Step 1 Advice
We surveyed students with competitive Step 1 scores about their study and exam preparation strategies. The following summarize our findings
- Question bank(s) used. Students selected all that applied:
98% used USMLE Step 1 Qbank – Uworld
38% used USMLE-Rx Step 1 Qmax
21% used Kaplan Qban
2.Resources used to prepare for Step 1. Students selected all that applied:
93% used First Aid
92% used Pathoma
33% used Doctors in Training (DIT)*
3. How many practice exams did you do? Please include the exam provided by IUSM in your total.
26% took four practice exams
26% took three practice exams
15% took six practice exams
15% took five practice exams
15% took two practice exams
2% took one practice exam
4. How often did you take practice exams? Not all respondents answered this question. See below for additional comments
Most students took the Comprehensive Basic Science Exam through the IU School of Medicine and took additional practice exams in the time preceding their Step 1.
5. When did you being studying for Step 1?
36% started studying in January
17% started studying in December
14% started studying in February
12% started studying in August
12% started studying in March
3% started studying in October
3% started studying May
2% started studying in September
2% started studying in April
6. During the school year, how much time per week did you devote to preparing for Step 1?
Answers varied from 1-2 hours/day to as much as 40-70 hours/week. Remember Step 1 is based on information from your basic science classes. Many students indicated they focused on review of MS1 and studying for current classes.
7. When school was not in session (i.e. during winter break, spring break or after classes ended), how much time per week did you devote to preparing for Step 1?
Answers varied but the average was 58 hours per week. Many students studied less during the holiday and spring break and increased their study time after classes ended.
8. Did you organize your questions to coordinate with ICM topics?
9. How many questions did you complete?
30% completed 3000 questions
24% completed 4000 questions
24% completed 5000 questions
15% completed 2000 questions
7% completed 6000 questions
10. Are there any other study or test-taking tips you would share with students who are planning to take the exam?
Study Schedule and Balance
- Make a study plan that fits YOU. Stick to it as best as you can.
- Plan out a schedule that works for YOU, but don't be afraid to tweak it as you go. I had a schedule in the beginning, but changed it a lot once I realized how long it took me to get through different material. Start early with difficult topics so that they don't take as much of your time later.
- Take care of yourself. Doesn’t sleep deprive yourself, it won't help in the end. Schedule breaks (and take them).
- Make a weekly schedule with specific times during which you will study and the topics you will cover during those times. Be realistic in your goals for studying and your timeline so that it will be easier to stick with your schedule.
- Start studying early especially reviewing year 1 material, try not to get burnt out too soon, you'll never feel 100% ready.
- Find what works for you and stick with it. Listening to other people's strategies and progress will only stress you out.
- Study for the long term and not the short term gains, learn everything but realize you can never know it all so just keep working on it.
- Be well rested for the exam. Get used to the length and sync your sleep schedule with test day.
- Make a study schedule and stick to it. Allow catch up days in your schedule, so you don't feel stressed out all the time. Set a realistic goal then add 10 more points to it.
- Find study partners so you can keep each other accountable. You will have panic attacks but remember that everyone around you is freaking out as well. Take some deep breaths and keep going.
- Don't worry about how everyone else is studying. Stick with what has worked for you the last two years. I'm a slow and steady studier. It takes me a while to get through material, but when I do, I know it pretty well. Sometimes, I don't even get back through topics a second time. There were many weeks that I freaked myself out by comparing myself to my classmates who were flying through First-Aid chapters or going through U-world a second time around. I would get anxious, and I constantly felt like I wasn't covering enough material. Don't do that to yourself. Everyone processes information differently, and trying to change your habits will only stress you out more. Know yourself.
- I can't stress enough how useful the NBME practice tests are. The tests will help you with pacing, evaluating the efficacy of your current study methods, and setting a realistic "goal" score.
- Simulate the test a few times in the months to weeks before by taking some NBME practice exams. They're shorter than the real thing so they're less exhausting, but they help you plan how you will tackle the blocks and strategize your break time. Do practice questions every day in the months leading up to the test.
- I really liked doing the NBME and Qbank practice tests. I think I did one every other week once I was in Step dedicated study mode. I did them closer together towards the end. They did a pretty good job of predicting how you will do and it is a good motivator. It is nice to see that your efforts studying are increasing your scores as you go along. They also help you identify weak points and direct your studying.
- Questions are absolutely vital to cementing material and are also a nice break from "traditional" studying of reading books and notes. Pathoma and first aid are absolutely necessary for texts.
- Top priority: do as many questions as possible. It will train you on the correct way to think for USMLE
- Start early and use the Q bank. I found going through the Q bank twice was perfect, any more and I would feel like I was cheating on the questions. Also, read the entire explanations after the question. What I would do is read the explanation, find the topic in first aid, and annotate any relevant information into first aid that wasn't there to begin with.
- Questions, questions, questions start with r/x and Kaplan during the year with blocks. Save uworld for the end. Don't focus on super details until you know the basics cold I found some real benefit from going over first year material beginning early second year.
- Don't use too many resources -- it's an inefficient use of time because many of them will cover the same points that you already saw. I mainly used Uworld Q-bank & First Aid. Then, I supplemented with micro flash cards, neuro anatomy high yield, and my netters atlas.
