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Creating a Study Schedule

by Mohammad Hajighasemi-Ossareh, MD, MBA
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    00:00 Welcome back to the 2nd Year of Medical School lectures. Now in this video, we're going to discuss how to set up a dedicated USMLE Step 1 schedule. We'll discuss balancing question bank time, your reading time, and your peer studying time. We're also going to discuss how to stay sane while studying. It can be a dizzying process, we've got you covered, and we're also going to talk about how to use NBME, National Board of Medical Examiners Self-Assessment Tests. So, in order to come up with a Step 1 schedule, we need to talk about the background required information to even setting up a Step 1 schedule. So, studying for USMLE Step 1 usually takes an average of 1 to 3 months. What you need to do is look at your 2nd year of medical school schedule. Look at when you have final shelf exams or final medical school exams during your 2nd year and then look at when your 3rd year begins. Then, you need to determine when you will take the USMLE Step exam and how much time you will have in your schedule for full dedicated study time. All these variables I need you to map out before we can get started on the schedule.

    01:17 So, on average, most students study for a dedicated and focused 1-1/2 months. You can use a service that creates a study schedule for you or you can purchase a video lecture that takes you through all the resources they have day by day to help you study for the test and you can even take these pre-made resources but create your own on top of it. What I recommend you do is actually create your own schedule or just modify a pre-made schedule according to whatever recommendations or accommodations you need to make. So, creating a Step 1 schedule is something that's actually debated in medical school. How much time should you study? What resources should you use? How much or how should you study every day? Well, again the process of creating a schedule is actually very simple and there are only 2 variables that we care about. How many days to study and how many hours each day to spend studying various resources? That's all, let's keep it super simple. Let's actually create a sample schedule together now to show how easy this is. So, we're going to create a dedicated study schedule together. Since studying for USMLE Step 1 takes about a month and a half, let's say we have then 45 days of dedicated USMLE Step 1 time, 45 days is a month and a half in days. Okay. Now let's say that the resources we want to use for this dedicated study time or a single question bank and a single book or video reference. Okay. You should base the study schedule around the question bank. Let's take the USMLE World or also called UWorld Question Bank as our example. That question bank for USMLE Step 1 contains roughly 2000 questions. Over the 45-day period that you gave yourself a dedicated study time, that comes out to 44-1/2 questions per day. This is a few questions more than a block a day. Recall that a block of questions on Step 1 is only 40 questions. Given that you will study more than 1 block per day with the schedule that I'm going to recommend to you, this means that you can actually finish the entire UWorld Question Bank in 25 days. That also means you could even do the question bank twice in 50 days. Come on, that doesn't sound too bad. Do the question bank in under a month? Easy. Let's come up with a strategy. Since we have discussed in the previous lecture how to study effectively from each question and from question banks and how to use a book and video resource along with it, let's create a daily schedule together. For our example, we're going to break it down for you hour per hour. So if you have a pen and paper now is the time to start mapping it out with us. Let's say you got to, first things first, wake up in the morning. So let's say you wake up in the morning and you get up around 6 am. Do your morning routine and then sit down and do a block of questions from your question banks. So let's say it's now 8 am. Recall that when we do our question banks, we do random subjects. That means, pick from the entire question bank. I'm not going to just do heart questions or just do lung questions. We do it timed and we do it in test mode. What are we doing here for this? What's the point? Simulating the real exam day. We always do this. There's no value in doing anything else. Now, once you've completed your block, so I gave you from 6 to 8 am to set up and do your morning stuff. Once you've completed your block, it's now 9 am. Okay. So, 8 to 9 am you did your block. Now what I want you to do is take the next 3 hours to study that block carefully. Now when I say carefully we talked about this in the last lecture. How do you go through a USMLE Question Bank question? Carefully read each question's answers, go back to the reference book, go back to your video resources as needed. So over 3 hours you should be able to go to a block of Qbank questions.

