Crush the USMLE® Step 1 Exam: A Simple Guide

Anyone who wants to be a doctor or who has watched a few seasons of Gray’s Anatomy or Scrubs knows that getting through medical school is really only one step in the process to becoming a medical professional – internships, residency, and licensing exams are also three major stepping stones to achieving this goal. While all certainly have their challenges, the USMLE® Step 1 exam is the first hurdle you’ll have to overcome. 

The good news? Any medical student can get an excellent score on Step 1 – it’s all about your study strategy and the resources that you use. This simple guide to crushing the USMLE Step 1 will get you started on the path to success! 

Develop a test-friendly study routine

Even if you already have an exam-acing study routine, it can’t hurt to further optimize it. The USMLE Step 1 exam includes a series of 60-minute block sessions during which you’ll need to be able to answer questions based on patient-centered vignettes. Organizing your study time in 60 minute blocks (at least when you’re reviewing specifically for your exams) is one way to multitask with a purpose – not only will you be reviewing the content you need to know, but you’d also be simulating the timing of the test and subconsciously preparing yourself this way as well! 

Select your study resources wisely

There are a multitude of study resources available for medical students – videos, books, Qbanks… the list goes on and on. It isn’t realistic to work with every resource out there, but figuring out which resources work well together and best for you is vital. Using an all-in-one study resource works well for many students, as this allows you to have everything you need in one place. Using the variety of study materials available in such a multipurpose resource (videos, text, 3D models, etc.), plus a reference book, can also help broaden your understanding or can be used to further solidify your understanding of a topic. 

Learning with a Qbank

Speaking of multitasking… Did you know that you can use a Qbank for way more than just exam prep? Rather than predominantly using a Qbank to just test knowledge at the end of dedicated study, Qbanks can be reverse-engineered to serve as a learning tool from the beginning. After a basic knowledge base has been established, you can start your study sessions by doing some Qbank questions (say, one block of 40 questions, like on Step 1). After answering the block of questions, practice-test-style, transition to reviewing the content so as to enhance your understanding of the topics. Cross-referencing the information with additional resources (e.g. First Aid® or related high-yield videos) turns what started as just a practice exam into a great learning resource. Choosing the right resources for you is thus important – some study platforms actually already provide linked video lectures and First Aid® references in a Qbank interface. 

Test yourself

Doing self-assessments throughout dedicated study time can provide you with an idea of how much progress has been made, as well as highlight areas or subjects that might need more attention. The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), who help write the USMLE Step 1 exam, has several multiple-choice self-assessments available for a fee. The Comprehensive Basic Science Self-Assessment (CBSSA) has content similar to that found on Step 1. While these exams won’t necessarily predict your Step 1 score, they can evaluate your readiness for taking the exam. 

Give yourself a break 

Studying is without a doubt important, but so is taking breaks. This refers to everything from short breaks between pomodoros in Pomodoro Technique, time spent away from studies to accomplish other tasks, tuning out of medicine while having lunch, time spent relaxing in the evenings, or even taking a full day off. Numerous studies have examined what role rest and specifically sleep play in memory and retention; namely, during said downtime, your brain is still working to consolidate recently accumulated data and commit it to memory and needs this time and rest in order to do so. To maximize your productivity and concentration, try taking breaks or even a short nap (10-20 minutes recommended) in the middle of the day. Not tired? Spending time outdoors can also be restorative and helps fight against mental fatigue. 
No one ever said that becoming a licensed doctor was easy, but you can do it. By following these tips and giving it your all, you’re sure to crush the USMLE Step 1 exam!

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