Step 1 Battle Plan: Test Taking Strategies

By Molly Lewis

“No battle was ever won according to plan, but no battle was ever won without one.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower


You can find many different Step 1 test taking strategies online, but here’s what worked for me. Pick and choose the parts you like, mix in your own favorites, ask advice from people you trust, and, voila: your own Step 1 plan of attack!

Step 1 Battle Plan Test Taking Strategies under construction

First, a little logistical to-do list for the day before the Big Day:

  • Does your car start? (Mine didn’t start – yikes! But, no need to panic- you’ve still got 24 hours to get it fixed! 🙂 ).
  • Can a friend or family member be available to drive you, just in case?
  • Do you know you’ll get there on time? Maybe take a test drive to the site, at the time of day you’ll be going (depending on how familiar you are with the area)- to make sure there aren’t any new construction detours, unexpected going-to-work traffic, etc.



OK, on to the test! Highlights from my personal “battle plan”:

  • Step 1 Battle Plan Test Taking Strategies earplugsEARPLUGS!
    • Or the neon sound-cancelling headphones the test site provides
  • Ignore the picture (at first)
    • Only look after you’ve gone through the rest of this question answering process.
    • Then, a quick glance – but don’t freak out! You can normally answer the question without the photos
  • Last sentence first
    • Read it first, because it may be a basic science question that you can answer without wasting time reading that enormous novel of a question stem!
  • Guess before reading answer choices
    • If an answer choice fits your guess, you’re done!
    • Well, almost done: quickly glance through the rest of the choices to make sure you still like your answer the best
  • If none of the answer choices match your original guess, …
    • Try to eliminate all but 2 options
    • Weed out reasonable, but not quite right, answers by finding something in the question stem that makes that answer less likely
  • Step 1 Battle Plan Test Taking Strategies clockPick one and move on
    • “90 second limit”:
      • If I’m still unsure of an answer after about 90 seconds, I give myself about 30 more seconds to commit to an answer and move on
    • Learn what 90 seconds feels like by using a watch or timer with each practice question
      • Then, on test day you’ll know when to move on without wasting time / stressing yourself out by glancing at the clock every 2 seconds
  • Limit flagging
    • “Flagging” a question gives you a false sense of security.
        • You often don’t get time to come back
        • Rereading the whole thing takes a ton of time
        • You may make a rash decision in the heat of the last few moments of the test.
      • So, if you think you’re on the brink of remembering something that will change your answer, flag the question.
      • Otherwise, give it your best shot the first time around, and forget about it.
  • Check calculations!
    • It’s too easy to write an equation down wrong or make a math error – don’t let yourself lose “easy points”!

A few “etc.” thoughts:

  • Don’t try to remember questions to look up the answers for later
    • It wastes time and brainpower!
    • It makes sense on your tests leading up to Step 1, but not here
  • Step 1 Battle Plan Test Taking Strategies peanut butterGo outside during lunch break
    • Maybe even take a walk!

Pack simple lunch/snacks

  • Stuff you like, but not so exciting that you’re distracted from the test by anticipating what you get to eat for lunch!
  • Peanut butter!
    • Fat + protein + fiber = stay satisfied!
    • I highly recommend it for your test day breakfast, too! 🙂


My brain!


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