Tips and Tricks for Your Next USMLE Step 1 Test

First of all I’d like to say that I am not the expert. I’m not even AN expert (of anything). Reading this article will not magically make you score a 260+ on Step 1. However, it might help to quell some rising panic which will DEFINITELY improve your chances because less stress = increased ability to relax and allow your brain to do its thing! With that said, here is some advice I found helpful during the dark period that was Dedicated Study Period.

It’s ok to not use First Aid. I know saying this basically borders on blasphemy and that First Aid is literally “the bible” of step studying but it is simply one resource among many and it will work for some and not for others. Some people will swear by First Aid, others don’t even read through more than a few pages. I think it’s really up to you and whether or not you find it helpful. I personally found that reading straight through as had been recommended to me was a waste of time. Instead, I ended up using it more as a summary review after I had already gone over the concepts to help cement some of the more-high yield details.

Set a goal. I don’t mean in a vague way like ‘ OMG I have to do better than the 240s or my life will literally be over’ I mean like an actual number that you write down on a little sticky note and put above your desk so you can see it everyday. Choose a score that is not unreasonable but that is high enough that you are challenging yourself. This was the one piece of advice that I appreciated the most on test day. I felt like it really encouraged me when I was struggling and mentally helped me to perform better because I had a specific goal in mind.

Utilize tried-and-true resources. I know this might seem to contradict #1 but notice I’m not saying you have to use one particular resource. A few I would recommend include Pathoma and SketchyMicro but you have to figure out what works best for you. Try to be flexible – I started using Picmonic and realized after a few days that I wasn’t really retaining anything so I stopped using it. Allow yourself to discard parts of your study plan if you feel the resources you’ve chosen aren’t helping you to learn.

UWORLD!!!!!!! I can’t say enough about practice questions mainly because I think this is THE ONE THING you can’t just not do. Think about it like this: the best way to prepare for an exam is by mimicking taking an exam and that means doing tons of questions. Now don’t let this scare you, I don’t believe that in order to succeed you have to go through UWORLD three times and memorize every single explanation (those things are crazy long, that would be literally impossible). I would recommend going through at least once and a lot of resources online recommend doing at least 2000 questions by exam day.

Don’t be discouraged by NBME exam scores. This is really, really important. I am definitely not the only person I know who was very disappointed by the scores I received on the NBME practice exams I took prior to the real thing. I felt like all my hard work was for nothing and it was really tough to recover from. On the other hand, I felt that the UWORLD assessments were much closer to predicting my score on the actual exam while the NBMEs way under-predicted. Again, my experience is not everyone’s – if you are not getting passing scores on practice NBMEs you need to consider if you’re ready and maybe take some extra time – but if you take an exam and it’s just not quite up where you had wanted to be and don’t feel it reflects your actual knowledge and abilities then maybe take some time to work on your test-taking strategies and try not to stress out about it too much.

That’s all I got! Comment below if you have questions/recommendations/ideas about Step 1 you’d like to share!

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Chantal Mendes

Chantal Mendes is a writer who loves science. She graduated with a journalism degree from Boston University (go Terriers!) and is currently a third year at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. In addition to her interests in cardiology and pediatrics, Chantal enjoys rock-climbing, anything Lord of the Rings related and looking for the best poutine in Vermont. She shares stories of her journey from journalist to prospective doctor on her blog, and tweets @Chantal_Mendes.

1 Comment

  1. Poonam Ghandi

    Wow – this is so insightful! Thank you for sharing your experience and advice. Congratulations on being done with the big test!