How to Maximize Efficiency during Dedicated Study Blocks

By Walter Wiggins

The majority of MS-2s are closing in on their dedicated study block for the USMLE Step 1. There may even be some MS-3s thinking ahead to Step 2 CK. If you fall into either of these categories, this post is for you. If you’re not there yet, but are willing to consider how you might prepare to prepare for these tests, then by all means join us and read along.

What these two tests have in common is that they require you to quickly recall from massive amounts of information covered over the course of a year or more of the basic and/or clinical biomedical sciences. If you’re really forward thinking, you’ve been studying all along with a mind for what you’ll need to retain for these tests. If you haven’t been doing this, it’s not too late to start…and you can always use this to your advantage in the future. But when the time comes to put the rubber to the road and immerse yourself in a few weeks-to-months of dedicated study, you need a high-efficiency strategy, if you want to maximize your performance. Here are the four components of my strategy that I’ve found to be common (in various incarnations) among students who consistently crush the USMLE.

  1. Know what is high-yield, and focus 80% of your efforts on this sub-set of the material
    • A corollary to this is that you should train yourself to recognize when you’re deviating from high-yield material
    • First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 is your best resource for Step 1
    • First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CK is a great resource for Step 2 CK, as are other books that are out there from the “Step Up” and “Crush” series
    • The other 20% of your effort can be used to cover minutiae that’ll help you max out your score
  2. Set a schedule and stick to it (with a little flexibility – see #4)
    • You need to plan ahead to make sure you cover all of the material in the time you’re allotted
    • Planning a default daily and/or weekly schedule will help you stay on-task
    • Make sure you plan in enough time to recharge…studying tired drastically decreases your efficiency and has a cumulative effect on burnout
    • See our previous posts for more detail on study schedules
  3. Review your strengths and study your weaknesses using active study techniques
    • If you feel good about a subject, devote less time to that subject, as it should truly be review
    • If you feel like you need more work in a subject, devote a little more time to it
    • Active study techniques are the key to high efficiency in the review stage…passive reading isn’t efficient and won’t stick with you as well
      • Do questions
      • Create mind maps
      • Teach a friend/pet/inanimate object
    • Taking a diagnostic test (either an NBME form or one through your question bank) at the beginning of (or even before) your dedicated study block will help you refine your schedule by giving you an idea of what subjects you know better
      • I even suggest taking another one towards the middle of your study block to assess your progress and potentially tweak your schedule in response (see #4)
  1. Continuously evaluate your progress AND your method
    • You need to continually assess how comfortable you feel with a topic (i.e. what percentage are you getting right on your q-bank?)
    • If you’re not making good progress, evaluate your method
      • Are you spending enough time on active study techniques?
      • Is your schedule working for you?
    • Don’t be afraid to tweak your schedule or your method in an effort to increase your study efficiency


What other methods do you use to increase your efficiency when studying for the USMLE?


2 thoughts on “How to Maximize Efficiency during Dedicated Study Blocks”

  1. Thank you for this excellent piece of advise .
    It is applicable for other tests too

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