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Should I Start Studying for USMLE Step 1 at the Beginning of Med School? Yes and No

I remember how many questions I had before starting my first year of medical school. What specialty would I go into? Would I enjoy the practice of medicine? How was I possibly going to learn all of the material? The first year involves a lot of trial and error in trying to figure out your learning style in an educational environment that is very different from undergraduate classes. Knowing how important Step 1 is and how much you need to learn before then, should you start studying from the beginning?

Tips for Step 1 Study at the Start of Med School

Experiment with different studying practices

Everyone has a different learning style, and there are many approaches to learning the material. Be flexible early on with different approaches, until you find the one that works best for you. Some of the most common techniques include:

  1. Textbook Learning: for those who do best with reading the material. Read through the assigned textbooks and take notes on the most important information.
  2. Visual/Audio Learning: for those who do best with listening or watching. Try Online MedEd to enforce key material. Rewatch or listen to your lectures, if your school records them, and take notes.
  3. Flashcards: for those who need repetition. Create physical flashcards or try using an online flashcard service (like Anki or Memorang). Try to create your own, as the act of making the flashcard is often as helpful as reviewing it.
  4. Diagrams/Charts: for those who like to organize information. Draw out your own tables, charts, and diagrams to consolidate information. Create a review sheet for each topic with the most important information.

Buy First Aid for Step 1 now

Your medical school will have textbooks assigned for each course. But when it comes time for Step 1, First Aid is going to be your go-to guide. As you learn topics in your classes, you should review the relevant parts of First Aid to round out your knowledge and figure out what is the most important information to learn.

Do NOT buy UWorld yet

This would be my advice for the first year. It is too early for you to be able to do well on the UWorld questions, as you have not learned enough of the material yet. Also, you will want these questions to be new and fresh when it comes time for your dedicated study period. If you really want to practice questions, NBME offers practice exams for subject tests.

So, should you start studying for Step 1? Yes and no.

As you figure out what study style works for you, this will be essential for setting up your study routine for Step 1 in the future. And any notes, charts, and/or flashcards that you make now are ones that you will have to review when it comes time to actually study for Step 1. Working through First Aid during your first 2 years will make all of the material more familiar later on. However, it is probably too early to start doing dedicated questions in UWorld. Believe me. There will be plenty of time for that later.


Here are some additional resources to help you with M1 and USMLE study!

What to Expect When Starting Med School

How important are my grades in medical school? 

Our 7-step guide to studying for USMLE Step 1