I know why you’re here. You want to know how to study for Step 1 and get an amazing score.
Well look at what one of my underclassmen told me when I gave them tips on how to study for their USMLE exam.
“I wish I would have listened to you sooner.”
In this post, I’m going to give you those same Step 1 tips that he chose not to follow until the last minute. You’ll learn how to study for Step 1 and how to crush the exam with minimal stress.
If you do, it will not only help you get a high score but will also keep you calm and relaxed throughout the process.
Note: If you want advanced tips for Step 1 that will help you just crush it, then check out our free Step 1 Masterclass where I teach you 3 strategies to score a 250+ on your exam!
Click here to learn more about the Step 1Masterclass!
How To Study For Step 1
Today, we are going to hit the topic of topics amongst med students- Step 1.
I’m going to give you plenty of tips that are practical things that you can take away immediately.
I’ll also include things that are very mindset-based which I learned the hard way that you should avoid.
These are not only from my own experience but also tips from top performing students in my class. They are the students getting 250s, 260s and even 270s.
If you want to be in the upper echelon, these Step 1 tips are definitely going to help you out!
At the very end, I’m going to give you a resource that you can go to if you want the information.
For now, let’s get into the Step 1 tips!
If you want this post in a video format, you can check out my YouTube video below! Make sure to subscribe for weekly content if you enjoy this one!
Tip #1: Focus on Questions Over Reading
Typically, when you create a Step 1 schedule, you focus more on what first eight chapters you are going to cover on what day or week. Then, you try to span that out over the course of four to six weeks.
But that’s the wrong approach!
The most improvement you make in your score is by doing more practice questions over time.
Don’t delay the growth in your score to later when you start doing practice questions!
You want to focus on how much of a ratio you’re spending on questions versus reading on a typical day.
If you’re spending 10 hours, you want to do about 60% of your time doing some type of practice questions.
That may be UWORLD, flashcards on questions you miss, pre-made flashcards, or anything where you’re just practicing with some type of question bank.
The other 40% should be spent on reading, gathering material and, perhaps, watching videos.
The usual study schedules I’ve seen from the students that I’ve coached is they spend a lot of time trying to fit in as much for Pathoma or Sketchy with little time given to question blocks.
But it’s really the latter that gives you the most improvement in your grades, so focus on those more.
You’d also want to raise that percentage even more in the lateral weeks throughout your step one studying.
If you’re spending 60% of your time on questions originally, then around week three, four, or five of your study prep, you want to get into the 75 to 80%.
Do more practice questions and study similar topics that ask different ways to help you stay calm and become prepared for the actual exams.
More practice questions are likely going to lead you to a better score. You can’t say the same about how many times you read first aid.
So try to do more practice questions and make sure your study is scheduled from start and focus on spending more time there.
Tip #2: Use Reverse Learning
This tip is one that I absolutely love and it’s definitely going to help you focus on doing more questions.
The idea is called reverse learning. It works wonders for medical students on how to study for Step 1.
Reverse learning is simply the idea of using a high-yield resource to quiz yourself.
Then, you use that to direct you on what you’ll be studying.
The typical flow is to read first aid, quiz yourself on some question blocks, then do more first aid, and keep quizzing yourself.
Instead, I recommend that you do your UWOLRD questions first.
While at it, keep track of the questions you’re missing through Anki, writing on a notebook, putting it in a word doc, or keeping an excel sheet (pick your method!).
Based off of the topics you keep missing, refer back to first aid, to pathoma or other resources that you enjoy using.
Basically, strengthen your understanding of that material. Focus on giving yourself as many opportunities to make mistakes through flashcards and practice questions.
This works better than other typical approaches where you’re just reading.
At the end of the week, you may have this “Oh crap!” moment because you don’t understand cardio, derm or micro.
It’s better to know now that you’re weak in a topic and not on test day.
Make sure you give yourself as many opportunities to make mistakes now, so when the test comes around you can feel more prepared.
You’ll feel throughout each question that you’ve likely seen it before.
Tip #3: Do Micro and Pharm Every Day
Micro and Pharm are the two topics that most students need a lot of repetition to nail down.
But if you focus your time on mastering them by doing a little bit every single day, then I recommend the resource Zanki.
Your grades are certainly going to be much more likely to be higher than that of your peers. You can even get in that 250 to 260 range!
Micro and Pharm questions are really easy money if you’ve seen them plenty of times. But if you haven’t, they’re the most difficult.
