

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  16. I forgot to add – after graduation i moved to UK and had all my training in UK and working as consultant in UK now.

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  17. Thank you Alies14. I have done Pg diploma Anesthesia ( 2 years + 3 years of experience) and i will be writing mccqe1. I appreciate your initiative and the guidance . Hope one day ( if everything goes fine with the exams/PR/ Carms) i will come to Canada and thank you. Keep in touch and let us know how to repay you back.

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    1. Hi Dr Kay Dee. Thanks for the kind words. All the best to you!
      I have been very lucky to have come out the other end of this journey now. I am a practicing physician in Toronto. This blog is my way of giving back to others with the same struggles

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      1. You are amazing and wishing you the best luck! Thank you for your guidance and clarification. I was totally lost and could not find any guicance on how to start this journey unitill I find your blogg!

        Like

  18. Thank you so for the info..very insightful. Which of the qbanks will you recommend for ethics and public health, canadaqbank or uworld?

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  19. Hi)) Thank you for information. Can you give some tips about study plan. How to create it, if I don’t have any work and going to have exam in 5-6 months.
    Thanks.

    Like

  20. Hi, doc. Thanks for the article. So, what you’re saying is that all I need to practise in Canada is MCCQE 1? Part 2 is only for those who want to go into independent practice or residency, am I right? I’d also want some advice in regards to prepping for part 1. I’m about to start a 1-year internship before graduation this mid-year. I really want to study while doing my rotations, but I feel like I’ll all the time be exhausted from the hospital rounds & I won’t have much time or energy to prepare. I graduate in June of 2021 & want to write part 1 by the end of October of 2021. Please briefly tell me how plausible & realistic this is. Thanks

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    1. Hi G5. Your situation sounds a little tight. Getting a good score on these exams is very important if you want to apply for a residency position. If that is your aim, then I recommend you take your time studying and only take the exam when you are totally ready.
      If you already have your credentials in your home country and you only need the MCC exams to get your independant license in Canada then you just need to pass the exam. In which case you should do ok with your plan.
      If you have questions regarding licensing requirements in order to be eligible to work in Canada, I recommend you reach out to the MCC or the licensing body in your province of interest.

      Like

  21. Hi,

    I am taking this exam in 2 months and I only need to a passing score, since it is for future licensure and not for residency. Is this sufficient enough to pass if I do as many UW questions as I can and go over the toronto notes ethics section? I know you said 6 months is recommended to get the highest score possible, but I do not have that time.

    I am not sure how hard it is to get a passing score on the canadian boards vs the american ones. I had previously taken my step exams. I just don’t want to fail and I am not sure what happens if you fail this exam either. Thank you.

    Like

      1. Thank you so much for your post.This is yhe best post so far.I will like to know is there a difference in Family medicine questions and IM questions in MCCQE1 or are they the same.Does the Kaplan CK notes for IM cover both if there is a difference.Also what q bank will u recommend for ethics questions..thanks

        Like

      2. Im glad you found the post helpful, Franklin.
        I think if you are doing all the Kaplan CK notes, you should be good for family medicine as the Kaplan books collectively give a good overview of primary care ie family medicine, when you put all your peads, OB and IM knowledge together.
        I do not have any recommendations for ethics questions resources. I recommend you read the Toronto Notes chapter on ethics. None of the Qbanks that I did were helpful in my opinion. Please note that this was back in 2013, things may be different now.

        Like

  22. Thank you very much for you guide in preparing for MCCQE1! It was very helpful! May I ask if you would suggest how you prepared for MCCQE Part 2? I am planning to go for the approved-jurisdiction pathway and I need to write both part 1 AND 2. Thanks a lot!!

    Like

    1. Hi Ken. Thanks for the comment. I am glad you found the post helpful. I wrote the MCCQE2 during the first year of my internal medicine residency. Life was busy so in all honesty I was not able to do any preperation at all. The exam was like any regular OSCE. In my opinion any physician in touch with clinical practice should do fine on it. More details on the MCCQE2 can be found on the MCC website. I wish you the best!