    05:23 So we started at 9, 3 hours have gone by, now it's noon. Take 30 minutes to an hour for lunch depending on how much of a break you need. If necessary, take a quick nap. Okay. Let's say you took a full-hour break. Now it's 1 p.m. What are we going to do? Repeat. We're going to do another block, okay. So now it's 2 p.m. and then spend 3 hours going through it carefully.

    05:46 This brings the clock to 5 p.m. Wow! Look at that. It's 5 p.m. and you've carefully done 2 blocks of a question bank and you've learned well. Now what you're going to do at 5 p.m. is take an hour in the evening break, give yourself dinner, exercise, whatever is necessary. Okay? Now it's 7 p.m. What I want you to do now is spend the next 2 hours reviewing material that you have studied during the day in your books or flashcards. Now like earlier lectures when we talked about studying for medical school, always review in the evening what you studied that day. So now it's 9 p.m. We started at 7 p.m., 2 hours of review, now it's 9. Now it's your time to get ready for bed. I want you to relax for an hour. I want you to head off to sleep at 10 p.m. So when the alarm goes off at 6 a.m. you've enjoyed 8 hours of peaceful, rejuvenating, and deep sleep. If necessary, go back to those lectures in the pre-med lectures when we talked about sleep hygiene to ensure you're doing all the right variables to making sure you're getting the most out of your 8 hours of sleep. How to stay sane while studying? Now, studying for USMLE Step 1 is physically and emotionally draining. The schedule I just went through, that was a pretty impacted day. Spending 1 to 3 months studying daily for a single exam can, and to be frank, will become exhausting. What we need is a strategy to prevent burnout and fatigue and the whole point is this. The exam can be made fun. Well not like fun fun where you're having a blast but we can at least make the best out of the exam. If we're stuck taking it and studying for it, we might as well have some fun while we're doing it. So what a great thing to make it more fun? Don't study alone. Find a good study partner. I can't stress this enough. If you just ignored me saying that, let me tell you again, find a good study partner. When I personally studied for USMLE Step 1, I studied alone. Okay? Don't do my mistakes, learn from them, and it wasn't fun.

    07:51 I spend hours working alone in my apartment without anyone to talk to, absolutely boring. However, when I studied for USMLE Step 2 I studied with one of my good friends in the library every single day. We would both get to library in the morning, we would occasionally talk to each other throughout the day but we worked hard everyday. It made studying much more manageable and fun and frankly when you see someone else sitting there studying, it kind of reinforces you and gets you excited to get back in there. Another great benefit of having a study partner is that the two of you will keep each other in check. You will not, you know, keep each other from goofing off. Right? So it's a friendly way of making sure you keep studying and stick into your schedule. You'll look over there and if you start goofing off you know you came back, you know what he is being quiet studying, I should do it too and vice versa but if you're studying alone try to make sure you study in open places. Go to the library, go somewhere where it's quiet but there are other people and students and kids studying. You don't want to study alone in your room. I did that, it was miserable. The second half of my Step 1 time I went to the library, made life much better. You're around other people. Now, studying all day it's going to get challenging. So you need to take breaks according to your schedule. Right? If it's necessary in your schedule, you can take a half day off. If you feel that you're burning out or you're not paying attention like you should when you're studying. There is no point to studying if you're not going to give it your all and that's very true for Step 1. If you're not sitting and going full blast, figure out a way to refresh yourself and frankly refreshing it or filling yourself as necessary with breaks and with fun social interaction. Okay? You can't build at these very unique variables into schedule but you can shift hours and blocks easily in the schedule that's based on the 2-block system that we discussed. Okay? So maintain fun, maintain breaks as you need to to rejuvenate yourself. Studying is going to become exhausting and I don't want you to get burned out. Now, the question becomes "What about these NBME Self-Assessments Mo?" People talk about them all the time. You got to pay for this National Board of Medical Examiner Test but what are these things and when should I do them. So like we said earlier, Step 1 exam is composed of 6 blocks. Since you're studying from a question bank 1 block at a time, you need to take full-length test to allow yourself to assess and prepare for the fatigue of taking 6 blocks back to back.

