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Top 10 Things to Do

You’ve already learned all you need to know for the boards. You’ve worked hard this year. The summer is coming and you’re almost ready to move into your third year clinical rotations. It’s time to take a deep breath and begin to review the concepts you’ve learned over the past two years. You’ll find this process really helps to solidify the body of knowledge you’ve worked so hard to accrue. Now is the time to pull it all together and refresh your memory. You’ll do great!!

First, no single method of test preparation is perfect. Your approach should include a number of modalities, such as Q-bank, high-yield sources such as First Aid, and subject-specific review texts. The following is a suggested approach to preparing for the USMLE Step I. Ultimately, you know how you learn best. You know which approaches have worked best for you during medical College to date. That’s why the first part of this guide is the schedule. Design it for you, based on your learning strengths. Then, stick to it.

1. Make a schedule – Set reasonable goals and stick to the schedule.

Most people study for approximately 4-6 weeks. In general, 4 weeks is sufficient to prepare for Step I, but if you choose to study for five or six weeks, just increase the study time listed below for each subject proportionally. Below you will see a sample schedule to prepare by studying in a subject based manner. Many students prefer a systems based approach.

Sample Schedule

FCM Final Exam

Take a Break!


May 11

May 12-13

Subject Number of Days Schedule
Biochem 3 May 14 – May 16
Physiology 4 May 17 – May 20
Pathology 4 May 21 – May 24
Take a day off! 1 May 25
Micro/Immuno 4 May 26 – May 29
Behavioral Sciences 1 May 30
Anatomy/Histology 1 May 31
Neuro 1 May 31
Pharmacology 3 June 2 – June 5
Take a day off!
1 June 6
Half-Length Practice Exam 1 June 7 & 10
Overall Review Period (First Aid) 5 June 8 – 12
Boards   June 13
Total Time
4 weeks
May 14 – June 13

Note: the "Overall Review Period" is a time to reread First Aid (cover to cover), take practice questions and review the high yield section at the end of First Aid. The night before the exam, you should review the “released items” available from the USMLE website.

2. Take care of yourself – Schedule time for yourself!

Sleep at least eight hours per night.
Exercise at least one half-hour daily – work it into your schedule and stick to it!!
Eat well with well-balanced meals and snacks of fresh vegetables and fruits.
If you need it, take a full day off one week prior to the exam – No studying allowd!

Samply Daily Schedule

7:00 am
Wake up, have breakfast, take a shower, get some sunlight.
8:00 am to Noon
Read from your review books.
Noon to 1:00 pm Eat a healthy lunch with friends, get outdoors.
1:00 pm to 6:00 pm Read from your review books.
6:00 pm to 7:30 pm Exercise and eat a healthy dinner.
7:30 pm to 11:00 pm Complete practice questions and review the answers.
11:00 pm You did a great job today; get a good night’s sleep.

3. Buy a primary, high-yield review book
First Aid for the USMLE Step IRecommended

4. Schedule the boards

5. Subscribe to the question bank of your choice – AND USE IT!!

  • USMLEWorld is the most commonly used by Jefferson students.
  • USMLEasyLite, available for free as part of JEFFLINE, has over 500 practice questions and answers for Step 1.
  • During your 4-6 week study period, try to do 50-100 questions each night. At the start, you will not be able to do many more than 50 per night, but try to do more as you progress. Take a single 48-question test, then spend the remaining time reviewing the questions you missed. Remember to review the questions you got correct as well!

    Don’t worry about your question bank scores! The important part of the question banks is the practice. Many people with top Step I scores performed poorly on their questions. These are a high-yield test prep tool, but do not use them to track your progress. If you’re getting 30’s to 50’s at the beginning, don’t worry!

6. Choose your subject review books.

  • If you used a particular review book during a class, continue with that book.
  • Otherwise, choose your subject books (keep in mind you may not need a book for every subject):
    • Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Histology, Microbiology, Immunology, Neuroanatomy, Behavioral Sciences/Biostats, Embryology

      Look for the latest edition of each book, but don’t worry if you’re studying from an outdated edition – the information in these texts doesn’t change much from year to year. Be on the lookout for the HAH Review Book Sales--these typically occur 1-2x per year and are a great way to get cheap books and feedback from upper years.

      Anatomy – First Aid +/- High Yield (Dudek)
      Physiology – BRS (Costanzo)
      Pathology – BRS (Schneider and Szanto) or Rapid Review (Goljan)
      Biochem – First Aid +/- Lippincott (Champe) or or Rapid Review
      Pharmacology – First Aid +/- Lippincott (Champe)
      Cell Biology/Histology – BRS, first 4 chapters only (Gartner et al.)
      Microbiology – Ridiculously Simple
      Immunology – First Aid +/- High Yield or Medical Microbiology/Immunology: Examination and Board Review by Levinson
      Neuroanatomy – First Aid +/- High Yield (Fix)
      Behavioral Science & Biostatistics – First Aid and BRS (Fadem) or High Yield (Fadem)
      Embryology – First Aid +/- High Yield (Dudek)

      Some notes on your daily review:
      Plan to read the books cover-to-cover within the time allotted on your schedule.
      Determine how many pages you plan to read and how much time is available.
      Then, calculate how many pages you must cover in each hour to keep on schedule.
      Use a highlighter if you feel like it, but try not to take notes as you simply do not have time to do this for every subject. This is your time to review the material - to think briefly about each subject, then move on. You won’t remember everything you read - that’s okay!! Focus on covering the material allotted for each day. And if you don’t finish the pages you allotted for the day; that’s okay too!

      At the end of the day, move on. If you don’t get to your page mark, you will make up for it on your "catch up" days.

7. Choose a good study place that you can go to each day:

A classroom on campus where you can expect few interruptions
The TJU library – does the presence of half your classmates make you feel stressed or supported?
Think about this when making your decision.
Consider staying with family or friends out of town
Consider a local library for your study space
A library at another medical College?
Can you focus while staying in a cabin on a beach?
If so, consider a vacation during boards study time
A local coffee shop?

8. Download the "Released Items" from USMLE:

150 practice questions released from USMLE.
If you are a Kaplan subscriber, you may download the released items and corresponding explanations from the Kaplan Q Bank website.
Review these the night before the exam – some of the actual test questions may look very familiar!

9. Taking the test:

Know the test works: refer to First Aid or the NBME website for detailed instructions.
Items to bring:

  • Scheduling permit
  • ID - passport, driver’s license
  • Bottle of water
  • Snacks – 2 energy bars
  • Lunch – don’t forget cookies!
  • A sweater – the air conditioning might be on overdrive.
  • Advil – for sudden headaches from staring at the poor-quality computer screens

10. Plan something fun to do after you finish so you have something to look forward to.