      Like

  23. Thank you so much for your sharing. I am not sure if I should spend time to review usmle step1 as I graduated long time ago. I just got Kaplan usmle step 1 recently. It will be glad for any of your advice. Best wishes.

    Like

    1. Hi Mechelle
      I think it would depend on how much time you have on your hands. If you have LOTS of time before your planned exam date, you can look into the Step 1 books – it might be helpful for you to revise. However that can be very time consuming. You should focus mostly on step 2 stuff.

      Like

  24. Hiii
    This is very helpful . Thanks for posting this. I am taking part 1 exam in 6 months. I just have one question. After giving part 1 how can i get residency . I am little confused here. What steps should i follow for residency and getting license
    Thanks

    Like

  25. Thank you so much. Very helpful. You are an inspiration and I wish you the best. I have some questions:

    1. If you already have a specialty degree (example pediatrics) from your home country university, could that place me in a better position in order to get a spot into the residence?.
    2. Which one do you recommend master the board step2 or 3?
    3. There is a limit of age to get into a residence program?
    4. After taking the MCCQE1 how much time do you have to take the MCCQE part 2.
    5. Do you already pass NAC and if you did, how did you prepare for it?

    Thanks for your help.

    Like

  26. Thanks for your recommendations regarding study materials for the MCCQE1, I have found them extremely beneficial thus far! 🙂

    What resources did you use for question banks for the MCCQE1?

    Do you have any recommendations for NAC OSCE prep?

    Many thanks and best wishes!

    Like

    1. Thank you for this extremely helpful post. I was just wondering if you had a study plan to cover the topics over your study period and if you could share that with us.
      Thanks again

      Like

  27. Thank you for writing this post.
    Are there any mock tests available anywhere for MCCQE Part 1 exam?

    Is UWORLD QBank sufficient to have a good mcq practice?

    Like

  28. hey
    im an img graduated in 2011 and did 6 months of internship back then
    after that came to canada , and took usmles and got busy with pregnancies
    i wanted to ask that if i go back to Pakistan and finish my remaining 6 months of internship now , would it be considered as Recent clinical experience?
    please let me know

    Like

  29. Hi,
    Thank you so much for writing this post! It’s been one of the most helpful things I’ve come across in my research to prep for MCCQE1.

    I was wondering how in depth to study Pediatrics and OBGYN and if you suggest any resources specially for these areas since they seem to be very short sections in Toronto notes.
    Also I just graduated medical school and will get credentials in my home country around Dec this year, and plan on writing the test on April 2021, will this be enough time? Which topics do you recommend I pay the most attention to?
    Any tips will be appreciated.

    Thanks

    Like

  30. Thank you for this extremely helpful post. I was just wondering if you had a study plan to cover the topics over your study period and if you could share that with us.
    Thanks again

    Like

  31. Hi, Thank you for your post.

    I’m looking for information on what is required for licensure alone without an intention to go into residency. Is just passing the exams enough? And are the Q1, NAC and Q2 required for this? Also, what prior qualification does one need i.e is only being a medical graduate enough.

    Looking forward to your responses.

    Thank you!

    Like

    1. HI… the answer to your question is region specific. I encourage you to reach out to the College of Physicians in the area you are aiming to work in,

      Like

  32. Hello, thank you for sharing this. I would like to know how you recommend studying for the CDM portion of the MCQE1? Your response would be greatly appreciated!

    Like

  33. This is really good. It gives a lot of us hope as reading the Tornto Notes is very hard; you have to cram it without understanding and that in anyway is not learning

    Like

  34. Hi,
    Thank you for the info. A small doubt, do we have any question banks or practice sessions for mccqe1 as we have Uworld for USMLE?

    Like

  35. Hello . Thank you so much for a great post . To apply for MCCQ1 you needed only medical diploma ? In any steps of this processes you didn’t need to send medical transcript ?

    Like

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