Surviving Step 1: Preparing for the Boards

By Walter Wiggins

Relax.” That’s the first word in Section I of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, an often neglected but very helpful section that gives and overview of the things you need to know to prepare for the big day. As I’m writing this post, the 2nd year med students at my institution are really starting to think about Step 1. Over the next few months, the First Aid Team will be putting together a series of posts to serve as mini-guides to the different aspects of test prep. Our goal is to help guide you through the process of preparing for and taking Step 1 (or 2 or 3), so you can focus on learning the material and…relax.

To 1st years, now is a great time to pick up a copy of First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 if you haven’t already. The best piece of advice I have for you is to really learn the material the first time around. First Aid is the ultimate guide to the high-yield concepts covered in each subject area of Step 1. With it, you can easily identify those concepts during the first two years that merit special attention, so that you’re truly reviewing the material when it comes time for your dedicated study period…and not relearning it.

To 2nd years, below is a list of a few things you should do ASAP, if you haven’t already.

1. Register for Step 1 – Some schools have a process to do this through Student Services. Find out from other students at your institution what the process is at your school (if there is one) and register. You want to do so about 6 months prior to your planned test date in order to get priority scheduling and seating. If your school does not have a dedicated process for registering, check out the links at the end of this post to get the info you need to get registered.

2. Buy the newest edition of First Aid – (See note to 1st years above.) When it comes time for your dedicated study period, First Aid can help you identify high-yield concepts for each subject on which to focus your efforts. Already have a copy? Make sure it’s the 2012 edition. The last thing you need is to put a ton of effort into studying out-of-date material.

3. Start shopping for a question bank – One of the keys to success in consolidating information into your memory is repeated, focused review. Practice questions help you identify what you don’t know and consolidate what you do know into your memory. Check back soon for a post comparing some of the most popular Q-banks. In the meantime, talk to other students (noticing a theme here?) to see what they liked/disliked about the Q-bank they used.

4. Design a preliminary study schedule – At this point, you don’t have to have your final study schedule in place. But it is important to start thinking about how you want to divide up your dedicated study period amongst the different subjects on the exam. I’m working on a detailed post about study schedules. Until then, talk to other students about their schedules and ask why they chose to spend a certain amount of time on a particular subject.

USMLE website

NBME Application Service for Step 1 & 2

First Aid for USMLE Step 1 (2012 edition) on Amazon



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