One of the resources to master micro and pharm is SketchyMedical as it includes sketchy pharm, sketchy micro as well as many other great resources.
Picmonic is great for anyone who likes short videos. Lange Pharm Flashcards are also amazing.
Definitely, when you’re designing your study schedule, focus a little bit of your time doing both pharm and micro every single day.
By following these Step 1 tips, you are most likely going to pick those low hanging fruits and raise your score pretty exponentially.
Tip #4: Be Ready For The Hills and Valleys
Tip number four is pretty profound because it can cause a shift of anywhere from 20 to 30 points in the wrong or the right direction on your final score.
Step 1 is hard as there’s a lot of information to take in. But the other part that’s difficult is that you typically can’t predict consistency.
It would be nice to say, “Week one I had this score, week two I would have this score, and then I’ll keep moving up the ladder.”
But what most students will find throughout their days are some spikes where they feel really good about themselves.
Then a couple of days in a row, you’ll take some practice questions or tests and you’ll see your score dip.
That can lead you to be really hard on yourself.
But this is just part of the journey; It’s going to have its hills and valleys.
If you’re ready for that day in and day out, you’ll be able to move through it with momentum instead of having setbacks.
I learned throughout the first two weeks that my score was going up and then they would go down.
I would have two to three bad days where my scores on the practice exams and questions weren’t as ideal as I wanted to.
When I reflected on the questions that I was missing, I realized that the first question was pretty hard. I probably wouldn’t have got it on that track.
But the next question was something I was actually supposed to be able to get correctly. I knew that information, but I let the prior question dictate my mood and my momentum.
It stressed me out! That anxiety continued throughout those practice questions and let my score to dip.
So when I reflected on how many questions I should have gotten right, it would’ve been a raise in my points of anywhere from 20 to 30 points. The same thing happened on practice exams.
Focus On Earning Points, Not Losing Them!
If you want to learn how to study for Step 1, listen up. This tip will help increase your score without much effort.
One principle I teach a lot is just to focus on earning points on every single question.
If your last question was difficult, just shrug your shoulders and say, “Maybe I wasn’t supposed to get that.”
But focus on the next one. If you know the topic, you’re going to feel good about yourself and you can take that momentum to the next question.
Step 1 is a journey and a challenge. You aren’t going to get through it unfazed and always have a success rollercoaster.
Be ready for the hills and valleys because when the test comes around, you’ll be ready for it.
Surely, you’re going to do better because anything that’s going to seem like a setback is just something you can shrug your shoulders on and move forward.
Take that as a mindset change!
Once you adapt and commit to it, you’re going to be able to get to the end of it with a smile on your face and a score you’re going be happy with.
Reminder: If you’re enjoying this content and want more Step 1 advice that can take your Step 1 score to another level then click here to join our FREE masterclass!
Tip #5: Be Okay To Veer From Your Schedule
It’s obviously important to have a steady schedule. And when it comes to studying for Step 1, it’s crucial.
But you’re going to wake up some days and not feel like studying. You’re going to wake up some days and need another extra hour or two of sleep.
My study schedule starts at 8:00 o’clock. But sometimes, I wake up at 7:30 and realize I was not going to be functional to actually study.
So when it was 8:00 o’clock, I simply hit this news button and try to sleep for another two hours. Sure, my study schedule was a little bit shifted and I had to make some adjustments, but that sleep was worth it.
The fifth among the Step 1 tips taps on the simple principle of taking care of yourself– sleeping, eating correctly, and getting exercise.
If you have to veer away from your schedule to make sure you include more of certain things, such as sleep, do it! At the end of six weeks, you’re going wish you did.
An extra hour of studying is not going to lead you to a better score. But a lack of an hour of sleep every single day is going to impact your score.
Make sure you take the importance of the ladder. Get your sleep when you need to, eat some food, and end your study day a little bit early if need be.
This is a challenge and it’s a journey. But if you want to get to the end unfazed, you have to make some compromises.
You may not be able to stick with your study schedule exactly to a tee, but that’s totally fine.
As long as you have the right principles in mind, the score will reflect it.
Tip #6: Have A Cut Off Time
Many times I had classmates who are studying at the same time as I was.
But they would take their studying into the late hours of the evening because they wanted to get a little bit of extra done.
When we look at our scores, we all scored around the same. It’s not because I’m smarter or they need more hours, but because those extra hours where you’re fatigued don’t actually impact you very much.
