Study Tips

7 Tips on How to Study for USMLE® Step 1

Yousif Hanna
Published on Jun 29, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Looking for tips on how to study for USMLE® Step 1? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow and medical student Yousif Hanna offers seven actionable steps you can take to tackle this momentous exam.

The day is finally here. It is a bizarre feeling, a mix of anxiety and excitement. Throughout our medical school journeys, we have these checkpoints. Some are emotional, like seeing your first patient or stepping into the operating room for the first time. Others are more practical and might not be as pleasant: sitting in a Prometric center for hours taking your MCAT. With Step 1, you are entering a different mental space that’s new, but not completely unfamiliar. In a way, you have already done this multiple times in the past, having taken numerous long tests. These experiences have shown that you are resilient, dynamic, and smart. After all, you have made it to this point! 

As medical students, we like to have clear plans and find tested methods to tackle our goals. In this blog post, I’m going to share seven tips on how to approach Step 1 studying so you can pass this exam with flying colors.

Osmosis ad for the USMLE Step 1 Ultimate Guide.

Tip #1: Be proactive, start early

Most of your USMLE Step 1 knowledge will come from your preclinical years. Be engaged during your first and second years of medical school. That does not mean you should start UWorld on day one of medical school, or even year one. Instead, adopt a practical approach of learning for the sake of learning medicine rather than studying for the end-of-the-block exam. Making flashcards on Osmosis as you go will also save you a lot of time later when you are reviewing for Step, as they’re linked with your course slides, so you know exactly where to go for review if you get stuck reviewing a specific piece of information. At the end of each system or block, pause and make sure that you cover any gaps that were not covered by your curriculum.

Tip #2: Do as many questions as possible

During your preclinical years, do as many question banks as possible. Osmosis’s USMLE Step 1 Q-Bank can be a great resource to help you engage in this active form of learning. Approach the questions not just as a tool for measuring your knowledge, but as a tool for learning. You might not have a chance to go over as many questions as you would like during your week. Use the summer before your step or pick three to four days every month to go back and do questions as a form of reviewing systems or topics that you have already covered. 

Osmosis illustration of medical students looking stressed out before an exam.

Tip #3: Pick the right resources for you

Most students utilize a combination of UWorld, First Aid, and Pathoma. There are an overwhelming number of resources to choose from, and you will have different recommendations. There is no one right combination of sources. In reality, this decision should be based on your learning style. 

Tip #4: Utilize a scheduling tool

Create a flexible schedule and be pragmatic with your approach. For example, do a trial run for a week or three days before you start dedicated study, and see if you can follow it. Osmosis has a great, automated USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule tool. You can input all of your resources and study days and Osmosis will create a daily checklist for you. 

Osmosis USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule ad.

Tip 5#: First pass, second pass approach

Dedicate 70–80% of your time for a structured first pass through First Aid, Pathoma, and UWorld. Then, utilize the other 20–30% of your time to do a second pass and go over the wrong and marked questions in Uworld.

Tip #6: Do not ignore your mental health

Dedicated study period can be very stressful. Make sure to pick a relaxing activity to destress. Talking to friends, cooking, or working out are just a few options. It’s really up to you and your needs. If you are feeling burnt out, do not be afraid to reach out to people. Take a day or two off. With the Osmosis Step 1 Study Schedule, you can also add in off-days and it will automatically adjust your study plan. 

Osmosis illustration of a medical student dreaming about his future career.

Tip #7: Recognize that there is more to life than Step 1

This test is only one “step” of many in your medical career. While the test does matter, it is only one factor in your application (and soon enough, it’ll be pass/fail, a major relief for many students).  Adopt a positive mental approach: there is more to your life than this test. Remember why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place: this is one of the most honorable careers you can embark on, dedicated to providing empathetic care for others. 

Best of luck in your Step 1 prep!

About Yousif

Yousif Hanna graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. He worked as a research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital and he is currently a third year medical student at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Yousif is also a graduate of the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program.

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