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. Hello, thank you so much for the help.

    You said that “For students looking for extra explantions there are very good videos available from the authors online that talk you through the concepts very well”, so can I ask you where did get all these videos online? I cant find them 😦


    1. Hi Bruno
      From way back when was I did that exams, there used to be companion videos to all the USMLE kaplan books. the IM one was by Conrad Fisher e.g. I cant tell you where to find them, Im assuming you can buy subscriptions online through his website. I hope this helps


  2. What is the optimum duration of studying to get a good mark? Duration meaning how many months and how many hours a day? Thanks


    1. Hi Ryan
      I think this question is impossible to give a concerete answer to. Everyone is so different in terms of how they study.
      However I think if one was spending some extended time of consentrated study – you could be ready in 4m. If you were doing other things or if you have been away from clinical medicine in a while then that will probably be 6m. But that is just my assessment.


    1. Hi Bryan
      I would suggest waiting until the later years of med school. This was you would have had more clinical experience which will help you study better and do well on the exam


  3. Hi!; does the book version matter? I mean; which are the advantages owning the 2021 versions of the kaplan books vs the 2018? I would appreciate your input on this topic.


    1. Hi Javier
      I dont think it makes a huge difference. New editions will have more uptodate recommendations esp if new landmark information was published. They will also reflect recent guidelines. However if I were you I would not be keen to spend $$$ to buy the latest edition esp if I had a recent/older one in hand


  4. Hi, I’m new to studying for MCCQE. You haven’t advised any step 1 books. So there is no need for kaplan step 1? Is MCCQE exams all about clinics?


    1. Hi Elena
      I think the exam assumes the tester has a strong basic science knowledge to lean on. I did use the step 1 books as part of routine medical school studying. I did not use them specifically for the MCCEE exam prep. Hope this helps


  5. How much did you score with these resources and how much time did it take? And what speciality were your options after that score ?


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