Depending on your medical school’s curriculum, you might be juggling courses with studying for USMLE Step 1 in the months leading up to the dedicated Step 1 study period (also known as “dedicated“). At a minimum, your goal during this period is simple: complete a first pass through all your study resources (i.e., UFAPS = UWorld, First Aid, Pathoma, Sketchy). It is imperative that you create a study schedule so that you can get through these resources methodically. Furthermore, do some online sleuthing to learn from the mistakes made by past students or what previous generations wish they knew in hindsight. Here we provide advice on how to organize your Step 1 studying in the months leading up to the dedicated period.
1 | Finish the UWorld question bank
UWorld is arguably your best study resource and it is highly recommended to go through the question bank at least twice before taking Step 1. This demanding task is made easier for you if you complete the first pass before dedicated and the second pass during dedicated. Here are three suggestions for approaching this challenge:
Firstly, set and complete a daily question quota so that you complete the entire question bank before dedicated starts. Calculate your daily quota by dividing how many days you have left before dedicated starts and how many unanswered questions you have left on UWorld. Reduce the quota on weekdays or on days leading up to your block exams or other commitments, and increase the quota on weekends or other relatively free chunks of time. If you have an organ block exam coming up (e.g., Cardiology), do all the cardio-related questions till the week before the block exam so these will be fresh in your mind when you take the exam. A question block a day means you’re well on your way.
Secondly, simulate exam conditions whenever you do a question block. This means on your computer, random (covering multiple topics), timed, no Tutor mode, and >10 questions. Try not to worry if you are getting demoralizingly low scores. The point of the first pass through UWorld is to get used to the demanding pace of the exam and learn from your mistakes.
Thirdly, review all answered questions closely and keep a UWorld journal using your preferred medium (e.g., Anki deck, paper flashcards, Word document, notebook). Condense the explanations into bite-sized chunks that are organized by disease, treatment, or clinical finding. If you got the question wrong, write down the information from the explanation that helps you understand what the right answer should be. I would recommend starting by rephrasing the learning point listed at the bottom of the UWorld explanation. This journal is an invaluable study resource during dedicated because it allows you to quickly review condensed concepts that are written in your own words.
2 | Get through First Aid and Pathoma
The goal here is to get through First Aid and Pathoma at least once before dedicated. Calculate and adhere to a daily quota as best you can. If you miss a day because you are sick or too busy studying for a block exam, endeavor to find a chunk of time where you can play catch up. Organize it such that you go through First Aid and Pathoma blocks that correspond to each other and to your current block in school (e.g., if you are on Cardio block, skim through the relevant First Aid and Pathoma chapters).
3 | Watch Sketchy Medical Videos During Meals
Maximize your study time by watching Sketchy Medical videos while you are eating instead of watching TV. Consider Sketchy videos as a form of low-stress studying that you can do while taking a break from the high-stress exercise of getting through UWorld blocks or the monotony of wading through First Aid or Pathoma chapters. Start with the Sketchy Micro videos, as they are the most high-yield and time-tested videos.
4 | Maintain Your Performance in Your Medical School Courses
It is both natural and wise to spend the bulk of your mental energy on studying for USMLE Step 1 instead of your medical school’s block exams. This is especially true if your medical school has a pass/fail grading system for the pre-clinical years. However, you still have to pass your exams and complete your other commitments. Spend about one-third of your day keeping abreast of coursework by attending or watching lectures and spend the remaining two-thirds going through UFAPS. Switch to nearly 100% focus on coursework in the days leading up to your exam and cram material so that you can pass the exam.
The key to learning the mountain of material required to do well on Step 1 is to go through your study resources multiple times. It is thus important to complete your first pass through the material before you begin your dedicated Step 1 study period. Your first pass will likely be mentally exhausting and it is natural to be demoralized by both your poor performance and the perception that you are only absorbing a fraction of the “fire hose” of information. Just know that all your hard work will pay off and that the second (or even third) time you go through UFAPS, your scores will be much improved and you will surprise yourself with how much you actually picked up the first time around. Good luck!
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