8 Most Productive Study Tips For USMLE Step 1

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A medical student’s knowledge and skill will be tested at various levels in their journey of earning a degree in medicine. Medical education in the country is obtained by clearing MCAT and enrolling in a med school after finishing a bachelor’s program in science. However, to practice medicine, every med school student has to clear the USMLE exam which is divided into three steps. 

Ideally, a student clears Step 1 and Step 2 as these two levels act as a differentiator in their acceptance into a residency program of choice. Step 3 is required to be cleared before the end of the first year of residency to be absorbed into a healthcare facility as a full-time doctor. 

A student’s preparation to study for USMLE Step 1 significantly impacts their residency placement. It also helps in mapping the knowledge components in clinical rotations which form the preface for Step 2. Hence, Step 1 is the initial journey for many USMLE applicants. 

A student must prepare well for this test with enough time in hand to avoid cramming the topics in the last few days. When a person is determined to be consistent in their preparation, with hacks and tips they can excel in every stage starting with Step 1. 

Here are a few pointers that will help anyone preparing for the exam to stay focused and prepare well for the exam:

  • Step 1 Knowledge

The preface of Step 1 of USMLE is based on scientific concepts. Before getting into med school, every student must have cleared a bachelor’s program in science. Most often it is a life science major. Step 1 tests a student’s capability to understand and apply important scientific concepts that are essential in patient care and treatment procedures. 

The focus of Step 1 is on the underlying concepts of clinical health, diseases, and therapeutic approaches. Clearing this level in the first attempt is important as it establishes your comprehension of science and its application in medicine. 

  • Exam format

Since January 2022, the Step 1 exam is measured only as pass or fail. It is not scored. The exam is conducted over eight hours. It has multiple-choice questions. There are seven 60-minute blocks with a maximum of 40 questions per block. It is a computer-based exam. 

  • Adequate preparation

Step 1 is not one such exam that can be given because you have been exceptional in your bachelor in the science program. It is a rigorous exam and one that will test the application and comprehension of life and other sciences from a medical perspective.

It is recommended not to cram the preparation for this exam to the last minute. The topics that need to be covered in Step 1 preparation are numerous. Considering the expanse of the syllabus that needs to be covered, it is ideal to start preparing for Step 1 from the first year of medical school when relatively things are still easy schedule-wise. 

  • Study resources

If a student is diligent and smart in their approach they can easily crack the exam. Numerous resources are often used and new innovative methods like medTech platforms prep students appearing for different steps of USMLE. 

The books and preparatory material that is available are exhaustive enough. However, it is not necessary to buy every book and reference material. One can borrow from the library or senior students who have cleared this step. 

  • Organization skills

Medical school on its own is demanding. The initial year will be full of clinical subjects that will prepare a student in handling patients. It will be followed by clinical rotations and clerkships in later years. 

It is understandable that taking time out for studying for USMLE is not just a priority but is often a race against time. However, if a person is focussed and does not get swayed by distractions, completing the preparation will not be an issue. It is possible to pass the exam on the first appearance just through organized groundwork. 

  • Practice exams

Practice exams conducted through NBME and other resources are invaluable. It helps the students realize where they stand in terms of their preparation. They can spot their areas of weakness and devise strategies to work on them. Each student should take at least one practice exam so that they can conduct a self-assessment and understand where they lack and what might be their strong points. 

  • Talk to peers

You will be surrounded by people who are in the same place in terms of study pressure when it comes to preparing for the all-important exam. If you talk to people who have given the exam and the one’s preparing along with you, there will be a lot of takeaways in terms of what works and what does not. 

The community grapevine is stronger than bulletin updates that may change the course of things for you. So stay in touch with other students who can inspire you to reach your goals. You can even be part of a study group with other students who are preparing for the same step level as you. 

  • Use memory hacks

Mnemonics and flashcards have survived the test of time as one of the best ways to enhance the retention in memory for the expansive list of topics that need to be ready for USMLE. Online platforms offer smart recall quizzes that can be taken during downtime like commuting to college to complete them and use the time effectively.


Step 1 is not easy, nor is it the most difficult exam in comparison to the other two steps. Every stage in USMLE has been curated to understand the comprehension of medical students and test them on their ability to handle patients in a clinical setting. It is therefore important to treat each level with equal importance and prepare in accordance. It is also to be noted that just because the scoring of the Step 1 exam is now limited to pass or fail, it is not an easy exam vis-a-vis other steps. 

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