How to Study for USMLE Step 1 and Score 250+

USMLE Step 1 is the first of three major exams that each student needs to complete to practice medicine. We understand that going into this exam can be nerve-wracking. But, don’t be scared. Calm down, relax, get a plan in place, and execute that plan. Let’s talk about how to study for USMLE Step 1 and how to score 250 and more. Yes, you can score 250 and above on step 1. It’s possible – we’ll show you how!

Take Your Pre-Clinical Work Seriously

Your pre-clinical coursework is quite important as you study for USMLE Step 1. You need to revise, understand, and integrate a lot of this content. Why? Because USMLE Step 1 is heavily focused on these subjects – physiology, pathophysiology, and microbiology. All medical principles build on each other, so you can’t ignore any area! You must have a solid foundation of medical education when it comes to your core pre-clinical subject areas.

Set Up Your USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule

a student creating a USMLE study schedule on a tablet

You need to have a dedicated USMLE Step 1 preparation plan to get the best out of your USMLE Step 1 test prep. We recommend setting up a daily schedule with dedicated blocks of time to study each subject area. Plan what material you will cover for every day of the week and at what time you will do so. Then, study according to that plan.

However, all work and no play is no fun at all! So don’t just focus on studying all day – your brain will need a break. You can schedule regular break times to get a healthy snack, take a walk outdoors for some fresh air, or talk to your peers and family. Remember that balance is essential for your medical school success.

Useful Resources As You Study for USMLE Step 1

A big part of the success of your study sessions relies on the resources that you use. There are several useful books that you can use as a resource. These include First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, Kaplan USMLE Step 1 Lecture Notes, Pathoma Fundamentals of Pathology, among others. These books will help you to recall the core concepts and get a basic understanding of each, and also make associations across concepts.

Also, if you are an auditory learner, you may want to follow some online lectures. You can try out Pathoma, as well as the Kaplan online lectures. Listening to a lecture is a form of passive, but effective learning. So, if it suits you, then also listen to some lectures.

You need to include UWorld Question Bank into your USMLE Step 1 preparation plan! No questions about it! Make sure that as you complete the questions that you can justify your answers. Also, when you miss questions, go over each one and be clear on why that particular response is the correct one, and why the other options are incorrect. This is not just about completing as many practice questions as possible but honing your skills as well. If you exhaust the UWorld question bank, then also try out the AMBOSS question bank. How do you get a 250 on step 1? Just keep practicing!

The USMLE Step 1 exam is a timed one. So while you are completing these questions during study time, make sure that you’re timing yourself. You want to get in the habit of analyzing and answering the questions in exam-like conditions. That way, the test day will be a breeze for you!

Practice exams are another important resource. While UWorld also has self-assessments, you should also complete some NBME practice exams. We recommend that you take an NBME self-assessment at the start of your study program for USMLE Step 1. This will help to set the baseline for you to assess how well you are doing as you prepare for the exam. Yes, the score will probably not be the best, but don’t worry. You just need a baseline because your study sessions are going to make you perform much better on the subsequent practice exams! Keep a positive outlook! We are going for 250 and above here!

our tutors have average scores of 260+ USMLE, 580+ MCAT, and 650+ COMLEX

How to Study for USMLE Step 1 in a Limited Time

a medical student timing his USMLE study session

Are you worried that you don’t have enough time to study for your test? It’s possible to have an effective USMLE Step 1 study schedule of 6 weeks.

You will need to study for 6 out of 7 days of the week. Also, you’ll need to devote 12 or more hours per day to study for USMLE Step 1. In addition to using the recommended resources and practice tests, you should also create flashcards. Flashcards are a great way to recall and practice a huge volume of content. Plus, the process of creating these cards helps you to not only review the materials but to focus on the most important principles.

Your mornings should be spent reviewing your textbooks on the subject areas you’ve designated to study for that week. Then, you can spend each afternoon completing your UWorld questions (aim for 40 to 80 questions each day). Complete your UWorld qbank in a timed setting as well. You can create your flashcards as you review the concepts and after completing each block of questions.

In the late afternoon, you should review your missed questions in detail. Make sure that you understand why you got each answer wrong. It’s important to hone your analytical skills so that you can perform at your best in the USMLE Step 1 exam. You can also review your flashcards before you go to bed each night. It will help to solidify the concepts in your mind.

You want to take two to three practice exams throughout your Step 1 6 week study schedule. Make sure that you complete your first baseline self-assessment during the first week. You should do your second practice exam in your third week – you need to track your progress. Then, you can take the third practice exam in your fifth or sixth week. In every instance, make sure that you take each practice exam under actual exam conditions.

How to Score High on USMLE Step 1: Test Day Tips

If you’re going to conquer USMLE Step 1, then you must first know your opponent. The USMLE Step 1 exam is arranged in seven 60-minute blocks of 40 questions. As we stated before, you need to be an expert on all the pre-clinical subject areas – which you would have covered in your detailed study schedule, practice tests and study sessions.

Please don’t feel like you need to rush through each block of questions. Take your time to read and consider the options given for each question. Analyze each option and then select your best response. If you feel stressed at any point during a block of questions, take a quick 30-second break. Do some deep breathing, calm your mind, and then get back to the test.

How To Use Your Break Time During The USMLE Exam

You will have time allocated for breaks and lunch during your USMLE Step 1 exam. The great thing is that it’s completely up to you to decide how to use the time. But, since we are the experts of all things USMLE exams and medical school, here’s an example of how you can allocate your break time on your test day:

  • Complete Blocks 1 and 2.
  • Take a 5-minute break.
  • Then, complete Blocks 3 and 4.
  • You’re halfway there! Take about 25-30 minutes for a quiet, relaxing lunch (listen to your favorite tunes).
  • Get back inside and complete Blocks 5 and 6.
  • Take another 5-minute break.
  • Finish the day in confidence as you complete Block 7.

There are other test day tips to keep in mind. You should:

  • Make sure that you’re well-rested. A clear mind is critical for your exam success.
  • Resolve all travel routes and parking details a few days before your test day. You want to save all your energy for your exam.
  • If possible, map out the test venue. For example, it helps to know where all the restrooms are located.
  • Pack high-energy snacks and a quick, no-fuss, nutritious lunch (like a wrap or a sandwich).
  • If you’re a coffee person, have lots of coffee on hand.
  • Don’t analyze and worry about what you did in the previous blocks. Complete a block, forget about it, and keep moving forward. Your goal is to complete your exam in the best possible frame of mind and mental sharpness.
  • Yes, you tried to plan for everything – but don’t be fazed by the unexpected. Keep calm and carry on!

How to Study for USMLE Step 1: Get an Expert Tutor Today!

You’ve got some pro study tips on how to study for USMLE Step 1. But, we understand all the hard work that goes into making your study schedule, understanding the material, completing the practice questions, reviewing the answer explanations, and keeping track of your progress.

You need as much expert help as you can get, and Medlearnity can help you streamline your entire USMLE Step 1 prep process. We have a team of practicing physicians who will guide you through your study for USMLE Step 1. So book your free one-hour tutoring session today and experience the benefits of getting expert USMLE Step 1 tutoring customized just for you!

we've helped over 500 medical students meet and exceed their goals for every step of the usmle

About the author 

Akshay Goel MD

Dr. Goel is a body-trained radiologist and an expert in medical education and imaging informatics. He completed his Radiology Residency at Columbia University Medical Center and his fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Goel has guided several students and doctors into successful careers over the past decade. He continues to help Medlearnity tutors optimize their educational methodology to drive the highest tutoring and admissions impact possible.

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