my preparation strategy

USMLE Step 1 Test: My Preparation Strategy

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

Preparation strategy:

A typical day’s schedule looked like this:

7:30 a.m. – Wake up

8 a.m. -10 a.m. – Study from Step-up

10 a.m. -2 p.m. – Study from Rapid Review and attempt questions, if there’s time left

2 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Lunch

3 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Study from First Aid and attempt questions (outdoors)

6 p.m. – 8 p.m. – Study from First Aid, attempt questions (indoors)

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Dinner

9 p.m. – 11 p.m. – Review of material, attempt questions


I preferred to attempt questions all through the day so that my mind gets breaks. I find it monotonous to read material all day.


Books used:

  • First Aid: Everybody uses this book, but I did not find it impressive because in some sections, the material has been presented in a disconnected manner. For example, microbiology. However, toward the end of my preparation, I realized that the book is a high-yield review. I made notes in the margin while attempting questions from the corresponding section.
  • Step-Up: This book is good for reviewing concepts and has good charts. It has a detailed chart of drugs at the back, which I used as reference material while attempting questions.
  • Rapid Review Pathology: This book is better than BRS pathology.
  • BRS Physiology: It contains a good review of physiology. I did not spend too much time on it because this topic is not intensively tested.
  • ROADMAP for Microbiology: If you need to understand concepts, this is a good book. However, First Aid is better if you want to review the material quickly.

Pharmacology was my weakest subject. I studied First Aid for this topic. I found that questions on Kaplan were too hard and unlike the ones on the actual test.

I did not study any material for anatomy. I only memorized facts while attempting anatomy questions since this topic isn’t strongly tested, too.


Question banks used:

  • Kaplan question bank: The questions are more detailed than the ones on the actual test. You may get demotivated by the difficulty level.
  • USMLE World: The questions are similar to the actual test, although requiring more thought.
  • First Aid question book, Robbins question book: I did not use these books.


If your concepts are clear, then attempting questions is the best way preparation strategy for the USMLE Step 1 test. In the beginning, you may get only around 50% of the questions correct. However, toward the end of your preparations, you will find your score moving up to 70%-80%.


Practice tests attempted:

  • Practice test at test center: I did not take this test, but I heard that it helped people a lot.
  • NBME tests: I attempted two of these tests a week ahead of the actual exam. I found that the questions were short and unlike the long questions asked on the actual test. However, you get a score that helps you track your level of preparation.


I would advise you to craft your preparation strategy on the basis of your strengths and weaknesses. While it is not good to completely ignore any topic, it helps to study the weak topics well but focus on strengthening the other topics in order to raise your score.

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