Step 1 Preparation Tips


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General Comments

When we were first planning our preparation for the USMLE Step 1, it seemed that there were an infinite amount of web pages telling us how to prepare.  The "preparation tips" provided by most of the websites we visited usually involved buying something.  Forums discussing study preparation methods proved somewhat more helpful, but the problem with forums was that it took forever to go through all the posts.  And then it seemed that everyone had a different opinion.

With that in mind, we decided to provide a summary of the most common Step 1 preparation strategies that we've found searching through websites, books, and discussion forum posts.  We've taken Step 1 already, so we're also performing a bit of filtering and selection of the summary information for the most useful strategies.

Please note that if you're gunning for a 260+ on Step 1, this website is not for you; you should go take your hourly amphetamine pill and get back to your permanently reserved library seat.  The purpose of this website is to get the typical medical student up to their desired potential as quickly as possible.

Core Books

These books are "must have" books that most everyone uses in their preparation.  If you know everything in these books, you will have the knowledge necessary for at least a 235+ on Step 1.

bullet First Aid for the USMLE Step 1:  Of all the books available, this one is really the only absolute requirement.  Many people also use Step Up because they prefer the systems approach, but that is usually in addition to First Aid.  We're not sure where First Aid gets their information from, but we will say that EVERY detail in First Aid is high yield!  Additionally, they put out new editions every year.  These new editions seem to be modified based on specific "intelligence".  You should use only the latest edition.
bullet Step Up:  This book does not have quite as many details as First Aid, but many people prefer it because it is organized into body systems.
bullet BRS Path:  This book is excellent preparation for both Step 1 and your pathology course.  Read this book cover to cover.
bullet BRS Physiology:  This book is also excellent and provides great integration with BRS Path.  Read this book cover to cover.

Core Practice Question Sources

As many people will testify, the key to doing well on Step 1 is to have good reference books (see "Core Books") and to do LOTS of questions!  These are certainly not all of the available question sources, but they are all that you need to get a 235+.

bullet Kaplan Q-Bank:  Q-Bank is really the gold standard for Step 1, which is unfortunate because it is somewhat pricey.  No one is really sure where Kaplan gets their questions from, but for some reason there seems to be quite a few "similarities" between Q-Bank and the real thing.  When you first start Q-Bank, you will be scoring in the 50's.  Do not get discouraged!  Your scores will improve!  Use the Step 1 Score Estimator to track your progress and give you a rough idea where you're at.  You should ideally finish all of Q-Bank as there are lots of "similarities", even though your scores may plateau.  Some people choose to only do half of Q-Bank and then move on to other questions sources, but it is better to finish all of Q-Bank if you have time.  You should use Q-Bank in the timed mode and take 50 question blocks -- just like the real thing.
bullet USMLE Practice Test:  This test provides an opportunity to use the latest USMLE test software and to see some former test questions.  You should definitely take advantage of this free resource.  The best time to take this test is within 2 weeks of the real thing.  Note that there are not as many question "similarities" between the practice test and the real thing as with Q-Bank.  See our links page for a link to this test.
bullet NBME Comprehensive Basic Science Self Assessment:  This test is another opportunity for the academic medical establishment to squeeze a few more dollars out of medical students.  Unfortunately, this test is pretty useful and you're probably better off coughing up the $45 for each test (there are 2 tests available - $90 total).  The best strategy is to take the first test in the middle of your study period and then take the second test 3/4 of the way through your study period.  You will get feedback on your weak areas with these tests.  You should focus your study strategy after taking each test on those weak areas.  Please note that most people have found that an "average" score of 500 on the NBME exam is not really "average".  Enter your score into the Step 1 Score Estimator to see how it stacks up against the NBME scores of past medical students.  See our links page for a link to this test.



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