Thus, one of the Step 1 tips is to have a cutoff time. Here’s the benefit of having one.
If I would end my study schedule at 6:30 or 7:00 o’clock, I could use an extra three hours to enjoy myself. I would be watching TV, be going for a run, or getting a workout if I hadn’t gotten one.
I learned magic tricks during my Step 1 because I wanted to entertain myself and get away from my First Aid book!
Find whatever you want to spend your time with. It can be doing absolutely nothing or getting some more sleep if that’s what you prefer.
Make sure you have a cutoff time and be strict with that. You don’t have to be exactly to a tee with the rest of your study schedule, but with your cutoff time, you should.
Those extra 30 minutes you think you could have been more productive weren’t actually going to lead you to a better score.
You just have to be efficient from the time you wake up and start setting a cutoff time.
Tip #7: The Personal Tier System
The seventh among my Step 1 tips is my home run hitter. It’s how you should be designing your study point.
This is going to help you so much if you’re asking how to study for Step 1.
I could give you a study schedule and many students of mine have gotten the ones that I recommended.
But why not create one that’s perfect for you?
Now, I’m going to give you a system on how to develop that for yourself. I call it my tier system and here’s essentially how it works:
When we go through week one or week two, we may already have a study schedule designed.
But after doing some of the practice questions and practice tests, we may realize that our weaknesses are heavy on certain topics and not so much on others.
If you go with the same study schedule every student puts on Reddit, Student Doctor, or even my website, you’re going to be structuring your study plan according to my weaknesses or somebody else’s.
You want your study plan to be personalized to you!
You can do it daily, though I recommend doing so on a weekly basis.
At the end of week one, you’re going to look at your UWORLD questions and the practice tests that you may have taken that week.
Look at what topics are causing you difficulties and what topics are you doing really well on.
Let’s take use an example scenario to help explain this. Let’s say at the end of the week you look at your percentages for each major category (cardio, micro, pharm, etc.) in UWORLD.
You would then break it up into tiers.
Tier One may say that for certain topics you were doing anywhere from 80 to 90%. That would be a topic that you’re pretty good at (e.g. biostats).
Tier Two may be a topic where you’re getting anywhere from 60 to 79% on. Those are topics that you’re good at, but you still need some work on.
Then anything less than the 60% may be a Tier Three where you need to do a lot of work on (e.g. micro, pharm, or biochem). This is a big weakness you hope you prepare for, otherwise, you’re going to be anxious when it comes up on the exam.
The numbers and percentages may vary for you. Adjust accordingly based on where you’re performing and create your three tiers.
How To Use The Tier System:
Now here’s how to use it!
So, things that are tier three are the most difficult ones. If you struggle with dermatology, micro, or pathology, do at least one of these Tier Three topics every single day.
You may do derm on the first day and micro on a second day. You may be doing micro every single day as I recommended earlier, but the gist is that Tier Three is dedicated every single day.
Things that are Tier Two would get dedicated for every other day.
Tier One are topics you do really well on, say, behavioral stats. Most students typically do well with these questions, so you just need to do those every three to four days.
Once again the tier system is personalized to you.
Tier Three Topics (Difficult) Will Be Done Every Day
Tier Two Topics (Average) Will Be Done Every 2-3 Days
Tier One Topics (Mastery) Will Be Done Every 3-5 Days
Then, you’re going to reevaluate every end of the week to see what tier three, two, and one topics are for you.
You may have some former difficulty topics that have now moved up in percentage cause you’re doing better.
There may also be some old topics that are getting a little bit more difficult.
The tier system is going to help you personalize how you’re spending your time.
If you’re looking to know how to study for Step 1, give the tier system a try and let me know what you think!
Before I close, I want to remind you again about our free Step 1 Masterclass!
In this 30 minutes session I teach you 3 strategies that helped me just crush it on Step 1!
Interested? You can check it out here!
Want a full Step 1 success program? Then check out our premium course – Step 1 Academy which walks you through every phase of Step 1 studying to get a goal score of 250+ on Step 1.
For sticking with me until the end, I’ll give you this discount that’s not available anywhere else! So just go ahead and put STEP250 and you’ll get 25% off on the guide.
Hope you enjoyed this post on how to study for Step 1. If you have any more questions, comment down below or email me at [email protected]
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Thanks for reading!
Until next time my friends…