Return to Blog Homepage

How to Study for the USMLE Step 1 — Part 2

How to Study for USMLE Step 1, the Ultimate Guide continues. If you haven’t already, start with the first post in our How to Study for Step 1 series.

We started where it all begins, on Day 1 of medical school. Like the entire process, the first step was simple in understanding, but required tremendous effort. Doing amazing in every class. And not just getting “good” grades, but going above and beyond to attain basic science mastery. This will set you up beautifully for the second step of our ultimate guide.
How to Study for Step 1, continued:

Step 2: Build a bulletproof, precise study calendar.

You know building a precise Step 1 study calendar must be important because we’ve mentioned it here, and here. And here. A brilliant student with a haphazardly created study calendar will certainly underperform. An average student with a well thought-out study calendar will exceed his own expectations.

You should start thinking about and building your study calendar far in advance of the first day of studying. You want it to be formalized and complete way ahead of time so that when Day 1 of your dedicated study period rolls around, you know exactly what you are doing.

Building a study calendar is boring. If there’s a bigger drag than committing biochem pathways to memory, it’s talking about and thinking about committing them to memory. As tedious as studying can be, at least it nets you some newfound knowledge. Calendar creation is a thankless task. You will likely put hours into laying out your gameplan. But these hours are not lost. They are an investment…in peace of mind that you are covering all that needs to be covered. In giving all subjects the adequate amount of attention. By knowing exactly what your study day ahead looks like, and never sitting down wondering what you should cover, your efficiency will be exponential.

By now, you’re convinced. It’s time to lay out your study plan over the next 5-8 weeks. But how? We’ve discussed this at length in this post. But it is so important, that it bears repeating here and now.

Start by putting an NBME on the calendar just before you start your study period.

We discuss why in Part 3 of the series.

Next, take the number of days you’ve got to study, and divide by the number into thirds. 

The first two-thirds should be devoted to a first-pass of the material. This is where you will build the most knowledge and create the framework for all of the factoids to occupy. The final third will be for a final pass through the material by subject. This second pass is dedicated to firming up concepts and building confidence. It will be the last time you have to “figure out” concepts that have been irking you – those pesky subjects like antiarrhythmics, the 14 types of nephritic and nephrotic syndrome – you know which topics constitute your own Achilles’ heel.

Sit down with First Aid and figure out all of the subjects you need to cover.

Your list should like something like this: Behavioral Science, Biochemistry, Embryology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Pathology, Cardiovascular, Derm/MSK/Rheum, Endocrine, Renal, Respiratory, GI/Hepatic, Psychiatry, Neurology, Female Reproductive, Male Reproductive, Hematology-Oncology. Divide up each pass, and assign an appropriate number of days to all of these concepts. How many days are appropriate? It depends upon your strong and weak points, and how many days you have in your study period. Heavy hitting subjects like Cardiovascular and Neurology probably will have more days than quick “crammables” like biostatistics. It’s okay if a single day is split over multiple subjects.

The first pass through material will probably have strict borders for each subject without too much crossover (i.e., doing only cardiac reading and question blocks), whereas the second pass will probably incorporate more mixed blocks and review of multiple subjects.

Next, put your planned reading, flashcard, and question bank work on the calendar.

Your cardiovascular day might be 40 UWorld questions with review from 8a-11a, a lunch break, reading First Aid cardiovascular chapter from 11:45-2:00p, a short break for exercise, another UWorld block from 3:00-6:00p, dinner, and a nightcap of creation of pharmacology flashcards or running through a Memorang deck. You can complete this highly detailed schedule a few days in advance of an actual study day; it would be too daunting to plan out a 6 week study period hour-by-hour on Day 1. Just stay a few days ahead of yourself. This will allow you to be flexible if you end up a little behind (or ahead of schedule).

Finally, pepper your calendar with at least 2-3 NBMEs.

Where to place them? And do you really need to shell out more money and devote more time to these questions without explanations of the answer choices? Absolutely. You’ll find out why in Part 3.

Up Next: Part 3: Starting up – the Once through of First Aid

Ultimate Guide to How to Study for USMLE Step 1 –

  1. Do amazing in class. If class is lacking, bolster your own knowledge
  2. Building a calendar
  3. Starting up – the Once through of First Aid
  4. Day 0. An NBME
  5. Day 1-30. The first Pass
  6. Day 30-42. The second pass
  7. The final countdown → Test Day