Scoring highly on the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) Step 1 exam is an important milestone for medical students, but how to structure the months-long test preparation is left wholly up to the test-takers themselves. An expert on this staple examination, Joshua D. Brooks, PhD, associate director of medical academics at Kaplan Medical, offers the following tips to boost scores and reduce stress.
Don’t wait to get started. Create a study plan and get started at least six months, but preferably 12 months, before the exam. Early on, it’s more important to get into the rhythm of studying than to feel like you’re gaining knowledge. By starting early, you can also incorporate test prep into the studying you do for classes.
Don’t leave studying for spare time. Aim for five to six hours of focused exam prep each week. Build it into your calendar and treat that time as sacred—just as you would class time. If you feel like you’re running out of time before the exam, consider a comprehensive review course.
Don’t confuse activity with success. The whole point of studying is to learn. Create a week-by-week subject calendar, broken down into study sprints. Focus on one subject during each sprint, and assign specific tasks for each sprint.
Avoid distractions. Find the right place to study—one that allows for extended periods of concentration—then silence your phone, keep the TV and music off and disconnect from social media. Also, consider finding locations that mirror the conditions in the test room.
Don’t be discouraged by difficult topics. It’s okay to study some topics longer or more in depth than others, but be careful not to get hung up on one question. Answer it and move on, and review why you got it wrong later.
Don’t forget self care. Schedule study time for when you know you will be well rested and won’t have to reread because you’re not retaining information. The day before the test, make sure you build in time to rest, relax and eat well so you’re in game-shape for the exam.
Don’t do it alone. Find a motivating study partner—someone who can supplement your knowledge and hold you accountable. Set up a regular weekly session where you can review what you have learned and determine what you need to learn.
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If you’re preparing for the USMLE Step 1 exam, you might want to know which questions are most often missed by test-prep takers. Check out examples from Kaplan Medical, with an expert explanation of each answer.