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A Blueprint for How To Make a Step 1 Study Schedule

  • by Erica Forrette
  • Nov 24, 2020

We break down the process for creating a study plan for the USMLE Step 1

In the second year of med school, most med students face one of the most daunting exams in their med school career: the USMLE Step 1 exam. Preparation for this exam can take months, and consume many hours of study time each day. While there’s no single “correct” way to prepare for Step 1, we’ve compiled this list of the basic steps you should take as you are figuring out how to make a Step 1 study schedule for yourself.

1. Pick your resources.

Choosing study resources is a very personal decision, and there are many ways you will get input on which ones to select. You may receive certain resources free or discounted from your med school. You will likely get guidance from upperclassmen who’ve already taken the exam about what worked well for them. You can read reviews posted online by other med students. Most students use a combination of various types of resources, such as books, videos, qbanks, and flashcards.

If you’re not sure where to start, consult our ranking of the most popular USMLE Step 1 resources, based on what we see Cram Fighter customers adding to their USMLE Step 1 study schedules.

2. Figure out how much time you’ll need to study.

Figuring out when you’re going to take the Step 1 exam vs. when you expect to start your studying will allow you to determine the amount of time you have to do your studying. You can do this in a couple of ways. First, you can calculate the time between your exam date and when you begin studying. For example, if you plan to take the exam on May 31, and you plan to start your study period on January 1, you’ll have roughly 5 full months to work on getting through your resources.

Alternatively, many medical schools give students a “Dedicated Study” period in the spring semester, during which no classes are held (or have a minimal weekly time commitment), in order to allow med students to fully focus on studying for the Step 1 exam. Dedicated study can range from 4 weeks to 8 weeks, so it’s up to you to decide if you want to study before Dedicated begins, or if you want to focus completely on your studying in Dedicated.

You could also work backwards by determining your exam date, and figuring out how much time you’d like to focus on your studying. For reference, Cram Fighter customers on average spend 112 days, or just under 4 months, studying for the Step 1. You can use this figure to count backwards from your exam date to estimate a starting point for your study schedule.

3. Figure out how many hours/day you’ll spend on your selected resources, and if you’re using a qbank, how many questions you want to complete before your exam.

Your next step is to allocate hours per day to focus on studying. This number will vary wildly, depending on how many days you have to study until your exam date, and how many resources you have chosen to get through before the exam. We’ve seen customers commit to anywhere from 3-10 hours/day studying.

You should also plan for a final number of how many qbank questions you would like to have completed. Qbanks are a very popular Step 1 exam study prep resource because they follow the format of the questions in the actual exam closely, and thus get you used to how the questions are presented and how to think through solving them. As a guideline, Cram Fighter customers schedule themselves, on average, 1500 questions in their Step 1 study schedules.

4. Create a granular daily study schedule for every day you plan to study, including any planned days off AND days you plan to take self-assessments.

Next, you’ll want to assign yourself detailed study tasks for every single day you plan to study, including any days you should not plan to do any studying, like vacations or catch-up days. These daily tasks should comprise items such as “Read pp. 112-118 in First Aid,” “Complete 30 Uworld questions,” and “Watch Sketchy videos #1-7 in the MSK section.” In order to ensure you have a solid plan for getting through all your resources in the time you have to study, it’s essential that you create this level of detail in your study plan. Hold yourself accountable with these tasks every day.

Reserve “black-out days” in your study schedule to account for planned days off, and days that you will be taking self-assessments to measure progress (the NBME self-assessments typically take at least 5 hours). As well, plan for “catch-up days” so that you can have days with no assigned study tasks to catch up in case you fall behind on your daily list of study tasks.

Note that in the process of assigning yourself study tasks, you should figure out if you want to re-order the sequence in which you go through body systems. In other words, you may not want to read through First Aid cover-to-cover; instead, you may want to focus on your most difficult subjects first, so put those earlier in your study plan and give yourself more time to review these topics. You can also align different resources to cover the same topics at a given time so that you reinforce your understanding of each topic across different modes of learning (e.g. reading + video.)

5. Begin studying!

Now that you have created a granular daily study schedule, you’re ready to get to work! Refer to your plan on Day 1, and go! Start studying. Stick to your daily schedule religiously, because you built it to fit in all your resources in the time you have allocated before your Step 1 exam.

6. Rework if you fall behind.

If you fall behind and notice tasks from past days beginning to pile up, you’ll need to wisely use your catch-up days, or you may need to rework your schedule if you fall too far behind. Look at it this way: you still want to get through all your resources to prepare for the exam, so it’s still necessary to complete all your assigned tasks. Hence the beauty of planning for catch-up days.

All of this planning and legwork for making your own custom Step 1 study schedule seems like a lot of work, because it is! But you can automate this process by using Cram Fighter to build a custom study schedule with the resources you choose in minutes, saving you hours of effort.

To get an idea of how easy it is to build your Step 1 study schedule with Cram Fighter, try it free for 7 days. You’ll get a detailed daily plan for those first 7 days and have the option to purchase when your trial ends. It’s completely free and requires no credit card: sign up today.

You can also check our USMLE Step 1 sample study schedules, available in different study durations and with different combinations of resources, to use as a starting point. Good luck!

About the Author

Erica Forrette is the former Director of Marketing at Cram Fighter.