The USMLE Step 1 is getting higher on the list of priorities for the most prestigious schools' admissions requirements, as securing a place at these places becomes increasingly more challenging. Here are my top study tips to guide you through the preparation process, and some free medical resources to help you ace this gargantuan test.
First-Hand Study Tips for Medical Students
I had friends who didn't get prepared until the last minute, and it was stressful for them. I took my time to create a schedule, attended all classes and immersed myself in the myriad of resources available — and while it wasn't a walk in the park, I felt confident going into the USMLE Step 1 examination.
1. Get Prepared in Advance
You need to think of this as a long-distance race, not a straightforward sprint to the finish line. At least four months in advance, start preparing study cards and review guides for each topic — pharmacology, microbiology, pathology, neuroscience, physiology, etc. Don't underestimate how much time this will take and give yourself enough space for success.
2. Avoid Missing Classes
You might feel like missing a class or two here is time-efficient, promising yourself that you'll watch the slides later. Be very careful with this; when it comes to studying, there's no time like the present is a famous mantra to bear in mind. Don't put anything off because you risk missing out on future learning while you catch up on what you missed.
3. Build Test-Taking Stamina
Remember that the USMLE Step 1 exam is an astounding eight hours long. I'd recommend framing that in your mind as a small amount of time to cover a vast number of subjects because it goes much faster than you'd think! Find as many practice questions as you can and build up the amount you can answer in one sitting.
4. Don't Underestimate Mnemonics
For some people, retaining huge chunks of information is a breeze. Everyone else can access extraordinary levels of memory retention, but if you're like me, you may need to use a trick to help you. Mnemonics hack your memory, forcing information to stick in your head by using word and picture association.
5. Never Miss an Opportunity for Free Medicine Lectures
The internet is a massive boon for medical students, and we're lucky to have access to free medical resources and free medicine lectures available from different platforms. These lectures are a little-known secret weapon that can put you at a serious advantage in the USMLE 1 and USMLE 2.
6. First Aid Is Your Best Friend
First Aid is your closest ally during this entire process, and there aren't many occasions I can think of where you shouldn't have it in your bookbag. Annotate your copy when you learn new bits of information so that it becomes a super-reference for you once you reach your final month of studies and need to cover an extensive amount of information in a short time.
7. Take an Official NBME Practice Test
By taking an official practice test, you get a clear indication of where your knowledge is strong, and you can see the areas you need to work on. Try and do this more than two weeks before you're due to take the exam. If you do incredibly well, you might get complacent, but if you do poorly, your confidence could be knocked.
8. Follow a Routine and Plan Ahead
The closer you get to the test, the more critical a regimented routine becomes for your success. Create a schedule that covers every minute of your day, from when you wake up until you go to sleep. Plan revision, free medicine lectures, breaks, practice questions, and review sessions into your timetable and get it peer-reviewed — two eyes are better than one! Make sure you build time into your day for exercise, recreation, and mindless entertainment.
9. Your Wellbeing is the Foundation of Your Career
Never underestimate how important your physical and mental wellbeing is for your performance in exams. Take regular breaks and go for walks in the sun to keep your body and mind agile and keeps your vitamin D levels topped up. Be sure to take a day or two out of your schedule each month to visit a different town, go to a gig or just unwind at home.
10. Be Discerning About Your Social Life
You're building a foundation for your future, and the discipline you've chosen requires almost unprecedented levels of self-control, willpower, and persistence. There will be days where you feel hopeless, so it's integral that you put any friendships or relationships with people who create drama or have a negative outlook on hold. During this time, you need to surround yourself with like-minded, focused people who are going to pick you up when you're at a low ebb.
Fingers crossed, these study tips can help you get over this hurdle and look back with pride. Enjoy your studies!