Study Tips

How to Plan For USMLE® Step 1 Dedicated Study Period

Gia Eapen
Published on Sep 9, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Planning on taking USMLE® Step 1 in the near future? Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Gia Eapen has some tips for creating a realistic, actionable schedule for your dedicated prep period. Learn which resources to use, how to manage your time effectively, and how to recalibrate and refocus if things start to feel overwhelming.

So you’re about to start your dedicated USMLE Step 1 study period? Me too. A few days ago, I was super overwhelmed about the whole scheduling process, so naturally I decided to write a blog post about it! With help from friends, classmates, and the lovely r/medschool, I was able to create a realistic study schedule for myself and wanted to share the process with anyone who might be feeling apprehensive. 

Identify your resources

First, compile a list of everything that you’re planning to use during your dedicated study period. If it’s question banks, note how many questions they contain. If it’s videos, calculate how many total minutes of watch time it’ll be. If it’s reading, count how many pages you need to work through.

Gauge your bandwidth

Figure out how much you’ll be able to accomplish per day. I’m talking about how many hours you’ll be able to devote to Step 1 studying and what resources those hours are going to be spent on. This is incredibly important, since you don’t want to study 14 hours during your first week and burn out. Realistic goal setting is key.

Get scheduling

Now it’s time to actually start filling in your schedule. Pull up your scheduling method of choice (spreadsheet, calendar, planner, blank piece of paper, etc.) and create sections for each day up until your exam day. Make sure you’re able to schedule down to the hour, since you did all that work figuring out how much time all your resources are going to take up. Then, start filling in your schedule from your list of resources, keeping in mind how many hours you’re going to use up per day. 

Here’s where you’re going to want to keep a few things in mind:

1. Block out important events 

Attending a (Zoom) wedding? Is your birthday during your dedicated study period? (Mine is—I’m slightly bitter). Block out time for those in your schedule.

2. Schedule practice exam time 

Know which practice exams you have access to and how many you’ll be able to take. Take at least one NBME self-assessment, since these are previous Step 1 exams and will give you a good idea of how you’ll perform on the real thing. 

3. Remember time for eating, sleeping, self-care, and exercise 

Put these things into your schedule. If it’s in there, it’s easier to hold yourself accountable. 

4. Take days off before your exam date 

Do not expect to study much a few days before your exam. Factor that into your schedule so you have time to relax and get into a positive mindset. 

Osmosis illustration showing things you should include on your USMLE® Step 1 dedicated study calendar.

And of course, calibrate

At this point, you’ll probably start feeling overwhelmed. That’s totally normal and this is what you’re going to do: cut down. Already a pro on congenital heart defects? Maybe you don’t need to watch that video. Scale your resources based on your weak points, subjects you need to review more thoroughly, and materials that may not be as high-yield. 

About Gia

Gia Eapen is a second-year medical student at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. She’s originally from Mystic, Connecticut and is interested in a surgical subspeciality, but not sure which one yet. In her free time, she likes to read her way through the New York Times bestsellers list, do face masks, and create increasingly more complex matcha latte recipes.

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