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Three Key Strategies to Study for the USMLE Step 1

  • by Ben Williams
  • Apr 14, 2016
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

The founder of Firecracker shares three methods for improving your retention and mastering basic sciences content in your USMLE study plan.

We asked Ben Williams, founder of Firecracker, what Step study strategies students should use according to well-known learning strategies. According to Ben, many high-achieving students are using study techniques consistent with learning strategies without even knowing it. Below, Ben explains three techniques for studying for Step 1 that you can incorporate into your study plan.

1. Spaced Repetition

“Spaced repetition is often understood in contrast to ‘bolus learning.’ Bolus learning is the attempt to learn all of the information at once by carefully reading the material in a single sitting. Spaced repetition consists of repeatedly reviewing material over larger and larger intervals. The expression ‘use it or lose it’ is right from a biological point of view in terms of retaining information long term,” says Ben.

A good way to exercise spaced repetition would be to create multiple study blocks to revisit resources or a given subject.

2. Active Retrieval

“Practicing active retrieval means coming up with the answer choice as opposed to recognizing the answer choice,” says Ben. Examples of active retrieval, sometimes called active recall, include using flashcards or producing an answer to a USMLE question without scanning the answer choices.

The expression ‘use it or lose it’ is right from a biological point of view in terms of retaining information long term

3. Interweave subjects or resources

An example of interweaving, Ben says, would be “studying something from microbio, then studying something from pediatrics, and finally looking at a topic from pharm.” You can also interweave resource types. For example, Ben suggests that you might “do a flashcard question, followed by a four-step USMLE question, followed by a two-step USMLE question, each from a different content area.”

The goal of using these techniques is to cement the necessary medical information into your long-term memory. The techniques above will help with sending important information from short-term to long-term memory, otherwise, the information will be forgotten. Without using these techniques, you may find yourself re-learning material from scratch each time you review them.”