5 Biggest Step 1 Mistakes


5 Biggest Step 1 Mistakes

The five biggest mistakes student’s make when studying for Step 1. 

    1. DohNot doing enough Questions. It’s by far one of the biggest mistakes I see people make, especially among those who score poorly. The logic goes that since you haven’t had time to “Learn everything” either from First Aid or Pathoma you are hesitant to start questions. Don’t worry about learning “everything” before you do questions – doing questions will help solidify what you do know, and quickly teach you what you don’t. You will honestly learn more from doing questions than any other resource you have. This is especially true of USMLE World. Bonus:  Take notes or make flashcards (Anki or otherwise) with the high yield facts from USMLE world, or consider  annotating them directly into First Aid.
    2. Analysis Paralysis. There are a million different Step 1 resources, it’s tempting to try to do as many as possible. Unfortunately, this won’t yield the highest score, likely it’ll do the opposite. Pick high yield resources (if you are not sure what’s high yield check out UFAP and Step 1 Resource list) and stick to them! You’ll hear students constantly mention other random resources and the fear is always that it’ll be this amazing resource that’ll instantly get you a 250.  The much more likely scenario is you’ll end up wasting your time, and not sticking to what works. Time is vital – pick what you’ll use early on and stick to it!
    3. Thinking your Memory is Perfect. I’ll just read Anatomy in First Aid once and I’ll remember it perfectly. That simply won’t be the case. Repetition is key, I’d suggest aiming to get through First Aid at least 2-3 times at a minimum. You simply cannot remember everything if you only review it once. This is also what live prep courses fail at – they’ll teach a topic at great depth but then not revisit it ever again. Having trouble remembering things? Use flashcards, mnemonics or take notes (writing helps memory formation)
    4. Poor Time Management. This has actually more to do with staying realistic than anything else. Set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. Studying 18 hours a day for 4 weeks likely isn’t realistic. Missing your target each day will set off a spiral of stress, guilt and ultimately a mental breakdown. Schedule rest days, take time out for friends/family, and keep each day’s tasks realistic. Be flexible, make sure it’s possible to catch up on another day if you have an unforeseen event wreck your plans on a certain day. I’d recommend each student take 1-2 days to make a study schedule before starting to study. Leave room for 1-3 assessments (UWSA or NBMEs), normally one before you begin studying to identify weaknesses, one halfway through and an optional one 1-2 weeks out to address any remaining weaknesses. Schedule time for exercise, and plan to take rest days every 5-7 days.  Bonus: For students who struggle with focus I’d recommend checking out apps/extensions such as RescueTime, Leechblock (Firefox), Chrome Nanny (Chrome), and Cold Turkey (OsX and Windows).
    5. Stamina/Fatigue – Odds are you haven’t written an exam nearly as arduous as Step 1 before. It is hours and hours of questions, with very little break time. Prepare yourself – Practice doing several question blocks in a row, and in similar conditions to the test – this means no music, no breaks to talk with friends and if possible in a quiet cubicle. While you may learn best in tutor mode, every so often attempt writing 4-6 timed blocks consecutively. Now is the best time to train yourself for the mental battle that is Step 1. Many test takers also deal with anxiety, part of the problem is it’s a stressful situation and an unfamiliar environment. Get a practice permit ahead of time, and go scope out the Prometric center ahead of time. Many of them vary greatly, so if you can write a practice exam you’ll know just how cold/hot/quiet/loud your specific center is, as well as where your locker will be and what’s nearby. It’s one less thing to worry about on test day.

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Lastly, here are some final useful resources:


Good Luck!