USMLE® Step 1 & 2

Studying for the USMLE Step 1: An early start strategy


Prepping to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 can seem like a daunting task. An expert gives tips for how you can to build your best study plan.

Half the dues, all the AMA benefits!

  • Exclusive education programs & key study guides to help you thrive.
  • Access to JAMA Network™, ClassPass gym discounts & more!

Supporting you today as a medical student. Protecting your future as a physician.

Joshua D. Brooks, PhD, associate director of medical academics at Kaplan Medical, recommends creating a study plan at least six to 12 months before your exam. There’s a good reason to get an early start.

“At this point, it’s more important to get into the rhythm [of studying] rather than feeling like you’re gaining knowledge,” he said.

If you’re planning to create a study schedule in advance of taking the exam, follow these tips:

  • Create a week-by-week plan. Organize weeks by subject, and only focus on that subject during the designated week. Watch videos, take notes and try sample questions on the topic.
  • Meet with a study partner. Having a study partner with whom you meet once a week can help keep you both on track, and it gives you a way to discuss what you’ve learned and help each other.
  • Manage your time wisely. Don’t let the stress of your regular classes get in the way of your test prep. By starting early, you can incorporate test prep into the studying you do for your classes. At this point, “five to six hours of productive review each week is sufficient” for optimal test prep, Brooks said.
  • Don’t be discouraged by difficult topics. It’s okay to study some topics longer or more in depth, especially if you get an early start. Be mindful of getting hung up on one specific question, though—answer it and move on, and review why you got it wrong later.

Read about the four common USMLE Step 1 studying mistakes you should avoid, and look for more USMLE Step 1 study tips and insights in future posts at AMA Wire®.

AMA members can view an archived recording packed with even more advice from a recent presentation by Brooks.