- Determine which sources you are going to use and learn them well. There are a lot of them out there so it can be overwhelming. I'm a big runner so I started listening to Goljan audio lectures while running (it helped me justify taking longer "study breaks" to go for long runs, and I felt like I could pay attention for longer).
- Focus on classes. Most items on the test will be covered somewhere in the first two years. The better you do in classes and the more time you spend studying for class the easier your review will be and the more time you will have to focus on subjects you are struggling with.
- Incorporate studying for Step 1 with studying for ICM, pharm and path, especially by using First Aid and Pathoma throughout the year. Don’t blow off your finals at the end of the year because that material will probably show up again on Step 1.
- Finally the most important thing is to do well in 2nd year classes, you can't do well on step without mastering MS2 material
- Do Pathoma throughout the year with pathology. Study very hard for ICM and use your review series to compliment your classes. Read through the explanations in USMLE q bank, annotate as needed, but it's more important to understand the system than It is to memorize details. It's not a memorization test, contrary to popular belief.
- Buy Qbank and any additional resources (First Aid, Pathoma)
September – December 2015
- Review questions from MS1 material and coordinate questions with MS2 material
- Do Pathoma along with Pathology
January 8, 2016
- Take the Comprehensive Basic Science Exam.
- Use results to determine areas to study next.
January – May 2016
- Review questions in coordination with MS2 material
- Take practice exam in mid-March. Compare results to CBSE.
After classes end
- Schedule study time with breaks for meals, sleep and exercise.
- 4000-6000 questions
- Six practice exams
First off, to all med students, I would not advise beginning to study for step 1 anytime during your first year or the summer between first and second year. 2nd year is a grind and it is good to go in fresh.
When second year began, I started out studying maybe 6-9 hours a week for step 1, all on Saturday or Sunday. I would review the basic sciences from first aid, usually I would do Biochem and Micro on Saturday and Immunology on Sunday for 3 hour blocks. I would also do about 10 UWORLD q-bank questions on each of those days just in biochemistry or micro. During the week I would prepare for my classes.
Once system based learning (Neuro, cardio, respiratory, etc.) began in the first semester, I eventually found a regiment I liked. Each day I used Goljan Rapid Review for whatever subject we were studying and then do 10-15 questions off UWORLD in the subject we were studying and annotate what I thought was important in blue pen in First Aid. Blue pen meant it was from UWORLD (Most of my annotations were blue :) ). Between that I tried to fit in class work.
That's really it for the most part. As the test got closer I began to focus less on work related specifically for class and more on step 1 prep. For reference I began my UWORLD Qbank in August and finished it the first time in early February. I immediately began my second time through the next day. I also began listening to Goljan audio lectures whenever I could.
Some other general tips (these are all my opinion of course)
Find a resource you like and stick with it! I highly recommend Goljan Rapid Review or Pathoma in addition to First Aid and UWORLD Qbank. Most everyone I know used Pathoma and almost no one used Goljan, and while it was tempting to switch to it and buy it I stuck to my guns and it paid off. Goljan goes into more depth (more than you likely need) but it has been around longer than Pathoma and I wanted a more comprehensive source.
Take your time on the QBANK questions. 10-15 questions would usually take me about an hour to get through. I almost never did more than 30 questions in a day and that was on the weekends. The explanations are amazing.
Some people I know included all the Qbank questions in their tests, but I only did questions that were in the area I was studying (Neurology etc).
First Aid is a REVIEW book. How anyone could claim to read a new section in first aid without studying it in the past is just insane to me. It offers very little context and therefore is used best in conjunction with another source. Sometimes I would read Goljan first and then later that night find the respective section in first aid to be a concise review. Rarely does First Aid teach you concepts.
Be confident and allow yourself to have some fun. I would usually take Friday and Saturday nights off- even in the weeks leading up to the test. If you start anytime from August to December and are consistent to whatever plan you choose, you will do great!!!
Started January 1st. Exam was May 26th.
Completed a block of 46 questions each day. Marked all of the questions I got wrong & the questions I got right but wasn’t sure if I really knew them.
As I studied for ICM, I also studied the corresponding information in First Aid and Pathoma.
Took IUSM-provided practice exam
Completed entire first pass through UWorld Qbank by Spring break.
After spring break, I focused more on reading through First Aid again in its entirety. Also went back through marked UWorld questions.
Easter weekend took 2nd practice exam.
Started the video review of DIT a week or so before finals.
Finished DIT 1.5 weeks before my exam date. At this time, I took my final practice exam.
The last 1.5 weeks, I reviewed the DIT study guide, any chapters in First Aid I wanted to go through one last time, did ~30 questions/day to maintain timing, & one last pass through pharm drugs at the end of each chapter.
A few notes of advice:
Knowing the drugs (especially mechanisms of action and unique adverse effects) for Pharm class makes pharm prep for the NBME and Step1 very minimal.
Neuro first semester will definitely prepare you well.
Reading through the biochem and micro were tougher for me to get through, but DIT biochem was very helpful and Sketchy Medical website also was an awesome resource to review micro (I believe it is similar to Picmonic).
View Study Plan in spreadsheet format via Google Sheets. You can also download and edit to suit your needs.