How to Study for USMLE® Step 1

How to Study for USMLE® Step 1

Making the most out of your Step 1 dedicated study time
Lecturio Team


February 3, 2021

Table of Contents

Studying for Step 1 may seem like a daunting task at first – but by studying strategically and getting the most out of the resources you have, you’re sure to go into the exam well-prepared. Use the following tips as you prepare for Step 1, or apply them to any other exams you have coming up!

Start Studying Strategically

Any medical student can get an excellent score on the USMLE® Step 1 exam; it’s all about how strategically you plan and how carefully you study. Many students spend 3 months studying solely for the USMLE®. However, life and circumstances don’t always give you the luxury of a dedicated 3-month period to study for the USMLE® Step 1 exam. Alternatively, students may find themselves in situations where they only have a month for intense USMLE® Step 1 study, or find themselves preparing in tandem with other responsibilities.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! The best use of your limited time will be to focus on learning high-yield medical concepts and practice taking USMLE®-style tests. The most effective tool for doing both of these is a Qbank. This will require you to adopt a focused and very strategic study strategy… and lucky for you, Lecturio has a few tried and true tips to share! Read on to maximize your time and resources as you prepare for Step 1.

How to Maximize Lecturio as a Study Resource for Step 1

With Lecturio’s learning science-based platform, you will spend much of your dedicated study period using a Qbank to learn high-yield medical concepts and test-taking strategies. Each Qbank question you complete during this period will expand your knowledge base and familiarize you with the best way to work through other questions like it. The following approach to your Step 1 prep will help ensure that you’re ready when test day comes.

Develop a study routine that allows you to simulate test-like situations

Whether you’ve structured your studies with a block schedule, or have another method, you need to make sure you prepare for the exam itself. Just knowing all the content isn’t enough – while it is of course important, also important is being prepared to recall information during the exam. The USMLE® Step 1 exam is made up of seven blocks of about 40 questions, for which you’ll have one hour per block to answer all questions. Using a blocked schedule will help you train yourself to work through a 40-question block without interruption or distraction. Emulating the setup of the USMLE® during your studies will make sitting for 40-question blocks feel second nature. Come test day, completing 40-question blocks will feel natural to you.

Though you can organize the content you need to study on your own, Lecturio has two useful study schedules that you can utilize to prepare for Step 1:

An Overview of the 40-Day Study Schedule

Table 40 day study schedule v2

When to start studying for Step 1

The 40-Day Study Schedule is best for you if you have a strong foundation of medical knowledge and if your medical school meets US curriculum standards. This study schedule is based on blocks of Qbank questions, which will prepare you for both the content and style of the USMLE® Step 1. All questions come with in-depth answer explanations and related video lectures. There is also a practice exam available for you to simulate your test day experience.

The 99-Day Study Schedule is best for you if you still have significant knowledge gaps, are just starting to study for the USMLE®, or study medicine outside the US. This schedule takes you through the high-yield content you need to know for Step 1. You’ll watch video lectures, answer and review recall questions, and also prepare with Qbank blocks.

Get familiar with test-taking strategies

The physical and mental environment in which a question is delivered is just as important as its content. Lecturio’s unique Qbank Walkthrough Tutorials course & eBook will take you through 30 USMLE® questions step-by-step, teaching you how to correctly read a question stem and isolate the key components of each. They will also guide you through the multi-step reasoning required for each question before reviewing that question’s specific high-yield information. The Lecturio Qbank is based on the latest NBME® standards and simulates your test day experience with the same look and feel as the Step 1 exam. Using a Qbank as your base, as explained further here, will get you accustomed to the types of questions that the test will ask and will allow you to learn from the test, rather than just learning for the test.

Test and apply your knowledge with the Lecturio Qbank

It’s now time to start practicing clinical case questions. We recommend using Lecturio’s 40-Day Study Schedule, which comes pre-configured in our “Exam Resources” section.

If you’re just studying on your own, simply want to get a taste for what it’s like to sit through a block of the USMLE® Step 1 exam, or want to mix up all topics rather than answer topic-specific questions, specify 40 questions per block as follows:

  • Select “tutor mode off” and turn “timed mode” on (you want to get your brain used to the pressure of the clock – if there’s time pressure on exam day, you’ll be ready for it)
  • Select the subjects/systems you want to review
  • Select 40 questions
  • Answer all 40 questions within a 60-minute timeframe

If you’re a Lecturio Premium member, our 40-Day Study Schedule is already set up for you in the Qbank. (So is the 99-Day Schedule, and schedules for Step 2 CK as well!)

Review content covered in your question blocks

Once you finish the block, take a short break, then spend the next few hours reviewing what you just learned. Carefully read the answer explanations to the questions that you answered, and consult your reference book and/or Lecturio videos to refine your knowledge. To start review mode in your Qbank test, select “review test” immediately after receiving your test results.

Using evidence-based learning strategies is easy with Lecturio – in fact, you’re already using some of these strategies! Interleaving, or learning by alternating the materials being studied, is easy with the following tips:

Review content with the help of Lecturio’s detailed answer explanations

After each question, always opt to review and carefully read the explanations provided. Make sure to read both correct and incorrect answer explanations; there is just as much value in understanding why an answer is wrong as there is in understanding the right answers. 

Review with the help of Lecturio’s related videos

Supplement your understanding of the material by consulting Lecturio’s related videos. Each video reference has been handpicked by board exam-experts and explains the relevant concept needed to answer each specific Qbank question. 

Take notes and review with the help of First Aid® references

Before answering questions, review the topics in First Aid®. When first studying with your copy of First Aid® for the USMLE® Step 1, knowing how to use the book in the most efficient manner may be confusing. The First Aid® book is not written like a traditional textbook, with paragraphs. Instead, it is full of bullet points, charts, and pictures. The most efficient way to implement First Aid® is to use it as a reference and for note-taking. When you watch Lecturio videos and want to jot down some notes, do it in First Aid®. If you’ve just worked through a Qbank block and want to add some notes or read the topic highlights, use First Aid®.

Why Should I Use This Study Strategy?

We developed this study approach by working directly with medical students, residents, and attending physicians across the United States. We picked the minds of those who achieved top USMLE® Step 1 scores, asking them to explain their study methods when faced with such a narrow window of time. We analyzed their responses and used those insights, combined with what learning science says, as the basis for creating this effective Step 1 study strategy.

This study resource reflects the USMLE® Step 1’s double aim to test your knowledge and assess your study strategies where high-stakes examinations are concerned. The reasoning behind the implementation of a Qbank is simple: it addresses your need to acquire a well-developed knowledge base through clinical vignettes and detailed solutions specifically designed to teach high-yield medical concepts. Because Lecturio’s Qbank questions are styled after those in the actual USMLE® Step 1 exam, you will learn how to quickly, efficiently, and effectively work your way through question stems and answer choices. There really is no better resource for intensive USMLE® Step 1 study than a solidly constructed Qbank.

Further Reading

How to Succeed in Medical School: a Beginner’s Guide

Starting med school? Success in medical school is about more than just attending class. Learn about study strategies, finding a mentor, and more.

Get to Know Your Hospital Team

Attending, fellow, resident, intern… Hospital teams can be complex. Learn more about hospital hierarchy and how to be a valuable team member.

How to Present a Patient With Confidence

You’re starting rotations at a teaching hospital… now what? Learn about presenting patients using the SOAP format and impress your team.

USMLE™ is a joint program of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB®) and National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME®). MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). NCLEX®, NCLEX-RN®, and NCLEX-PN® are registered trademarks of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc (NCSBN®). None of the trademark holders are endorsed by nor affiliated with Lecturio.

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