Typically medical students take Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE®) following their second-year of pre-clinical training. But there is little typical about this testing cycle.

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As of late May, about 20% of students waiting to take either the Step 1, Step 2 CK or Step 3 exams had taken them. Meaning about 80% of students scheduled to take exams were still waiting—though exams are returning in various venues.

Even with uncertainty, those waiting to take Step 1 are likely in their final weeks of prep. What should you know as you hit the stretch run? Here are some helpful tips.

  1. Try not to overstudy

    1. In a problem that is unique to this testing cycle, exam postponements have given students time to study past the point of mental fatigue. If you know your test date at this point, the best plan is to try to pace your studying to reach peak performance in advance of it. That could mean rationing your available resources.
    2. “It is possible to overstudy,” said Christopher Cimino, MD, chief medical officer at Kaplan Medical. “You get fatigued. There’s a certain speed to how fast you can bring new knowledge in. And there’s a certain speed of decay of the knowledge you’re not using.”
  2. Identify, focus on high-yield topics

    1. Speaking broadly, Step 1 focuses on the basic sciences.
    2. “The general wisdom is that Step 1 has a significant portion of the test on physiology, pharmacology and pathology,” Dr. Cimino said. “And some questions will have a combo of two or all three as part of the question.”
    3. Related Coverage

      USMLE Step 1 prep: Test yourself against these all-time stumpers
  3. Try to maintain perspective

    1. Your Step 1 score is a key measure that residency programs will use to evaluate you as a candidate, but it’s hardly the only one. Knowing that, students are going to have to make their own choices about how much time and energy they put into their studying.
    2. “You have to ask yourself, on a very personal level, how much is this worth to me?” said Chantal Young, director of medical student wellness at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “How much am I willing to sacrifice? For a lot of our students, the initial answer is everything. But you really need to think about it. Are you willing to drop your physical and mental health, your sense of self, and all the other obligations in your life to maximize your score?
  4. Quiz yourself against the most popular test-prep stumpers

    1. Over the years, the AMA has run dozens of example questions from Kaplan Medical. If you’re preparing for the Step 1 exam, you might want to know which questions are most often missed by test-prep takers.
    2. We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 most-read Step 1 stumpers and if you want to further test your knowledge, check out our full index of Step 1 test prep questions.  

Related Coverage

COVID-19 and USMLE testing: 4 key questions for students, residents

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