From One Year to One Month – Preparing for the USMLE Step 1

Learn How to Prepare for USMLE Step 1 based on the amount of study time you have.

The amount of time you have until your USMLE Step 1 test date is a key factor when preparing for your test. Someone with one year left is going to have a different mentality, level of intensity, and overall potential mastering material relative to someone with only a few weeks. Let’s take a look at three scenarios to help illustrate different strategies depending on how far you are from test day.

1. One-Year to Test Day

Congratulations! You just started your second year of medical school (MS2). You got through MS1 and are either feeling a little uneasy on how it went or rather perhaps it went exceptionally. Either way, as you enter MS2 elevate your attention to the way you study — it is likely the biggest determining factor in your ability to do well on exam day.

If you did well during MS1 keep doing what you are doing, but start to focus your attention on certain resources to keep your knowledge sharp. Supplementing your classwork with questions from Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 Qbank or First Aid / USMLE-Rx is a great way to keep yourself thinking about material in a ‘test ready’ type of way. (We would recommend saving UWorld for closer to exam day). When you get questions wrong you should take this seriously and review your weaknesses, and if appropriate make a flashcard (we like using Anki over other other options like Quizlet and Memorang). If you keep this up by the time your year comes to an end, you will be bulletproof for anything the National Board of Medical Examiners decides to through at you during exam day.

On the other hand if you were not happy with how you did during MS1 do not just expect things to change. You need to take a hard look at your learning style, study schedule, and test preparation to make the necessary improvements. We strongly recommend either talking to an older classmate who has done well who you can trust or better yet reaching out to professionals like our team here at Medlearnity. Getting in the right gear early on cannot be understated.

2. Three-Months to Test Day

Okay so you are now starting to feel your USMLE Step 1 date creep into peripheral vision. If you followed a strong plan during the year as described above awesome! — but for many students the amount of material covered throughout the year will be daunting. By this point you should definitely be working through practice questions. If you haven’t started working through any question banks, we could recommend using Kaplan’s USMLE Step 1 Qbank and then transitioning to focusing on UWorld when you enter your dedicated study period. By this point you should also make make a strong effort to frequently reference First Aid when topics come up. If you have an electronic version you can use the magic of Control + F to get there in flash. As a side note: at Medlearnity we have noticed many students are focused on annotating every corner of First Aid; while this is an effective strategy don’t feel like this is mandatory. The most important place to store that knowledge is in your brain :).

3. One-Month to Test Day

Exam day is near. You have exactly 4 weeks left and you probably have a few questions floating around your head: What should my daily schedule be? How many NBME exams should I do? Are those UWorld Step 1 Self-assessment exams any good? (We will answer these questions in more detail in follow up articles). During your dedicated study period you will be ideally studying 8-10 hours per day. You have to absolutely optimize your daily routine. We recommend keeping your mornings and early afternoon period very ‘active-learning’ oriented: 1) Review notecards and test your memory. 2) Complete 1-block of timed questions. 3) Review mistakes from the question block. You can then transition to: 4) Reviewing first-aid with an emphasis on weaknesses, 5) Referencing video lectures in Pathoma, Kaplan, or Doctors in Training (DIT). 6) If you still have time left and gas in the tank, you can do a mini-block of 15-20 practice questions on a weak topic for good measure.

We hope our overview of different study strategies based on the time until exam day helped your organize your own approach. If you have any questions, always feel free to email us at

November 12, 2019

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