5 ways to squash your USMLE Step 1 anxiety


No matter how much you have prepared for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, anxiety is difficult to avoid before and during the exam. Use these 5 tips from an expert to conquer your test anxiety.

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Joshua D. Brooks, PhD, associate director of medical academics at Kaplan Medical, recommends these methods to quell your nerves and keep your mind focused during this important exam.

  1. It’s supposed to be a difficult exam, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Brooks recommends listing your personal strengths on an index card. Refer to the card if negative thoughts intrude on your study time.
  2. Watch out for the spiral of procrastination. It happens to everyone—you keep telling yourself that you’ll tackle studying tomorrow, and soon you feel as if you’ve waited too long to start and the exam is rapidly approaching. “Successful students must control it,” Brooks said. “Studying today means success tomorrow.”
  3. Don’t worry about the question you don’t know. Remember: Nobody knows it all, Brooks said. Focus on building general knowledge and using smart study strategies to boost your confidence.
  4. Create a timing strategy to keep yourself on track. By knowing how much time you have to complete each test section, you can establish time points to check yourself. Generally, with 30 minutes left, you should have around 26 questions remaining, and with 10 minutes to go, you should have about eight questions remaining, Brooks said. If you notice you’re running out of time, triage by scanning the remaining items to find questions that are easier, and complete those first.
  5. Recognize when you’re losing focus. If you find your mind drifting or becoming overwhelmed during the exam, close your eyes for 15 seconds and start again, or mark the question and come back to it, Brooks said.

Get more USMLE study tips and insights at AMA Wire®.

AMA members can view an archived recording (log in) of a recent presentation by Brooks that’s packed with even more advice.