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How I finally passed NPLEX 1

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 

– Paulo Coelho

Failure is not glamorous or something many people parade around on social media. However, failure is a beautiful component of success. It means you tried to get to the next step. I failed my Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX) biomedical sciences portion, known as NPLEX1, not once but two times before finally passing it this past February. NPLEX1 covers anatomy, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, physiology, microbiology, and pathology. 

What Made the Difference? 

I want to share with you, especially those preparing for NPLEX 1 or those rewriting it again, what made the biggest differences for me in passing this time. Perhaps it can help you. 

  1. Discover Your Learning Style After failing NPLEX1 the second time it was recommended to me to read (or listen) to a book about how to prepare my brain for memory. I needed a memory reset. The book is called Memorize This: How to Remember Anything and shows you how to memorize things through visual or object memory. I highly recommend it! I didn’t know that this was my learning style but I am SO glad I found it. Once I was able to see a sketch of the information I had to memorize, I was able to close my eyes and visually walk myself through the information. No more trying to memorize everything from thousands of flash cards! And my recall was a lot better.

  2. Find Which Resources Work for You I think I have seriously tried all the NPLEX resources at this point. What I finally found that worked for me was a combination of resources. (I don’t get any kick back from these companies, just sharing what has helped.) I finally used: PassNPLEX, USMLE Step1, Dr. Anderson’s, Sketchy Micro, a random YouTube interleukin video, and Pathoma. I know it’s a lot but I will tell you why: 

PassNPLEX – The way the information is grouped together, especially in anatomy, is massively helpful. This style of learning also incorporates auditory and visual learning since there are recordings. I really wished I started with PassNPLEX the first time I took it. Cons – there are a few mistakes that I came across so be mindful of that.

First Aid USMLE Step 1: The biochemistry pathways layout (all the pathways linked together – yes they are all linked) is massively helpful to figure out where chemical reactions take place in the body. The book is also broken down by systems and has great mnemonics.

Dr. Anderson’s: His NPLEX prep is FREE and is amazing, especially for biochem, genetics, anatomy, and the different cancer cell types. I ended up printing off his slides into a bound book and used it as a study guide to follow along with his recordings. He has written questions for NPLEX so he knows the style of how they ask the questions and what is important.

Sketchy Micro: Here’s the deal with Sketchy Micro: you have to listen to the recordings that go along with the visual cartoons/stories. (Honestly the first time I saw Sketchy Micro, I thought the pics were WAY too overwhelming. The key is the narration and remembering the silly stories that go with the pics.) I also printed off the PDF into a bound book so I could write my notes in as I went along. I would also practice by shutting my eyes and walking myself through each pic to see how much detail I could remember. This also helps with recall. I can still remember a lot of the information even after the exam.

Pathoma: I found Pathoma to be the HOW and WHY behind a lot of processes in the body that we learned for biomedical sciences. Taught by an incredible MD, Pathoma is the prep course for USMLE, that our conventional medicine graduate friends take. I ordered the book and went through the recordings. I still use this info today in deciphering the root cause of certain health conditions by the way Dr. Sattar describes certain labs and components of our immune system. It is also massively helpful in figuring out a way to remember cell types and what they turn into.

Shortest Interleukins Review EVER: For all the hours I spent on studying immunology, this guy’s cytokine memory trick saved me on multiple immunology questions. You will never forget cytokines again.

3.) Make Your Own Study Guide To be able to teach someone else information, you need to fully understand it. I used the PassNPLEX notes as a starting point and, with a friend, built my notes from using random Google images – ones I could visually walk myself through if I shut my eyes to best remember the information. 

4.) Review, Review, Review – Any chance I could get, I reviewed the notes I created and tried to quiz myself mentally to see if I really knew the information. I also quizzed myself through the PassNPLEX flash cards, reviewed the NPLEX blueprint questions and made sure I understood WHY the answers were correct. I also used Board Vitals to quiz myself. These questions were helpful for case based conditions. I also studied with a friend and we would talk about certain pathways out loud to see if we could verbally walk through the chemical processes. We also found it helpful to tell each other the stories we remembered from Sketchy Micro. 

5.) Exercise A tired brain can’t remember as much as an alert, well-oxygenated brain. Moving your body each day when studying is just as important as the studying itself. Research from Harvard University shows that exercise and memory go hand in hand. Exercise even increases the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.1 

I would also recommend to study over 100 hours, get enough sleep, take breaks, create a study schedule, get an accountability partner, and get through the information more than once. 

My Why:

Sometimes when you fail, you don’t know why you have to review the information AGAIN. Maybe it’s to help a future patient. Last year I was working with a patient who was finally diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica.  In order to set her on that path to her diagnosis, I used the information from Pathoma and all of my biomedical sciences knowledge to detect where her inflammation was coming from. We also ran key labs that she was able to bring to her family physician. I then was able to work with my supervisor to refer her back to her doctor so she could refer her to a rheumatologist. She was then able to get the treatment that made a massive difference for her and got her out of pain. Integrative medicine for the win!! 

Good luck to YOU! You’re going to do great!! Just read the questions carefully and think about the what the most correct answer could be. Also visualize yourself being calm, confident, and that the answers come to you easily. You got this! 

I am off to study for the next licensing exams this summer – NPLEX2, CONO2, and prescribing. One step at a time to success!!

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