The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 is one of the most critical milestones you must complete to practice in the U.S. As a benchmark for medical knowledge, you must invest countless hours in preparation. You must implement various study strategies and resources to navigate this challenging exam and effectively prepare for it. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the essential study strategies, tips, and resources to help you prepare effectively for Step 1. Join us and gain valuable insights to maximize your chances of success and secure a passing score.  

What Does USMLE Step 1 Consist Of?

The USMLE Step 1 is a computer-based examination designed to evaluate your understanding and ability to apply crucial medical concepts to clinical practice. It emphasizes the principles and mechanisms underlying health, disease, and modes of therapy. Moreover, Step 1 is constructed by organizing the basic science material along two dimensions: system and process.

Step 1 is a one-day examination taking around eight hours, divided into seven 60-minute blocks. While the number of questions can vary on each block, they don’t exceed 40. In total, it consists of 280 multiple-choice questions. Content areas of the exam include: 

  • Anatomy;
  • Biochemistry;
  • Biostatistics and epidemiology;
  • Histology and nutrition;
  • Microbiology;
  • Pathology;
  • Pharmacology;
  • Physiology.

During the exam, you’ll also have a minimum of 45 minutes of break time. You can increase your break time by answering all questions of a block before the allotted time expires.

The USMLE Step 1 results are reported on a three-digit scale, with the passing standard being 196. The score range for the exam is 1-300. However, for exams taken after January 26, 2022, the score is reported as pass/fail. 

Who Is Eligible to Take the USMLE Step 1?

To become eligible for taking the USMLE Step 1, you must be in one of the following categories at the time you apply and on the day of the examination:

Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the eligibility criteria for taking the exam, you can apply by creating an account through:

To schedule the USMLE Step 1 exam, you must visit the Prometric website, the official testing center for the USMLE exams. 

What Resources Can You Use for USMLE Step 1 Preparation

During your USMLE Step 1 studying process, you can use a wide range of resources available, including textbooks, question banks, and online resources. Here are some high-quality study materials you can utilize in your Step 1 preparation:

  • Anki: This flashcard program uses cognitive science techniques, including active recall and spaced repetition, to aid memorization.
  • Boards & Beyond: This video library will support your Step 1 preparation through high-quality lectures and question banks. 
  • Pathoma: This website will provide video lectures covering all the high-yield pathology points. 
  • Sketchy: This all-in-one medical program includes various high-yield lessons, interactive review cards, and quiz questions on subjects like immunology, physiology, anatomy, toxicology, biochemistry, and more.
  • First Aid: This comprehensive review book contains all topics you can possibly encounter on the exam. Along with Pathoma and UWorld, it’s one of the most essential resources to prepare for Step 1.
  • NBME Practice Test: These official practice exams provided by NBME allow you to assess your readiness for the exam and help you simulate the exam experience.
  • Amboss: This platform offers question bank sessions, quick explanations of various terms, and imagining examples to make diagnosing easier. 
  • UWorld: As one of the most prominent resources for Step 1, UWorld provides you with a high-yield question bank that will help you think like a physician. 
  • Goljan Audio: These audio lectures cover different aspects of pathology, providing an alternative study method for auditory learners. 

How to Study for USMLE Step 1: Pre-Dedicated Period

During the pre-dedicated period for the USMLE Step 1, you should focus on mastering foundational concepts. You can utilize resources like First Aid and Pathoma even before the dedicated period, with Anki and Boards & Beyond also helping you understand the material better. You should also create a study schedule that allows consistent review and practice without interfering with other academic obligations. Make sure to set a daily question quota to complete the entire UWorld question bank before the dedicated period starts. 

How to Prepare for USMLE Step 1: Dedicated Period

The dedicated period of USMLE Step 1 requires a structured approach. To do so, you must create a detailed study plan outlining your daily goals and topics to cover. Make sure to give yourself breaks and free time, and adjust as you go on. 

During the dedicated period, you should simulate a full-length test by taking multiple practice exams through question banks like UWorld. Additionally, make time to review weak areas regularly to ensure steady progress. Flashcards and spaced repetition techniques can help you reinforce key concepts. 

Mock exams and self-assessment tools are essential to simulate test conditions and gauge your readiness. Therefore, utilize tools like NBME practice tests and UWorld Self-Assessment to track your progress and adjust your study plan accordingly. 

