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Study Tips for the USMLE Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1 from Upperclassmen

  • by Erica Forrette
  • Feb 11, 2020
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

We collected a fresh batch of study tips from med students who have taken the boards.

It’s February, which means that many second-year medical students are gearing up to take Step 1, Level 1, or both exams later this spring. To help these M2s, we polled our network of Campus Heroes, collecting input and tips from third- and fourth-year students who’ve already taken those board exams.

Focused or Dedicated Study Periods

Aside from the “Dedicated Study” time that some medical schools give to their students in order to study for the Step 1 or COMLEX Level 1 exam, we found that most students that gave themselves a set time for studying as well. Students set aside study time ranging from 6 months to 4 weeks. In most cases, this was more than what the schools provided. In our poll schools gave students approximately 3 weeks of dedicated study time.

Of the students who gave themselves a longer study period than what their school provided, most used a Pre-Dedicated Study period as well to casually review UWorld questions or identify their weak areas.

Even when they had spent some time studying before their official Dedicated period, students appreciated the time they had during Dedicated and noted it was significantly different than any casual, earlier review period. Students noted that they were able to study for much longer periods of time without being distracted by other school requirements. They took fewer breaks, focused only on board prep materials, and practiced more active learning.

Michael E. at CUSOM noted, “I studied every day except for maybe 2 days, anywhere from 8–14 hours a day. I did not use any of my lecture material from in-class lectures. I only used board prep materials.” An anonymous student told us they studied “at least 40 hours a week during Dedicated, with scheduled exercise breaks and ‘fun’ meals with friends and family.”

The Best Advice They Received

We asked students “In hindsight, what is the best piece of advice you received and followed from older med students as you prepared for Step 1/Level 1?” One recurring theme we heard was “don’t use too many resources!” Students advised picking a few core resources and learning them well. In addition, students provided this advice:

“The most important piece of advice I followed was doing as many NBME exams as I could because those will most accurately predict your progress through studying.” – 3rd year student at TUSOM

“It’s ok to take breaks and start early! There are so many people who will say you don’t need time to study but it depends on your learning style. For me personally, looking at First Aid earlier (even as early as first-year) would have been very helpful. By the end of boards studying, you start remembering pages of the book anyways, and starting to look at it earlier would facilitate that.” – Areeka M. at VCOM

“UWorld is obviously gold. Reviewing it and building up question stamina for the actual exam day is very important.” – J.D. at OUHCOM

Students also recommended practicing more active learning vs. simply reading. For example, one student told us “The worst thing I did was spend time passively studying (aka reviewing First Aid and Pathoma). If I could do it again, I would spend 90% of my time doing questions and Anki cards.”

Finally, a couple students emphasized memorization as extremely important. On this theme, one student told us, “I’d start reviewing Sketchy and good Anki Decks for things like that (the rote memorization things) earlier on in the year,” while another said, “Don’t think you don’t need to memorize the first time you read through something. One mistake is thinking you will have time to go back. Instead, maximize your time and if you think you have time to go back, you are less likely to remember.”

“It’s ok to take breaks and start early! There are so many people who will say you don’t need time to study but it depends on your learning style. For me personally, looking at First Aid earlier (even as early as first-year) would have been very helpful.

– Areeka M. at VCOM

Final Thoughts

A couple highlights of the additional tips students provided for others who were about to take Step 1 or Level 1:

  • “All you need is Pathoma, Sketchy, and UWorld. First Aid should only be used as a reference tool. The more resources you use, the more they’re going to run together, and you’re going to become confused.“
  • “Have a focused plan. Know how you study best using what worked during the first two years of med school and trust those. Prioritize active learning over passive reviewing. Do not try to get through every single topic, rather go through high yield topics and things you know that you struggle with.“
  • “Schedule plenty of rest days if you have more than a month of study time.”
  • “Do as many UWorld questions as possible. Read through First Aid at least twice.”

Thank you to our customers who provided their input and advice for studying for the USMLE Step 1 or the COMLEX Level 1. Follow us on Facebook to get more study tips like these every day.

Do you need to organize your study resources and make a focused study plan of your own? Try Cram Fighter free for 7 days and see what your schedule could look like.

About the Author

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