How to Prepare for USMLE® Step 1 While Still in Classes

October 2, 2012
Kaplan Test Prep

Medical School BlogIt’s never too early to think about the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE®).

In your second year of med school, you will take Step 1 (of 3) of the USMLE®. And we all know it is better to study over a longer period of time than to try to cram right before exam day. Step 1 is a daunting test, and there is no way to cram for it successfully unless you happen to have all the content and correlations down cold, and understand the exam format thoroughly. Even the most advanced students know that question practice is necessary, and that this should be done over time for the highest score.

With this in mind, it is possible to begin your acquaintance with Step 1 in your first year of medical school.  We recommend that you correlate what you are studying currently with the content and connections you will need for the exam. Go to the USMLE® website and read through some of the descriptions and overall purpose of the exams. You can peruse the Step 1 content lists and item formats. Get an idea of what you will need to learn, and then think about getting a couple of exam prep books that review the high yield content. Do not worry if you don’t have much time or feel overwhelmed. Any information you absorb about and for the exam will benefit you later. Simply familiarizing yourself with the exam now will help make test day feel like a breeze.

The following is a summary of how you can conquer exam anxiety and enhance what you are learning in school.

  • If you want to begin preparing now, take advantage of any links between what you are studying in class and Step 1. This usually works best with Pathology. Once you are past General Path and are covering systemic Path, review the Gross Anatomy, Embryology and Histology related to each organ system as an introduction to understanding diseases that affect that organ. When you reach Neuropathology, review Neuro-anatomy. You can also link in the physiology of organs in the same way. This allows you to review and refresh Anatomy and Physiology along with your current Pathology class. During vacations, or after classes end next spring, begin working on reviewing Biochemistry and Behavioral Science.
  • medEssentials and First Aid are good guides for what is asked about more frequently. But in trying to recall both bugs and drugs, the best way is to limit what you are trying to learn so that you know the heavily used drugs (like insulin) very well. For the rest, aim to group and learn them by what receptors they hit first, then try to exploit shared features and memorize which drugs are in the group with that shared mechanism of action. You can do the same with Microbiology: group the bugs and know shared features like growth media, drug sensitivity, double vs. single stranded, etc. Pharmacology and Microbiology are very fact-heavy, so whatever you do, refresh after classes end.
  • In summary, do what you CAN now without hurting your class performance and revisit the material later to feel prepared on test day.

When you begin your dedicated exam preparation, please check in with us for plenty of free study tips and test-taking strategies. Much of it is common sense, but there are some tricks of the trade we can provide that will empower you to ace the USMLE®!

Good luck!

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