Most students who come to us for help with USMLE Step 1 study schedules and exam preparation have already been studying for the exam on their own for some time. When I first meet new students, I ask them for an example of an ordinary study day. This is the typical response I get:
“It all depends how I’m feeling on a given day. Some days, I read from First Aid for 6 hours and then I do some questions. Other days, I’ll watch videos all day, and some days I’ll just do questions all day.”
This type of approach is doomed to fail. As we’ve mentioned before, study planning is everything. Just as it’s important to have a detailed study timeline, it’s also crucial to have a detailed study schedule for each day of your USMLE Step 1 preparation.
When Planning Your Step 1 Dedicated Study Period, Ask Yourself These Questions:
1. How many days per week will you study for Step 1?
2. How many hours per day will you study?
3. How many weeks is your dedicated Step 1 study period?
4. Which topic areas are most difficult for you? Be sure to allow extra study time for these.
5. How many practice NBMEs will you take?
6. Do you need an accountability buddy to help you get through the study period?
7. Also to keep in mind: When do you feel sharpest? And what are the most effective study methods for you?
The Resources You Need to Succeed on USMLE Step 1:
- NBME Self-Assessments
- First Aid
- Memorang and/or flashcards of your choice
- MST’s 7-part How to Study for Step 1 series
5 Tips for Planning Your Step 1 Study Schedule:
1. Schedule your study breaks in advance.
After working with thousands of students, we have found that most are not capable of doing one task (reading, doing question blocks, etc.) for more than about 2 hours at a time before fatigue sets in and the activity becomes less efficacious.
When building your study schedule, plan for meal breaks, time to exercise, and time to sleep! And be sure to take at least a half day off from studying each week.
2. Flexibility is key.
USMLE study schedules must be flexible enough to accommodate new information gained from assessments along the way.
Perhaps you thought you had pulmonology mastered, only to find out that you tested poorly for that subject. You may need to pencil in a review of UWorld pulmonology questions down the line.
Life also throws us curveballs; some days our stellar plan of 10 hours of effective studying falls apart because of feeling under the weather, or due to an unexpected visit from a good friend.
You should build some buffer zones into your schedule to “catch you” if you fall behind, allowing you to make up precious lost time.
3. Plan Your Step 1 Study Schedule in Advance
Planning your USMLE study schedule in advance helps you save time and stay focused. People often fail to realize that planning out your study schedule for each day at the beginning of your exam preparation period actually saves valuable study time. If you wake up each morning having to decide what your game plan will be for that particular day, you will end up wasting a lot of precious time.
Time is also lost when transitioning between different activities. Since studying for USMLE Step 1 requires multiple activities (reading, doing questions, reviewing the answers, making flash cards, taking practice tests), it makes sense to minimize the time lost when shifting gears by making those transitions more predictable.
But don’t worry about scheduling six weeks of study days at once! Just be sure to plan your daily study schedule a few days ahead to ensure you stay on top of things.
4. When determining how long to study each day, focus on quality over quantity.
How many hours per day should you study for Step 1? This depends on whether or not you have a job outside of school and how long you are able to focus.
Build a daily schedule that minimizes distractions and maximizes your focus and ability to retain information. Focus on difficult topics when you’re most alert and energetic. 5. Determine your baseline score.
Take an NBME self-assessment at the beginning of your dedicated study period to determine a base score and to get an idea of which study areas are most difficult for you.
Health and Wellness During Your Dedicated Step 1 Study Period
It might seem like overkill to you, but your schedule should include breaks for meals, at least half a day off per week for maintaining a semblance of a social life, and perhaps most importantly, time for exercise.
Regular exercise is one of the few activities that has been shown to improve memory and learning.1 These releases help you avoid burnout, and putting them on your schedule will ensure they remain as important as any chapter in First Aid, as they should. A healthy mind and body will be much more receptive to the information you must learn.
How to Plan Your Step 1 Study Period: Our Comprehensive Step 1 Study Schedule
We’ve included a snapshot of our highly detailed Step 1 study schedule to help you get started in planning your entire dedicated study period. This schedule maps your day down to the hour!
A note regarding this study schedule: The schedule that is laid out above is an example and will not be appropriate for many students who are preparing for the USMLE Step 1 exam.
Every student has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as time constraints, and these must be taken into account when making an individualized study schedule. Some students can complete the requisite study period in 5 weeks, whereas others might need 12 or more. There is no one-size fits all approach.
Remember that test prep is no small feat
It is not as easy as it seems to make an appropriate study schedule. You’ve basically got 1000+ pages of material across multiple textbooks, and well over 2000 questions to complete at least once.
Combine that with spaced repetition flashcards and NBME exams, and schedule creation becomes a daunting practice. But you needn’t be alone in the process. We are here to help! Feel free to contact us for a free consultation to see how we can help you with your specific Step 1 scheduling needs.
1Lin, TW, et al. Physical Exercise Enhances Neuroplasticity and Delays Alzheimer’s Disease. Brain Plast. 2018 Dec 12;4(1):95-110