Studying for USMLE Step 1 in just 5 easy steps

Maria Anderson, third-year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine and "record holder" for the number of Pastest USMLE Step 1 questions answered, shares her Step 1 strategy. 

 Studying for USMLE Step 1

I would say keep the study plan simple, but make it challenging! The 5 tips below highlight the strategy I used to achieve my target Step 1 score – I hope you find them useful too. 

Start using board review resources EARLY

Before starting medical school, I did not know what “BRS,” “Deja Review,” “Pastest,” “UWorld,” or “First Aid” were. Never even heard of those words before! But after just a few short weeks into medical school, I knew these were the resources everyone around me was using, and with good reason: they provide the types of questions you are going to experience when you take Step 1.

The lectures provided by the school were more of an extra resource for me rather than primary content. Studying from the board books is key, along with doing as many practice questions as possible. I subscribed to Pastest early on in medical school and utilized the relevant question banks for every exam…all year long.

I had the Pastest USMLE app on my phone and would even answer questions while waiting in those 10-minute-long Starbucks lines (if you need the coffee, then make the most of those free moments too!). It gave me a way to practice my knowledge before hitting the test.


Find a study buddy

I was lucky to have my boyfriend who was going through the same curriculum and testing as I was. Always having a study partner made those long hours of studying a bit easier. No matter who it is, find someone who understands what you are going through and can help you get through it, even if it is just silently studying next to each other.

Schedule times off to cook, exercise, and watch Netflix (I finished the entire West Wing series during my second year). It is important to have a supporter during your most stressful times.


Make a schedule and stick to it

I decided over the summer between the first and second year to gather the resources I wanted to use, make an excel spreadsheet calendar, and stick to it. I planned to get through the entire Pastest Step 1 question bank that summer to keep my brain fresh and answering practice questions.

The greatest benefit to doing this was that I knew I would get through all of the material multiple times. Start doing your practice questions with each of your exam blocks during the school year and you will be sure to see success both in the classroom and on Step 1!


Stay fit – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically

I absolutely love a good workout. I made sure to get into the gym either before class started during first and second year, or halfway through my day when I was off studying for Step 1.

If you find peace spiritually, make sure you schedule time each day for you. I spent time in the morning before my day began focusing and preparing for my day ahead.

Most importantly, if you need help, seek it. The pressure and intensity of medical school is unlike anything I had ever experienced. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. Knowing your body and its limitations is important in order to stay mentally fit.


Remember: There is life outside of medicine!

I was so sheltered in my own little first-year world that I began to forget what my life was like before starting medical school. I decided to make myself have a regular work out date with one of my best friends from high school every week. It was so exciting to me! To talk to a friend who did not have any idea what I was doing, what exam was next, or what lecture we had the following day.

I truly cannot explain how rejuvenating it is to talk to someone whose main focus is not studying! Energize yourself with others who can give you good laughs and free you of stress. This chapter in your life will fly by and in the end, it is the people around you who will make it easier.

That’s all I have for you, and I hope it helps with your study plan. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below – and the folks at Pastest have promised to pass it along.  

I want everyone to achieve the same success that I did and do it in a way that fits their needs!

Happy studies!

Studying for USMLE Step 1

 Maria Anderson

Maria is a 3rd year med student at Indiana University School of Medicine, and bears the title of “Most engaged USMLE User” – having answered Pastest questions more times than anyone else in the world!

Think you’ve got what it takes to take on that title? Sign up for a free, full-access trial of our USMLE Step 1 subscription today! 

If you want to find out more about the exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to USMLE Step 1

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