USMLE Step 1 General Study Plan

How can you integrate studying for classes and board exams? This is a common question from medical students. One plan does not fit every student. The best approach is to come up with a plan that takes into consideration several things including; your performance in medical school thus far, your learning style, your test-taking skills based on past scores, and an NBME self-assessment (if you have already completed this). We will give you general advice, but you should tailor this plan to your learning style, background, and abilities.

First and foremost, you should not ignore your classes for board preparation. Focusing on learning the information for your classes, and not just studying the week before an exam, is good preparation for boards.

If you want to do something over the holiday break, review a weak area from your first year.

Purchase a comprehensive review book that you will be comfortable utilizing until your test date.  This review book can be utilized in conjunction with class work to create a strong foundation for Step 1.  Reference your comprehensive review book in order to see what your classes are and are not covering. After you locate areas not taught in your classes, mark them accordingly. Add notes to your review book as needed as you go through your classes; although, if you don’t have time, you can always do so later.

We would not suggest studying 12-15 hours a day in January because by May you will be burnt out. However, you do want to begin integrating board preparation into your day. If you have signed up for the DIT course, you will begin to receive questions posted to your dashboard in mid-January. You can spend 10 hours per week working on these questions along with adding notes in your comprehensive review book from board review books related to your course topic (see #2 below).

If you are not a good test taker, you might consider subscribing to more than one question bank, sorting them by topic, and using them to practice taking questions for your exams. However, if you are not good at time management, this may not be a good solution for you. Instead, you may want to wait until you are finished with your classes and on a study break. Many students purchase a second question bank but find they never use it because it is too much to manage with their schedule. If you already feel overwhelmed and have a very full day, you should wait until you have time to dedicate to studying just for your board exams. If you do use question banks during classes, be sure to save one question bank to use during the period where you are concentrating solely on studying for Step 1.

Most students take or receive 4-6 weeks off to prepare for Step 1 without the distraction of classes. Students from International schools can take more time. If you can take 8 weeks, you can use the plan below and incorporate more books during the study break. During this time, there are several strategies to incorporate:

1. Take an NBME self-assessment to get a baseline score. If your score is below 50, then you may need more than 6 weeks to prepare.

2. In the first few weeks, finish preparing using board review books. This is especially true if you made 50 or below on your diagnostic NBME self-assessment.

Use board review books instead of your course texts. The review books are designed to teach you what you need to know for success on boards.

3. Do ALL of one of the most popular question banks that students recommend and be sure to study the explanations. You may not do well until you are past the halfway mark of the question bank. This is not uncommon. Once you are 60% through the question bank, you will likely see your scores improve. Take your average over the last 10 quizzes to track your improvement. Do a block of 40-50 questions per day to finish the question bank by the end of the 6 weeks.

4. Take another NBME self-assessment to make sure you are ready to take the Step 1 exam.

Happy Studying!

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