January 31, 2020

Studying for the USMLE Step 1: Schedule Your Training for the Big Event

By Contributing Author

Athletes, especially ones who have never run a marathon, will create a training schedule to prepare them for the big event. This schedule does not mean that they run the full marathon every week training, but rather they train in shorter intervals that will gradually increase in difficulty up until the actual event. Creating a study schedule for Step 1 is similar and also as vitally important to success.


For students at UAMS, I like to think that there are three distinct study periods: the Pre-Capstone Block (from now until the capstone course), the Capstone Block (during the capstone course) and the Dedicated block. The last of these is what students formally think of as the time when nothing else is going on except for focused study for Step 1, but the time periods leading up to this can also be important.


The universal advice I give is this: It is important to create a schedule early and have plenty of time to “perfect” it before actually starting dedicated study period. You can use these other time periods to try out what following a schedule would be like and at the same time cover your most difficult material from the first two years. The important thing is, by the time the dedicated study period rolls around, your schedule should be polished and ready to go. You have been training for the big event up until this point, and you are confident about what you will be doing in these last weeks.


There are a few methods to create a schedule. Using a Word or Excel document is a valid strategy that many use. There are many old schedules passed down from more senior students, and it is definitely a cheaper way to go. I prefer using schedule-creating programs CramFighter or Osmosis if your budget allows. CramFighter is particularly useful and easy since it allows you to simply plug in all of your material that you want to cover, then it evenly distributes it throughout the allotted study period. If you miss a day, or some material on a day, instead of having to reinvent the wheel, all you have to do is “recalculate”.


(Disclaimer: I do not work in sales for CramFighter, I just have the most experience with it.)


Try to think of material that you want to cover in “passes”. Your first pass is when you cover it in class and your second pass will be when you cover it during your dedicated study period. These Pre-Capstone and Capstone Blocks can help you get a third pass in for material that is pretty rusty or you feel you didn’t learn well the first time through.


Additionally, you can try to get as much of a first pass on UWorld as you can before your dedicated block. Think of it as training for a marathon. You may run a few miles a few times a week at first, but by the end you are running about twenty miles a week. Doing practice questions is similar: Try blocks of twenty, random and untimed at first to get used to them. By the time dedicated studying rolls around, you’ll be cranking out timed blocks of forty random questions like it’s nothing!

Just remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It’s important to plan ahead and create a schedule for the main event. So what are you waiting for? Get to work on that first draft of your schedule!

Ryan Oliver COM4 Student, Contributing Author