The best way to ensure that you do well on Step 1 is to do well in your classes the first 2 years in medical school. Easier said than done, right? The following methods that I learned helped improve my performance considerably throughout the first 2 years of medical school, but you must find what works for you, and don’t get stuck in a rut studying a certain way if it is not working for you.

  1. Go to class. I admit sometimes if the lecturer is especially bad, sometimes it is not worth it – your time is better spent studying, but for the most part you should go to class. You will be surprised what you remember from class.
  2. Buy a review book and read the sections that go along with what you are learning in class. Try not to wait until the last minute to read the review book. If you read it as you are going through the lectures you are more likely to build more concrete memories of both the lectures and the review book content. This way you may have time to re-read the entire book at the end of the semester before you take your final exam (usually the NBME shelf exam for that subject).
  3. Figure out an active way of studying the material (not just passively reading over the transcripts or powerpoint presentations).  For me, the best way to do this was review the powerpoints and create my own typed outline of the presentation. When making the outlines I tried to think like the professor would when making the exam, asking myself questions like, “what are the most important concepts?” and “what kind of questions could I write?”
  4. After each day I would review the presentation and make my outlines. So at the end of the block, instead of needing to review thousands of powerpoint slides I had a reasonable, usually 10-20 pages, of condensed, high-yield material. As the tests were approaching I would review my outlines multiple times so that I really knew and understood everything that was on them.
  5. Try to understand the material rather than just memorize it. If there is something on your outline that you don’t really understand, do NOT try to just memorize it, go look it up and UNDERSTAND it before moving on. The reason for this is that most questions are going to be 2nd to 3rd order questions, especially on the boards, and straight memorization will not help in taking the additional steps in logic that those question require.
  6. Test yourself by trying to name as many things that you can under one of your outline headings (a disease, drug, bug, etc.) before you look at the points underneath that heading.
  7. Get plenty of sleep the night before your tests – you will remember very little and your test-taking skills will be reduced dramatically if you are not well rested.

When it comes to your future career as a doctor and doing well on all three of the USMLE board exams, some subjects are more important than others. For example, you are much more likely to have to answer questions that test your knowledge of pathology and physiology compared to histology and embryology.

I believe that the most important subjects that you need to know to do well on all of the USMLE exams are physiology and pathology. If you know those two well, you will be able to figure out the correct answer to most questions. If you are currently taking, or have not yet taken physiology and pathology, make sure to focus on those classes!