How I Passed the USMLE Step 1 Exam: A USMLE Step 1 Story

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How to Prepare for USMLE Step 1 - USMLE Step 1 Exam Prep Story

How I Passed the USMLE Step 1 Exam: USMLE Step 1 Exam Tips and Study Guide

Preparing for USMLE Step 1 exam? Hear USMLE exam tips from a recent USMLE Step 1 exam taker.
If you are reading this, you are likely preparing to take the USMLE Step 1 exam, the first United States Medical Licensing Exam!  Today's "how I prepared for the USMLE Step 1" exam story offers insights and tips for how to prepare for USMLE Step 1 exam from recent USMLE Step 1 test taker, Juan Davida, MD, a EM resident at Houston Emergency Medicine.

My USMLE Step 1 Exam Story

USMLE Step 1. You hear murmurs of it as early as your time as a naïve pre-medical student who has completed the MCAT and starting the process of applying to medical schools. It has so much weight that it is something medical schools advertise when they try to recruit applicants, and it is something that gives first- and second-year medical students panic attacks as examination time draws closer.

Regardless of fairness, Step 1 has a large weight in determining which specialty and sometimes even which schools you choose when applying for residency. With this knowledge, it was clear to me that I needed to come up with a studying strategy to succeed.

If you take one thing from this story, I would recommend planning out a study schedule that incorporates studying techniques from which you retain/learn the best. For some, that may be questions, for others textbooks, and for others it may be writing or highlighting notes. The important thing is to stick to your strengths. 

For me, I started by deciding what tools I wanted to use to prepare for the exam, and then I divided those tools equally into the 6 weeks I had to study. I ended up using UWorld and the USMLE Step 1 textbook as my main studying tools. For example, UWorld had about 2,500 questions and, divided by 6 weeks, was about 415 questions a week. However, you also need to keep your mental health in mind as burnout is a very real issue that most people, including myself, run into when studying for prolonged periods of time. To combat this, I would only study 6 out of the 7 days a week so I would have a complete 24 hours of rest, recovery, and time to focus on my hobbies, friends, and family.

On studying days, I would also take 5-minute study breaks every half hour as I found that would improve my efficiency as my attention span would fatigue about every 30 minutes. You have to remember that 6 weeks is a marathon, and if you treat studying like a sprint you are going to burn out. The last thing I recommend would be spending more time reviewing the questions/topics you get wrong or struggle with and move quickly through topics/questions you know well.

Exam Day was over in a blur. Going into the exam I had a healthy amount of cautious optimism. I think it is important to maintain a positive attitude throughout the exam, and don't beat yourself up if you don't know one question. Instead, you should use your time effectively and answer questions that you feel you have a chance of making at least a good educated guess so that you don't run out of time.

When reading the questions, you should read the last sentence and the answer choices first so you know what the prompt is asking. This will help you pinpoint what is pertinent to the actual question and what is erroneous, as sometimes the question can even be answered by looking at the last sentence and not reading the rest of the prompt! This tends to happen with questions where they test you on pathophysiology. This test is not only a test of your knowledge but your organization skills and mental stamina.

Don't forget to use your break time, especially if you’re experiencing mental fatigue. During these breaks take advantage to refuel your brain with healthy foods such as fruits or granola bars and to also hydrate with water or coffee.

Coming out of the exam, I felt like I had done worse than expected.  However, after talking with my colleagues, I discovered that is pretty much how everybody felt. Once the exam is over, do yourself a favor and take the next couple days off and try not to think about the exam. It is out of your control. Four weeks later I got my score, and I was ecstatic to have received a 245 on Step 1. Now I am a 2nd year Emergency Medicine Resident at my first choice of residency, EM Houston Emergency Medicine. I think if I were to do it again, I would spend more time doing UWorld questions and reviewing questions I got wrong rather than reading the whole USMLE textbook.

My last piece of advice would be to remember that the test is a lot of second and third order critical thinking questions.  So, if you at least know the fundamental topic the examiners are trying to test you on, then you have a good shot of getting the answer right. Yes, there will be straightforward questions where x equals y, but those are few and far between.

In the end, if you don't do as well as you like, just remember that one exam doesn't define you as a person or what kind of doctor you can become. If you have completed the exam, I am happy to say that the worst is over as that is the hardest exam you will take in your life. Cheers and happy studying!

Juan Davida, MD

When reading the questions, you should read the last sentence and the answer choices first so you know what the prompt is asking. This will help you pinpoint what is pertinent to the actual question and what is erroneous, as sometimes the question can even be answered by looking at the last sentence and not reading the rest of the prompt!
Juan Davida, MD

Future Plan: USMLE Step 2CK / Step 3 Review

Med-Challenger provides a high-quality USMLE Step 2CK / 3 review course with 1000's of case-based questions, detailed answers, time-saving remediation features and a low-cost membership plan that can save you money, time, and stress throughout your clinical career.  Special offers available.

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