active studying

Active Studying for High Score in USMLE Step 1

This is the test taking experience of USMLE Step 1 submitted by a USMLE test taker. You can read other USMLE takers’ experience HERE.

I completed six weeks of pediatric rotation and then directly began to study for the USMLE Step 1 exam.

Tips for candidates:

  • Your mental outlook can influence your performance by 20-30 points.

I began preparing for the test with 5 weeks in hand and I thought that it was sufficient time. However, I realized that a weak mental makeup can wreck a test. When I came across a question I could not answer, I got panicky and I made a mess of the next 2-4 questions as well, even though I knew the answers.

I prepared myself for the actual test by thinking that if I could not solve a question, I would not worry about it and move on to the rest of the questions. In this way, I was able to get through the exam in a calm frame of mind.

I used this outlook during my preparation as well to prevent burnout. I told myself that I may not be able to improve my practice test scores as quickly or as steeply as I expected, but that was okay.

  • Active studying is more important than reading texts.

While most candidates are aware of active studying, it isn’t used as extensively as it should be. Usually, a candidate studies the following resources during a typical day of preparation: First Aid, Sketchy videos, Pathoma videos, UWorld questions. Out of these resources, only UWorld questions are considered active studying.

It is normal to begin preparation by reading texts. However, if you are still reading texts during the latter half of your preparations, then there’s a problem. Ideally, a candidate should cover Pathoma and First Aid during the first 2 weeks and then spend the rest of their time solving questions.

I have been able to solve more questions by re-attempting UWorld than re-reading First Aid. After completing UWorld, I began to solve USMLE Rx question bank (which is good for extra practice). By the time I wrote the actual test, I had solved 2400 questions from UWorld, 1200 questions from USMLE Rx, and 1890 questions from different practice tests. That makes it nearly 5500 questions in 5 weeks.

I had also studied nearly 10,000 flashcards of Sketchy Micro and Broencephalon.

I felt more confident after having solved so many questions and would not have been so prepared if I had just read texts.

  • Rest as much as you can during the beginning of preparations.

While preparing for USMLE Step 1, you may feel like you have no time to rest. However, you need to find the time to rest to prevent burnout. I used to wake up at 4 a.m.-5 a.m. earlier, but I couldn’t do this while I was studying for the test. My target was to sleep between 7 hours and 9 hours at night. I kept to this target more or less, but I did not set a time to wake up. Usually, I woke up at 8 a.m. and took a long break at around 12 noon or 1 p.m. to exercise and have lunch. Some days I would be exhausted by 10 p.m. and go to bed early.

  • Take care of your health.

Do not starve yourself because you have no time to cook healthy meals. Don’t eat junk instead of actual food. You can cook food in bulk one day and freeze it. Or you can look up some quick recipes. Eating well will help you perform better on the test.

  • Fix a time to stop studying for the day.

I used to stop studying at 6 p.m. Then, until 10 p.m., I was able to relax.

Even if you spend 8-12 hours per day studying for the test, you will still have enough time to socialize or pursue a hobby.

  • Be prepared for unexpected things.

You need to be flexible during the preparation phase. There will be days when you are very productive, whereas on other days you will not get much work done. Learn to take everything in your stride and not get demotivated.

  • Take deep breaths and reward yourself after the test.

Although I did not do well during the beginning of the test, I ended it on a good note. I took deep breaths throughout the test and rewarded myself with Indian food once the test was over. This helped me stay motivated during the test.

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