USMLE Step 1: Exam Prep
When to Take Step 1?
Step 1 is usually taken at the end of second year of medical school. The most popular months for taking Step 1 are May and June (end of 2nd year), with April and July being the next most popular.
Step 1 scores (as well as Step 2 CS and Step 2 CK) are typically considered important factors when reviewing graduating medical students for residency programs.
When to Start Studying for Step 1?
It is important to note that everyone studies differently, and your study schedule should be tailored to what works best for you.
While dedicated study time for Step 1 is important, preparation should actually begin throughout the first 2 years of medical school. What exactly does this mean?
This means studying consistently and performing well on each exam during the first 2 years of medical school will make preparing for Step 1 that much easier.
The information learned in medical school compounds quickly, therefore having a solid understanding of each subject as the material is presented will help bring all of the content together (especially when preparing for USMLE Step 1).
Dedicated Step 1 Study Time
In addition to studying consistently and performing well on each exam throughout the first 2 years of medical school, most students schedule dedicated USMLE study time leading up to their Step 1 exam.
On average, students use 4-6 weeks as their intensive, dedicated study period to prepare for the Step 1 exam.
Creating a Study Schedule
When creating a study schedule first consider the following:
- Mark your USMLE Step 1 exam date on a calendar.
- Count the number of days until your exam (minimum of 4 weeks dedicated study time).
- Block off 3 special dates: the day before the exam, the day one week before the exam, and one day halfway through your dedicated study time - NO STUDYING ON THOSE SPECIAL DATES! TAKE THE DAY OFF!
- Schedule 3 NBME practice exams - take the first exam week 1 to get a baseline of your score and knowledge; take the second exam halfway through your study timeline (week 2-3) to measure your progress and make adjustments, and take the last exam 5-7 days before Step 1 to reinforce your pace and timing throughout the exam.
Once the 3 NBME practice exam dates and the 3 special dates have been scheduled, the rest of the time period should be spent as regular study days. Here is how to prepare for regular study days:
Make a list of the topics tested on Step 1 (view USMLE content here), and sort them from your weakest subject to your strongest. The weakest subjects should be reviewed first. Next, allocate 2-4 days of study time per topic depending on your comfort level of the material and the amount of content for that subject. The study day will be spent reviewing that topic with the resources you are using (view USMLE resources here).
Divide each study day into 3 sessions: morning, afternoon, and late afternoon/evening. Take breaks between each study session.
- Morning: Studying- Read/Learn the subject scheduled for that day using your chosen resources (First Aid, videos, lectures, etc).
- Afternoon: Practice Questions - Complete 40-100 practice questions per day (depending on length of dedicated study period) and review all answers.
- Late Afternoon/Evening: Review - Review notes taken from the morning, notes from previous days, and practice question answers.
Example Study Schedule (6 Weeks)
- Day 1: Take NBME practice exam and review answers to get a baseline of your score and knowledge
- Day 2-19: Follow daily morning, afternoon, and evening study routine above
- Day 20: Take NBME practice exam and review answers to measure progress, make study adjustments, and identify weak subjects
- Day 21: DAY OFF
- Day 22-33: Follow daily morning, afternoon, and evening study routine above
- Day 34: Take NBME practice exam and review answers to reinforce your pace and timing throughout the exam
- Day 35: DAY OFF
- Day 36-40: Follow daily morning, afternoon, and evening study routine above
- Day 41: DAY OFF
- Day 42: USMLE Step 1 Exam
- Take the rest of the day off after completing your NBME practice exam (will take up to 6-7 hours to take exam and review answers).
- Review incorrect answers to NBME and practice questions before reviewing correct answers - it is important to focus on what you don't know!
- Take breaks! Listen to your mind and body and take breaks when needed.
- Schedule time to exercise, meditate, go outdoors, visit family, socialize with friends, take a nap, etc.
- Eat healthy.
- Go to bed and wake up the same time every day.
- Mix up your study location as long as it allows you to stay focused.
- Avoid cell phone and social media distractions - put phone on airplane mode or in different room.
- Study the subjects you are less comfortable with first. This will give you time to potentially review those topics a second time closer to the exam.
- Take brief notes on the practice questions you get wrong and the information you don't know as well - review those notes every evening.
- Complete as many practice questions as you can - learn from the ones you got wrong as well as the ones you answered correctly.
There are many different resources and tools available to prepare for Step 1. They can be viewed below.