How to BEST Prepare for USMLE STEP 1?

The United States Medical Licensing Exam or USMLE needs to be cleared by every aspiring med school graduate, who would like to practice medicine or osteopathy in the country. 

The USMLE exam is categorized into three stages known as Step 1, 2, and 3. Step 1 or 2 can be attempted in any order, however without clearing one step, the other step in sequence cannot be attempted. So if a person has attempted Step 1 and did not clear it, he cannot attempt Step 2. The reverse also holds true. Step 3 can be attempted only after clearing Step 1 and 2. 

The USMLE Step 1 preparation starts in the second year of med school by most examinees. It is considered to be one of the toughest examinations in the world. The reason why students prefer giving it in their second year of med school is because they can still recall their science concepts that they learnt in their bachelor’s program. 

If you are not from the US and are still eligible to write the USMLE exam, then it is best to write the Step 1 exam when the science concepts that you learnt are fresh in your mind. However, med school students who want to take the exam don’t think it is a great idea to write Step 1, right after their bachelor’s program. The valid reasons for this pattern can be attributed to the fact that some of the topics covered in USMLE Step 1 exam are not covered until they are in their second year of med school. 

Like any good preparation for an all important and difficult exam, few practices can prove to be beneficial while preparing for USMLE Steps. Let us check how best one can prepare for USMLE Step 1:-

  1. Understand the exam format

Step 1 of USMLE is conducted on a single day. The exam is for 8 hours and is divided into 7 blocks of sixty minutes each. The total number of questions in all the blocks are 280 with a maximum 40 in a single block. 

  1. Question banks

You can go through sample questions and refer to both online and offline question banks and test your understanding of the topics. A good way to check the available resources is to start from the official website links of the USMLE organization, where one can go through the sample questions. 

  1. Practice tests

The self-assessment test by NBME will give an honest feedback about where a person stands in terms of the preparation. It is important to prepare earnestly for the NBME self-assessment and give it as sincere a shot as you would for the actual Step 1 exam. Practice exams proctored by Prometric centers is also an option for the examinees. One can take an exam from either or both of the organizers. These practice tests should be taken in advance to maximize the chances of clearing Step 1 exam. 

  1. Understand the questions

A good strategy that helps you to scan the main points in a question, avoid distractions in the multiple choice of answers also dubbed as red herring and deduce the most incorrect answer in case you are not sure about the answers is  workable as recommended one by successful people who cleared this exam. 

  1. Use e-learning preparatory courses

The advantage of using technology can be used even in preparation of different steps of the USMLE exam. When signing up for one, apart from affordability, one should concentrate on the quality of the content. It is necessary to see if the question bank these e-learning platforms offer covers all the topics of Step 1 of the USMLE exam. 

  1. Stick to your style of learning

Every learner has a different style of learning and gives their best only when they prepare by incorporating or improvising their own style of learning. If you like skimming through the question for main data and are good at it, then you should stick to quickly reading the relevant details. If you like making notes, then you can make notes while preparing for the exam.

  1. Exam day

One cannot wear a jacket inside the exam center for the USMLE exam. So wear  comfortable clothes that cover you enough so that you don’t feel too hot or cold inside the examination center.

These are proctored exams. Prepare your mind to handle the presence of a person walking past you when you are taking your exams. 

There will be white noise in the examination center. If the constant clicking of the keyboard is something you cannot handle, then practice meditation and yoga and focus on the questions and their solutions. 

After each block there is a seven and half minute break before the next block begins. There is no scheduled lunch break. One of such breaks has to be used to eat a snack that you need to bring. 

  1. Avoid preparation burn out

The preparation of the Step 1 exam is important from both difficulty level and the fact that residency program directors look into your score status before enlisting you as their resident doctors. An examinee has to clear the Step 1 exam within four attempts. It is important from the point of view of the restriction of the number of attempts one takes to clear this exam as the Step 1 is first of the sequence. Despite all these factors it is essential to avoid preparation burnout when burning the night oil for these exams.Take regular breaks and do things that ease you from fatigue and blockages so that you can get back into your element and do the things that you are good at. 

  1. Be positive

This tip is both for on and off exam days. Being positive if you score well or not is imperative to give a better shot at the exam. If ever you do not clear Step 1 in one go, then take time to assess what went wrong before re-taking this exam..

Step 1 preparation clearance is very important for any USMLE examinee and should be an exam that is best given after adequate preparation. 

The popular adage ‘Chance favors the prepared mind’ is true about preparing for Step 1 of the USMLE exam.

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