    10:20 Also, you can take a full-length NBME Test to assess your performance. So, the NBME Test or full-length test that are pretty easy to incorporate into your schedule. As of today's recording, the NBME has the following forms. Form just means like test form that you can buy, #11, 12, 13, 15, 16, and 17. Don't ask me how they got those numbers and why we skipped 14, they do what they do. Okay and these are self-assessment tests sold by the NBME for USMLE Step 1. So, that 6 practice tests and each practice test that you divided into 4 sections with 50 questions each.

    11:03 So, when you take these NBME Tests, they allow you to take them under standard conditions or self-pays.

    11:09 I am going to guess you kind of get the gist of what I'm going to pick here. You should always pick standard conditions since we always want to simulate a real test testing environment.

    11:19 Thus, you could incorporate this practice test easily into your month and a half schedule. The question is "When in your schedule should you put them in?" And I recommend putting these self-assessment tests on the day prior to studying for your dedicated study time. So when you're about to transition from medical school to hardcore USMLE time put a self-assessment there.

    11:42 Kind of give yourself a baseline. Okay? Whatever the score is don't let it get you too down or don't let it get you too excited. If you did horrible, okay, it's the beginning of your study time.

    11:53 If you did great, don't get too cocky on me, stay calm, I want you to keep studying hard. Okay, just take the exam score for what it is, it's a baseline. I also want you to then pay attention to what subjects you scored well on and what subjects you did not score well on on the NBME Self-Assessment Form that we'll give you. As you take more of these NBME Self-Assessments about once a week, so at the end of every week I recommend you take one, you can see how you're doing in each subject and see "Am I improving where I need to?" Now, the value of the NBME Test is that the performance on those practice tests actually correlates extremely well with actual exam day performance. Thus, if you want to make sure that your scores are going up as you take one every single week, that's how you'll know you're going in the right direction and of course you're you're going to get a passing and hopefully very high score. So take the NBME Test very strictly and take the exam scores as you go on becoming more realistic. The exam score in the beginning of your study session we're going to ignore but towards the end if that score is not where you want, you need to reconsider where you're going. So let's summarize what we've talked about.

    13:09 What I want you to do before you can even start to develop a Step 1 study schedule is to review your 2nd year schedule, how much dedicated step time you'll have to studying for USMLE Step 1 and when your 3rd year begins. Plan this daily schedule according to the 2-block-per-day system that we described and the weekly NBME Self-Assessment regimen. You need to stay sane while you study during your dedicated USMLE 1 study period. I want you to take routine breaks and have a good study partner with you who pushes you to work harder and this prevents you from getting burnout and study fatigue. What I want you to do is stick aggressively to your pre-plan study schedule. Don't move things around because you're just tired. If you're putting in more NBME Test in, that's okay to move around but stick to your schedule and live by that schedule. The best confidence and peace of mind that you'll have is a planned out and dedicated Step 1 schedule that you just have to stick to everyday and that's a recipe for success. Thank you.


    About the Lecture

    The lecture Creating a Study Schedule by Mohammad Hajighasemi-Ossareh, MD, MBA is from the course Med School Year 2. It contains the following chapters:

    • Creating a Study Schedule
    • The Background to Creating a Study Schedule
    • Creating a Dedicated Study Schedule Together
    • How to Stay Sane while Studying
    • Schedule NBME Tests
    • Lecture Summary

    Author of lecture Creating a Study Schedule

     Mohammad Hajighasemi-Ossareh, MD, MBA

    Mohammad Hajighasemi-Ossareh, MD, MBA


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    Great help!
    By Ali Hussein Y. on 16. November 2017 for Creating a Study Schedule

    Fantastic help! Dr. Ossareh has been a huge assistance in my prep for Step 1!