10 General Suggestions for Studying for USMLE Step 1

10 Suggestions10 General Suggestions for Studying for USMLE Step 1

1.    As you go along, keep a list of all the topics that are difficult for you (and the page number in your comprehensive review book) and go over it several times in the weeks before the exam. Repetition and rehearsal have been shown to be very effective learning methods, especially if practiced orally or with quizzing incorporated.

2.    Pay attention to anything "classic." The Step 1 exam loves to test you on classic examples of diseases. For example, a question about lupus will most likely be about a woman rather than a man, and likely an African American woman, because this is the population of greatest incidence. These classic presentations make up the majority of the exam, so be sure to pay particular attention to the classic examples. Get with a group of friends to expand your list, and then study accordingly.

3.    Do your question bank in MIXED MODE and in timed block sessions. Resist doing your question bank in tutor mode or by subject as your exam will not be categorized or untimed. Switching from topic to topic requires flexible thinking and integrating information across several subjects. You are in training for an intellectual marathon. Start this training from the beginning.

4.    Study the things you are NOT comfortable with: there are always areas you don’t know or don’t quite have down. You are bound to get a question on it and this will keep you from freaking out when you do.

5.    If you have a several-week study break to prepare for Step 1, study the “hardest” subjects first so you can get it out of the way. If it is a subject that requires a lot of memorization and therefore has a higher rate of memory degradation, then you must periodically rehearse the material and schedule in another review of the topic before the exam. (This hardest subject is often Biochemistry)

6.    Start early, but start easy: from a student that knows…“It helps to be a totally anal, OCD med student and begin in February (…to take your exam in June), especially if you know you are slow like me. It’s a bit obsessive, and people will say you that you are a nerd, and they will be right, but you will also likely do better and be less stressed than these people leading up to the exam.” I totally agree. Start early, but build up to an intense schedule. Don’t take on 10 hour days until 4-6 weeks before you are scheduled to take the exam and you have a study break from your regular school schedule.

7.    Make a study schedule and stick to it: there is no way you will adhere to a schedule with complete faith. You will get behind, things will come up, etc. The key is to FINISH. You can get behind and take days off, but finish your schedule. This ties into the previous advice of starting early. If you have lots of buffer time, you will be able to take more time away for unexpected events.

8.    Use the buddy system and find a friend or group to start a schedule with. “I sheepishly asked someone to be my study partner and felt like I was asking him to the prom. But he and I and another student were at the library everyday together adjusting our schedule, going over what we had studied the past few days. There were also 5-6 other friends that I studied with and saw everyday throughout most of my Step 1 studying.” “I think having them around to complain to made a big difference in my stress level and overall happiness throughout the whole process. Don’t do this alone, you will go crazy.”

9.    If you start studying for Step 1 while you are still in Basic Science Courses, study for the subject you are currently studying in class. Compare what you are doing in class to what is in First Aid and study both. Learn deeply what you need to know for class and for boards. If you finish, go to the class you previously completed and add notes to First Aid on that subject.

10.  Students tell me that the best advice they got was to be resolved to the fact that on each block of Step 1 there will be 10 questions where you will have absolutely no idea of the answer, 5 you've at least heard of, and the rest you'll be ok with...so get over that 10 now, realize those questions are going to be there and don’t get stuck… keep moving on.


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