Home » Studying for USMLE Step 1 During MS1: When to Start Studying

Studying for USMLE Step 1 During MS1: When to Start Studying

An MS1 student studying for the USMLE Step 1 in a library in front of several textbooks.


When to Start Studying for USMLE Step 1


The first year of medical school is hard, but not necessarily because of the curriculum. It is a year of change, a transition into a new rhythm. It’s also the foundation of a lifelong career in learning. MS1 is about learning how to study, how to increase your efficiency, retain high-yield information, and then apply this information into real-life patient scenarios. During this year, many students find themselves asking when they should start studying for USMLE Step 1. In this post, we will discuss why we think you should start as early as MS1, and how.


If you are finding this blog a few weeks out from your scheduled exam, don’t panic! Laying the groundwork early is important, but starting now doesn’t mean you will fail. Check out our 10-week or 5-week USMLE Step 1 schedule to get you started on the right foot.



Why You Should Start Studying for USMLE Step 1 Early


Looking back, I cannot stress enough how important it is during first-year classes to really take time to focus on setting yourself up for success by learning how to effectively study for USMLE Step 1. Success during medical school largely depends on these foundational skills. Having strong knowledge of how to stay motivated, follow a study schedule, and keep stress at bay will help you in more than just your classes. These foundational skills will really help you set yourself up for success on Step 2 as well. That said, I typically don’t advise my students to start USMLE prep before their second year of med school. However, I do recommend they start familiarizing themselves with the studying process, and even some light material. 


* I do want to note here that every student is different. Some students may need to start preparing for the USMLE earlier than others. If you know that you tend to take a little longer to retain information or test-taking isn’t your strong suit, you may want to think about beginning USMLE preparation sooner rather than later. In any case, here are a few tips I have for USMLE-concerned students entering med school year one. 



USMLE Step 1 Study Tips for Students Entering Med School Year One:


1. Prioritize Medical School Foundations for USMLE Success


Your priority for the first year of medical school should be learning how to succeed in your medical school classes. Even for programs where the curriculum is pass/fail. At Elite Medical Prep we have seen that students who put time into studying for their medical school courses have a stronger foundation of knowledge from which to build on for the USMLE.  These students tend to grasp USMLE concepts faster and easier, and, overall, perform better on the practice exams. Even if your medical school doesn’t use USMLE-style questions for examinations, you are building a framework of medical physiology and pathology which will be priceless as you come back to the same topics for the boards. 


2. Discover Your Optimal Learning Style


It is also really important to figure out how you learn best. Try a few different study styles during your first year of medical school. Do you study better in groups? Or is this inefficient for you? Do you learn well from lectures? Or reading? Do you need to draw out the pathways or speak them out loud to yourself in the mirror? Online flashcards or hand-written? The list goes on. Learning how you learn is the most valuable asset you can take forward from year 1 of medical school. Once your dedicated Step 1 study time begins, knowing how you learn will allow you to hit the ground running with the same tried-and-true study habits making for the most efficient USMLE review possible.


3. Early Familiarization with USMLE Materials


Feel like you just have to get a jump-start on Step 1? That anxiety is pretty normal. Consider familiarizing yourself with the USMLE review materials as you study for your medical school exams. While I do not recommend trying to memorize the textbook First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 so far in advance of the actual exam, it can be helpful to use it as a reference guide while you study for your own curriculum. I tell my students it is our encyclopedia – not great for teaching, but very helpful as a reference. For example, in the cardiology block of your medical school course, browse through First Aid to see how the USMLE tests the same concepts, or what they think is important from the material you’re already learning. This way when you come back to studying cardiology for the USMLE, you will already be familiar with where it is in the textbook and what the USMLE is emphasizing.  Similarly, Pathoma videos are a great resource for pathology and pathophysiology, and can be beneficial to augment material as you study for your medical school exams.


I hope this post has been helpful for all of you who are just starting and I wish you a fun first year! Amongst your classmates are future colleagues, research partners, and consulting attendings–you’re all on this journey together. Learn when an experienced USMLE Step 1 Tutor can help you reach your score. Schedule your complimentary consultation to learn more about how we can help you succeed!

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