While I am perfectly happy with my score on the USMLE Step 1, I did make several key mistakes when I was studying that led to wasted time and money. I am sharing my experiences and thoughts in the hopes that future generations of medical students will craft the most streamlined and cost-efficient study schedule.
1 | Don’t Buy Every Study Resource You Come Across
At the beginning of MS2, I was bombarded by deals for Step 1 study resources. I fell victim to these marketing ploys and gladly paid hundreds of dollars for the higher scores promised by these resources. I ended up only using UWorld, First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy (aka UFAPS, the foundational resources for Step 1 studying) and barely touched the other resources I bought. My advice is to stick to UFAPS. These foundational resources are well worth the money and package the required knowledge in optimized delivery methods. It is better to go through these resources multiple times (especially UWorld) than spending your time going through another question bank or review guide.
2 | Don’t Neglect to Schedule a Step 1 Simulation at a Prometric Center Early
I had no idea that one can take a simulated Step 1 at a Prometric center until I started my dedicated study period. Consequently, I scheduled the simulation only a few weeks before my actual exam date. A better strategy would be to schedule this simulated exam and your actual exam months in advance. I would recommend taking the simulation test at the beginning of your dedicated study period, so you can scope out the actual Prometric center where you will take the exam and place yourself under conditions that are analogous to those you will experience on test day.
3 | Don’t Leave UWorld Till the End; Start With It
When I started studying, I reasoned that I had to first learn the knowledge before doing practice questions. Thus, I focused my attention on plowing through First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy while balancing the lectures from my MS2 organ blocks. I did a few untimed questions from UWorld every week that were in the same category as my block (i.e., I did cardio questions during my Cardio block) and was dismayed at the difficulty of the questions and my abysmal scores. I thus procrastinated doing UWorld questions and focused on getting through First Aid and Pathoma.
A better strategy would be to start doing UWorld question blocks that simulate exam day conditions (i.e., timed, random 40 question blocks not on Tutor mode). While this baptism by fire will likely cause most students consternation, ignore your low averages and focus instead on reviewing the question block’s explanations and condensing the information into Anki flashcards or handwritten notes. Starting UWorld early will enable you to do at least two complete passes through UWorld. First, learn the knowledge by reviewing UWorld explanations and reinforce the knowledge by reviewing First Aid and Pathoma.
4 | Don’t Search for Explanations to NBME Practice Exams
I was annoyed that NBME practice exams provided no explanations for questions that I got wrong, which was in stark contrast to the beautiful explanations and figures throughout UWorld that taught me so much. I wasted hours trawling the Internet looking for explanations to NBME practice exams. In hindsight, a better strategy would be to make note of one’s weak areas from the NBME assessment summary page and do targeted study sessions to strengthen those areas. For instance, if you did poorly in Biostatistics, review that section in First Aid and redo all the UWorld questions in that area.