The Step 1 exam of USMLE is the first stage that everyone attempts as part of the three different tiers before they clear the boards and be licensed to practice medicine. A resident doctor would have cleared Steps 1 and 2 CK to get admitted into a program as per the score of their choice. The first step has always been believed to be the most difficult. However, that is not true as all the levels of the exam are equal in terms of difficulty and proficiency requirements. 

The medical school students desirous of clearing the boards in time will need qualitative measures like the best way to prepare for step 1 to aid their success. Taking stock of the resources you have and the ones you can pool in your study group will help in chalking out a study plan that will aid in improving the learning curve. 

Studying tips for Step 1

Most students prefer to take Step 1 before they finish their second year of the med school program. It is even recommended to continue this trend as the basics covered in the Step 1 exam are related to clinical points from basic science courses that were covered in the bachelor’s program. 

The Step 1 exam topics cover all the fundamental topics, including physiology, histology, pathology, and pharmacology. biochemistry, genetics, immunology, behavioral science, and microbiology. The test consists of 280 multiple-choice questions spread across seven 60-minute sections. The exam lasts for eight hours.

Here are some tried and tested tips that will help a student fare well in their Step 1

  • Start early preparation

Waiting on the sidelines to start studying for the main exam is an absolute no for anyone desirous of good results in the USMLE exam. Steps 1 and 2 can be taken interchangeably before one is eligible to appear for the Step 3 exam. However, it is ideal to take Step 1 first as the questions are based on science concepts that are still fresh in your memory from the bachelor program. 

Starting early will eliminate any last-minute rushed learning outcomes that are easily forgettable in haste. 

  • Study time table

Everyone wants to know the ideal length of time for preparing for the Step 1 exam. Though this finally depends on the individual’s ability to learn fast and retain for a longer timeframe, it is ideal to prepare daily for the exam to maintain consistency

Set up a calendar so that you can roster some time every day for preparation. In this phase, chalk out the preparation and revision by dividing three parts of the time for the former and one part for the latter task. 

  • Reverse learning technique

Most people who attempted the exam might have asked you to prepare for practice exams after studying the topic and answering the related practice questions. However, you can try even using a reserved learning technique. If you attempt the practice test first there is every chance that you will be intrigued by questions and study the related topic. When you change the method of studying and employ the teachable methods on a rotational basis, you can achieve better results for hard exams like the boards. 

  • Cover all the topics

The USMLE website and other study resources will give you the weightage for each topic in the exam. It is common for students to prepare more for the topic that carries the highest weight and leave others to chance. This is a wrong move and not recommended. 

The ideal move is to demarcate your time as per the weightage and practice at least a few questions from every topic as per the schedule that you prepare. If you don’t practice all questions, then you will overlearn a few topics and never learn the others. This is a sure-shot recipe to fail, so stay out of it. 

  • Use official resources

Visit the USMLE or NBME websites to download test materials. Long term, these practice questions will show the exam’s topic structure, however, different exams may have portions that aren’t covered. The content outline is updated annually to include new topics and remove some older ones. Check out these sources because these modifications might point to fresh questions that you won’t learn about from any other source.

  • Memory hacks

Flashcards, mnemonics, the Feynman technique, small quizzes, and practice tests are a few ways of ensuring that you can both learn the topics in fun ways and even use the same for learning the same topic in different methods. This will not only pique curiosity but also aid in improving knowledge of the subject.

Revision is the key to doing well on any exam. No matter how effectively you learn a subject the first time, it cannot be retained without further study. Include 60 to 90 minutes each day for revision in the study regimen.

The “Spaced Revision Method” was one of the preparation methods that examinees considered helpful. With gaps between study sessions, this method helps in reminiscing the learning during the break time. 

  • Practice exams

Once you have finished preparing, it is recommended to take at least two NBME practice tests that will act as self-assessments. These practice exams will help the examinee understand the exam day in a better proposition than the regular practice exams that the study resources offer. 

  • MedTech platforms

Numerous tech-based platforms are offering digital educational tools that help students understand difficult procedures through 3D animation for a better grasp. These online courses with advanced AI features walk students through the learnings and immediately conduct a recall quiz to test their comprehension.


The ability to do well in an exam depends on the person’s organizational and time management skills where they are giving due importance to at least four hours of study daily with weekly breaks to rejuvenate their minds. It is a crucial exam that can be cracked only through consistent efforts that cannot be replaced with any other shortcut. So, plan your time and start your preparation before it’s too late. 

By Manali