Key Tips for Effective USMLE Step 1 Preparation

Here are some useful tips to help you effectively prepare for the USMLE Step 1.

Start early

One of the essential tips for effective USMLE Step 1 preparation is to start as early as possible. This way, you’ll be able to thoroughly cover the extensive content in the exam and review all subjects. Moreover, beginning your preparation early will give you ample time to study at a manageable pace. Being able to spread out your study sessions over a more extended period also helps alleviate stress and anxiety associated with last-minute cramming.  

But when should you start preparation for the USMLE Step 1?

The ideal timeline for the pre-dedicated period begins during the preclinical years of medical school, during which you should build a strong foundation in basic sciences. On the other hand, your dedicated study period often ranges from four to eight weeks, depending on your weak points and foundation of knowledge. 

Choose resources wisely

When preparing for the USMLE Step 1, it is important to pay attention to the resources you utilize in your journey. High-yield resources like UWorld, First Aid, Pathoma, and Sketchy are curated to cover the most important concepts and topics tested on the exam. Therefore, using these resources will help you focus on the material most likely to appear on the exam. Moreover, these resources are highly regarded by students and professionals for their effectiveness in helping you prepare for taking Step 1.

Regarding using First Aid for Step 1, while it’s a valuable resource for the topics covered in the book, it would be better to use it as a reference rather than a primary study source. Therefore, you should supplement it with other resources that offer practice questions, detailed explanations, and a more comprehensive coverage. 

Utilize assessment tools

As you prepare to take the USMLE Step 1, it is crucial to utilize assessment tools like the NBME practice tests and UWorld self-assessments. These tools provide a means to gauge your readiness for the exam by evaluating your knowledge of the material. They also help simulate the testing environment. Moreover, you can analyze your performance through assessment tools and identify areas of weakness or topics that require further review. 

Analyze mistakes

Analyzing mistakes is critical to effective Step 1 preparation and provides valuable insight into the underlying reasons behind errors. Some of those reasons include a lack of knowledge, forgetting information, and misinterpreting questions. By analyzing mistakes and implementing strategies to address them, you can optimize your learning experience and ultimately achieve success on the exam. To address the lack of knowledge, you can use flashcards or summarize notes and incorporate spaced repetition to ensure long-term retention. Additionally, to address forgetting information, you can utilize active recall methods or create mnemonic devices to optimize memory retention of complex concepts. Lastly, to address the misinterpretation of questions, you should break down questions into simpler components and take various practice tests. 

Take notes

A part of your preparation for the USMLE Step 1 should also be taking notes by annotating First Aid, creating Anki cards, or jotting down key points from lectures and resources. Note-taking has many benefits, as you get to actively engage with the material, thus increasing your comprehension and understanding of concepts. You also benefit from improved retention as a result of summarizing information and writing it down. Note-taking also allows you to personalize your learning process according to your learning style and preferences. 

Conclusion

The importance of thorough preparation and effective study strategies for USMLE Step 1 success cannot be overstated. We advise you to utilize the resources mentioned in this guide, start early, stay consistent, and don’t shy away from seeking support from peers and mentors. 

After tackling Step 1, you must begin preparing for the following step. So check out our complete USMLE Step 2 CK study plan and discover what lies ahead on your journey to becoming a licensed physician. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to study for Step 1?

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you the ideal time you may need to prepare for the USMLE Step 1, as it depends on the time you can allocate for studying and your grasp of the content. Four to six weeks can be enough, but it’s best to spend more time preparing to give you more flexibility in your study schedule. 

When can I view Step 1 results?

Typically, your Step 1 results become available within four weeks of your test date. However, if you take the exam around a holiday, your results may be delayed one to two and up to eight weeks. 

Can you retake the USMLE Step 1 exam?

Yes. You are allowed to take the USMLE Step 1 exam up to four times. Within 12 months, you can take the exam up to three times, and after your third attempt, you have to wait six months before retaking it. 

How much does the USMLE Step 1 cost?

The exam fee for the USMLE Step 1 is $670 for students/graduates of LCME-or COCA-accredited medical programs in the U.S. or Canada. On the other hand, the exam fee for students/graduates of medical schools located outside of the U.S. and Canada is $1000.