Studying for the USMLE Step 1 when the clock is ticking


Now that the holiday season is over, some medical students may be kicking into high gear to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1. An expert gives advice for how to use study time wisely.

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Joshua D. Brooks, PhD, associate director of medical academics at Kaplan Medical, recommends an intensive study strategy if you have fewer than six months before you take the exam.

Brooks recommends creating a “Why I missed it” sheet to track all the questions you get wrong on practice tests. This will help you focus your studying to the areas and types of questions you miss the most.

He also offered five tips for those who are getting even closer to the day in which they’ll take the one-day exam:

  1. Set goals in each subject area. For example, set a goal of getting at least 70 percent of questions in the anatomy subject area correct, Brooks said. This can be a good predictor of how you’ll perform on the actual test.
  2. Consider how much time you have before the test, and plan accordingly. It’s a good idea to evaluate how much time you actually want to spend each week on intensive, focused study. If you feel like you’re running out of time, consider a comprehensive review course.
  3. Don’t get bogged down in details. As the test date approaches, just continue to augment your regular test prep and studying with continuous practice on USMLE-like questions.
  4. Focus on your strengths. Two weeks before the exam, try to turn your attention to the areas where you know your stuff. “You’ve come a long way,” Brooks said. “Don’t let your confidence wane.”
  5. The day before the test, get out of your house and relax. This is probably easier said than done, but try to focus your mind elsewhere the day before you take the exam. And be sure to take a study break.

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. If you’re not an AMA member, join today.