Top 5 Bad Habits Which are Keeping You From Passing USMLE Step 1


Studying for USMLE Step 1 is a daunting task, but you don’t want to study the wrong way to make matters worse. Here is a list of common bad habits students fall into when studying, and how you can avoid them to get you on the right track to passing your USMLE Step 1 exam!



1. Too many Step 1 resources


While everyone knows UWORLD is god, there is often a scramble to try to learn everything possible. This “everything possible” concept is nebulous and various guidebooks, older classmates, and boards review companies will list different recommended resources. There’s simply no way to read them all! Nor should you try! The best approach is to choose the resources that work best for you. Everyone will worship UWORLD and First Aid, but it’s important to work with your Step 1 tutor, another professional, or a colleague you trust to choose the very few other resources you will use to augment your studies. Quality over quantity here. Go in-depth with your selected resources and trust that you will know enough to succeed. 



2. Lack of Organization – Step 1 Studying Materials and Preparation Exams 

While it’s common knowledge that studying for USMLE Step 1 is “a marathon, not a sprint”, in fact, it’s more of a transatlantic crossing. Would you rather have a fully stocked ship or wing it with a paddle?


Organization is the key to success. Making a flexible, but formulaic, study plan will help keep you on track. Then load the boat with all the supplies. Decide which resources (as per our point above) and when you will plan to review each resource. You don’t want to get to the last week and realize you have subjects you never reviewed, but similarly, you don’t want to review each concept separately and forget them by test day. This is hard and scary, we understand. But having an organized study plan will help ease the nerves and keep you on the right track towards passing USMLE Step 1!



3. Lack of USMLE Step 1 Testing Conditions

While it can be tempting to do UWORLD in tutor mode, avoid this as much as possible as it can be critical to passing Step 1. On test day you won’t have the instant gratification of blindly choosing an answer and *bing* here is an explanation. Instead, timed test mode for UWORLD question sets keeps you accountable. It will force you to choose the best possible answer and move on. Getting in this habit will make NBME practice tests, and the real deal USMLE, feel much more familiar. Similarly, mixed question sets test your knowledge in a much better format than subject-specific question sets. Take abdominal pain for example. If you’re in a GI block, the patient with lower abdominal pain probably has a GI problem. But in a mixed question set, you aren’t biased by the subject you happen to be studying. Now, lower abdominal pain could be GI, general surgery, OBGYN, immunology, etc. This forces you into conditions that more closely simulate test day!



4. Making too many flashcards

At EMP flashcards are life. So, while it would be worse to not make any flashcards, it’s also easy to make too many. Oh boy, how do you find that sweet spot? Focus your flashcards on high-yield concepts. We recommend flashcards be written in the same format that a test question would be asked. But be realistic, these flashcards are for you to review. Are you going to review 1,000 flashcards on each subject? I’m not. As your studying continues, you will harness your flashcard skills. Keep in mind it’s super important to use flashcards to retain information. 



5. Forgetting time for yourself!

I know everyone says this, but how do you do it? While studying for the USMLE can, and probably should, be a full-time job, you will learn better and more effectively if you are energized. This means to schedule in walks, workouts, or downtime. It can be easy to “forget” to shower! By staying organized and allowing yourself to take breaks, you will come back from your breaks more energized than you were before, and this is very important for your ability to studyu effectively, and eventually passing Step 1. Find a groove that works for you and keep yourself strong and healthy both mentally and physically. 


As usual, our dedicated Step 1 and Step 2 CK tutors are here to help you avoid the most common exam preparation mistakes. 

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About the Author

Gaelen Stanford-Moore, MD MPhil

As a Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude at UC Berkeley, Gaelen Stanford-Moore completed her BA in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2012. Following…

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