Step 1 Advice

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

By Mark Ard

In the immortal words of NCAA legend John Wooden, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” When it’s time to hunker down, lay the pedal to the metal, chug coffee, skip showers, and generally do things that compromise your sociability to prepare for Step 1, it’s important to remember how to study. You’ll find great resources here at, including books, banks, and example schedules, but here’s some tips, adapted for Step 1 from Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

  • Encode success. Practice makes permanent. Practice can be unproductive or counterproductive unless you’re learning the right stuff. Don’t pass on a topic you don’t understand, even if you got a question right. If you can’t find the answer quickly, make a note to come back and really learn the subject.
  • Replace your purpose (with an objective). Everyone wants to do well on the test, but create clear and measurable objectives that you think will get you to your goal. Answer X number of questions in a certain time period. Read Y amount of pages of First Aid. Also, build in objectives that focus on weak spots as you find them. Read the chapter in Rapid Review that corresponds to my worst subject from today’s practice questions.
  • Differentiate drill from scrimmage. A full-length or diagnostic exam is great to gauge where you are, especially if you’re borderline and need more time. It can also give you some much needed peace of mind if you do well. But unless it offers (very) detailed explanations about the questions (and you plan on spending the corresponding 2-3 hours per 46Q block) don’t schedule more than a few during your prep time. The purchased NBMEs at least offer a breakdown of subjects to guide future studying, but make sure you’re not encoding bad knowledge from missed questions.
  • Practice bright spots. Everyone wants to cram the stuff they don’t understand right before the test. Instead, reinforce the highest yield stuff, even if you think you already know it. The morning of the exam is not the time to learn the life-cycles of parasites, when First Aid has a whole section devoted to the highest yield buzzwords that are almost guaranteed to show up.

Categories: Step 1 Advice, Study Tips

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