Medical residencies are becoming more competitive than ever because medical students are finding new ways to stand out among their already impressive peers. Although many factors are taken into account by residency programs, it is no secret the score achieved on the USMLE Step 1 Exam is important. As a former medical student who achieved a score of 250 and landed a residency position in the competitive field of Ophthalmology, I am pleased to share my personal tips for acing the Step 1 exam.
Invest in High-Yield Study Aids
Most students have approximately four full weeks to study for the USMLE Step 1. Thus, it is imperative to study smarter than to study more broadly. While many of my classmates tried to get through as many books as possible, I only used two study aids: First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 and the USMLE World Qbank. Trust me, if you can master the content in these two sources, you can score very high. The problem I see with adding more study aids is that people may read each book superficially but not really absorb content. If you stick to these two and really absorb all the information, that is more effective. Thus, I also recommend going through the question bank at LEAST twice!
Choose An Atmosphere
You know where you study best. If going home to your family is too distracting, stick with the library. I went home to study because it was a more pleasant environment for me to work. But my family also understood that I needed a lot of quiet time alone to concentrate.
Create a Schedule
Creating a study schedule and sticking to it really cannot be stressed enough. I printed out a calendar and wrote down the topics and number of questions I wanted to cover each day. For example, based on the number of questions in the question bank and the number of days I had to study, I calculated that I needed to get through 75 questions twice everyday, for a total of 150 questions per day. I also recommend doing questions in systems to immerse your brain in one topic at a time. This was my daily schedule:
6:00am - Wake up and have breakfast with mom
7:00am - Practice questions - I usually got through 1-1.5 blocks of 48 questions.
11:00am - Go out for lunch and run errands with mom and dad
1:00pm - Resume questions
6:00pm - Dinner
7:00pm - Wrap up questions
9:00pm - Shower and TV break
10:00pm - Bed
A long lunch may seem excessive to some, but it was time I knew I could spend with my family, which was important to me. If weekends are important to you, schedule in weekends. If going to the gym is important to you, make sure you put that into your schedule. Breaks are a must in order to prevent burnout! Although I studied hard, this period was fairly pleasant overall because I did not burn out.
Practice Answering Questions and Cross Reference
This test not only tests your knowledge but also tests your stamina and ability to understand questions. So practice questions were my main focus. I did approximately three blocks of 48 questions everyday in "Tutor" mode. And after each question, whether I got it right or wrong, I read the entire explanation and tried to understand why each of the wrong answer choices was wrong. It is okay if you are getting a lot of questions wrong. After you learn from the explanation, you can feel confident that you will get that question or similar questions right on the real test. Also, after each question, cross-reference that topic in First Aid. I highlighted my First Aid and annotated the section with five words that would help jog my memory of the question I just answered and solidify the topic in my mind. This might all seem time-consuming compared to just answering blocks of questions at a time, but it is worth the extra attention.
Incorporate Practice Tests
The NBME website offers practice tests that you can pay for on their website. At the 2 week mark and the 3 week mark, I did simulated 4-hour practice tests in the morning and took the rest of the day off.
Set Aside Review Days
The final days prior to the exam should consist of rapid fire review. By now, you should have gone through every question at least twice. These last few days, I reviewed random blocks of questions, sometimes answering 300 questions per day. You may not need to read the explanations again if you feel confident. This is just to remind yourself of topics you may not have covered for a few weeks.
Relax Before the Exam
The day before the exam, I did about 10 questions just keep myself in test-taking mode and took the rest of the day off. Relax, watch TV, or hang out with friends. Just remember to have your scheduling permit, snacks, ID, etc., ready for the next day. And make sure to get a good night's sleep.
Everyone studies differently, but this is what worked for me. No one told me details like this when I was trying to figure out how to study, so I hope you can take my experience and tailor it to your own needs. Good luck on test day!