Essential Elements of a Good USMLE Step 1 Study Plan

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • From making a schedule to the test day itself, this Cram Fighter user tells us six crucial steps to prepare for USMLE Step 1.

    Joel Harding, a medical student at The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, shares his formula for success on board exams. Below you’ll find Joel’s favorite resources, and strategies to best utilize each and every one of them.

    Make a schedule

    Have a plan! Make a schedule! Build a realistic study plan with attainable daily goals. This keeps you and/or your group accountable to what you need to accomplish in order to cover all the material you want before your exam date.

    Have a great question bank

    My personal favorite, and what should be the staple to every board prep schedule, is the USMLE World. It is challenging, but the explanations are solid gold. Treat the post review after each question set as a reading session, and annotate what you read into First Aid.

    Use at least 2 different resources for all your “go-to” material

    Pathoma and First Aid were my go to material. What wasn’t in First Aid was in Pathoma and vice versa. The 3 pillars, in my view, to board studying are Pathoma, UWorld and First Aid. They complement each other well and provide multiple angles to look at different concepts and pathologies.

    Board exams are like a twisted game. Once you learn the game, you will feel more in control every time you open a question set.

    Test yourself frequently

    Jump right into it! Do full sets of 42 randomized and timed questions on UWorld right off the bat. It is going to be frustrating at first, trust me, I’ve been there! But you will learn so much from the explanations and you will be constantly preparing your brain for the pressure of test day when you see the timer running and you don’t understand the question. This type of challenge stretches you to become a “professional test taker.” Board exams are like a twisted game. Once you learn the game, you will feel more in control every time you open a question set. This does not mean that you will score 70-80% every time, but it does mean you will be more mentally prepared for handling a testing situation.

    Treat yourself weekly

    Enjoy a night off every once in awhile and have one weekend day off each week. Exercise 3-4 times a week and try to limit your study time to 8-10 hours each day. I loved using the Cram Fighter app because it allowed me to plan holidays and trips into my schedule as well as catch up days for when you have unexpected things.

    Test day

    You have prepared, studied, taken questions, so do not freak out! Be kind to yourself. You must know that you are ready regardless of how you feel. Be positive, acknowledge your efforts, and go get them!