Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
The USMLE Step 1 exam is arguably one of the most important tests in a medical student’s career. While a student’s score on Step 1 is taken into consideration amongst many other factors, the score still plays a major role in determining a student’s competitiveness for residency in certain specialties. After all, once a student has applied to a specialty, his or her Step 1 score will partially determine which types of institutions he or she will have the opportunity to interview at. Below are three general strategies to help you prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam:
1. Begin by reviewing high yield topics
When you begin to study for Step 1 of the USMLE exam, it is often helpful to start with a broad review of the topics that are tested frequently throughout the exam – in other words, high yield topics. There are a number of commercial products available that present this information in a variety of forms (i.e. books and videos). Reach out to your peers who have already taken Step 1 for advice on which resources have worked best for them. Then, consider which approach will work best for your individual learning style.
2. Complete practice questions from multiple sources
The most important aspect of Step 1 review involves practice tests – you should aim to complete as many practice questions as possible before your exam date.
There are several ways to maximize the effectiveness of this strategy. First, time yourself – this can help you simulate Step 1 testing conditions. It can also reinforce those habits that are most efficient when answering questions. Second, ensure you understand why your answer to every single question is right or wrong.
Third, the use of multiple question sources can often prove quite helpful. This is because question banks and sample exams from different companies have different subject coverage, different levels of detail, and different wording. For example, Question Bank A may be less detail oriented than Question Bank B, but it may require significantly more critical thinking to arrive at a correct answer. Question Bank B’s items are easily answered if students know a given set of facts. The USMLE draws on multiple skills, so completing questions from more than one source can help you prepare for test day.
Fourth, review those topics that give you pause. For example, as I initially completed practice questions, it became apparent that my weakness was biochemistry. I made an effort to more thoroughly review the concepts that I struggled with, and I saw a corresponding rise in my score in this area.
3. Keep a running list of forgotten details
Another key strategy for USMLE prep is consolidating and reinforcing facts and details that you need to know to succeed on the exam. To do so, keep a running list of high yield facts that you have difficulty memorizing. The easiest way to do this is via practice questions. When reviewing incorrect answers, write out the corresponding fact for the right response. Study your list periodically. This is also a document that you should read over several times in the days just before your exam. Good luck.
Dr. Sunny Varshney is a board-certified cardiologist and an Advanced Heart Failure, Transplant, and Mechanical Circulatory Support Fellow at Stanford University. In addition to caring for patients with advanced heart disease, Sunny uses clinical insights and outcomes research to evaluate and advise start-up companies to facilitate cardiovascular device and drug development. He engages in research that identifies persistent unmet medical needs and defines benchmark outcomes that next generation therapies should improve upon, with a focus on advanced heart failure and cardiogenic shock.