Step 1 Advice

How To Tackle The Hardest Part About Studying

By Luke Murray

“The hard part about writing is not the writing. It’s sitting down to write.”

– Steven Pressfield, author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance”


How To Tackle The Hardest Part About StudyingWhen it comes to studying, or any endeavor requiring great physical, mental, or emotional effort, having momentum on your side can make the difference between victory and defeat. It can also make the difference between enjoying the process and dreading every lap, every page, or every conversation, because momentum in either direction will self-perpetuate. If you’re building it in the right way, then things will keep moving that way for you with less and less effort – especially compared to the effort required to get going from a standstill (remember how the coefficient of static friction is always greater than the coefficient of kinetic friction?…well, you did when you took physics).

The problem with momentum and studying for Step 1, is that you start each day in a state of “not studying.” So your biggest challenge each day is to create that momentum. Once you’ve done that, you’ve conquered the hardest part. My suggestion is to conquer that part as early as possible because then you won’t have Step 1 studying, which is (or at least should be) the most important thing on your to-do list, hanging over your head all day.

How do you catalyze that first step? Here are some things that helped me:

– Plan something easy – One of the things that makes studying uncomfortable is the struggle to learn things you don’t understand. Another is the ego hit you take for constantly not knowing the answers to questions. Get rid of both of these barriers by doing a small problem set you’ve already completed or reading a section you know pretty well already. You won’t learn much but it will boost your morale, helping you see that you do know something (a feeling you don’t get often in medical school), and most importantly, you will have cracked that book.

– Move your body – I’ve never finished a workout longer than five minutes and felt less motivated to study. While I’ve found that more exertion is better than less, even a 10 minute walk can make the difference between sitting on the couch watching cartoons all morning and putting in a solid three-hour study session before lunch.

– Read something motivational – We all have deep reasons for wanting to do well on Step 1. We also forget these reasons when we’re up to our neck in USMLERx questions or drowning in highlighter ink. I wrote down my reasons for wanting to do well. Whenever I didn’t want to get started, I would read them.

– Use a ‘pre-flight’ checklist – You should have a good idea about the conditions in which you are most likely to have a good study session. Make a checklist of these conditions and then follow it. Create the environment. You can even tell yourself you don’t have to study, you’re just going to go through your checklist. However, once you’re in the library, without your phone or an internet connection, with your coffee and some food, next to a bathroom, with a pillow to lay your head on if you get sleepy, and with nothing but First Aid for USMLE Step 1 in front of you…odds are good that you’re going to get down to business and start cranking, and cranking well.


“The hard part about studying is not the studying – it’s sitting down to study.

So try to make the hard part as easy as possible.”

–       Luke Murray, author of this blog post

3 replies »

  1. You’re awesome. Thanks. Sometimes I feel like the only one who loses motivation and doesn’t necessarily sleep, eat, breathe step 1 100% of every day and night. That’s why I am on this site to begin with at this exact moment… try to get my mind on task with some light reading/browsing of related material.🙂 Thanks again.


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