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When to Start Studying for USMLE Step 1

Medical school student studying at home for the USMLE Step 1 with a laptop, looking at multiple textbooks.


The USMLE Step 1 is a nerve-wracking part of every medical student’s journey. However, staying organized and creating a study plan can alleviate much of this stress.


When to start is a common question students ask us at Elite Medical Prep. The golden answer: it’s never too early! But what does this really mean?


I often recommend first-year medical students start getting facile with USMLE-specific references as they study for their medical school’s core curriculum. Studying is a habit. Start forming good study habits as an MS1 and MS2 and these will carry you through the USMLE and beyond. 


Start Studying for Step 1 as an MS1


Here’s how:

Obtain First Aid for the USMLE right off the bat. Consider this an encyclopedia. While it’s not a great teaching book, it’s an excellent reference. It nicely summarizes pertinent information in a concise and digestible format. During your core curriculum of MS1 and MS2 start using First Aid to review for your medical school exams. Students often find that it functions as a nice review before exams and also gives you a sense of how and what board test-writers care about.  This textbook is often handed down between students, however I recommend you obtain the most up-to-date version, as the boards and the textbook tend to vary. Considering taking notes from your courses directly into this book. This will only add to its function as an encyclopedia, and a great reference tool when you are in your dedicated USMLE study period. 


Start making flashcards. Whether you are a hand-writer or prefer an e-format (such as Anki or Quizlet) flashcards that you make for your medical school exams will help you later as you study for the boards. Students often find it easier to review material for the USMLE in the same format that they learned it the first time. Thus, your flashcards can be golden. Also file away any charts or diagrams (think micro and nephrology) that you made as an MS1 and MS2 – these WILL come in handy as you review for the USMLE. Get in the habit of reviewing flashcards – while this seems obvious, flashcards are a great way to learn and retain information over long periods of time. If you are already in a nightly habit of reviewing your flashcards, studying for the USMLE will be less painful. 


Consider using Pathoma for your pathophysiology block and Sketchy Micro for your Micro block. As you learn physiology for your medical school core curriculum, many students find Pathoma a great learning tool (see separate blog post dedicated to Pathoma as a resource). Pathoma is more curated to standardized tests, such as the USMLE, however, often helps student excel in their own curriculum as well. Similarly, memorizing bugs and drugs can be difficult and cumbersome. Using resources outside of your medical textbooks, such as Sketchy Micro, can solidify information from your courses while simultaneously helping you prep for the USMLE. 


Take home message: studying for your medical school curriculum IS studying for the USMLE. Whether your medical school is graded or pass/fail, take your classes seriously. In our experience at EMP, we find that students who studied hard and excelled in their medical school curriculum, find studying for the USMLE much easier. While there will inevitably be material that your medical school doesn’t cover, working hard in your courses will prepare you for this exam. 

Detailed reviews of all Step 1 Studying Resources are available here.

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