Is it necessary to take a USMLE Step 1 prep course? While it is not mandatory, preparing for your USMLE Step 1 with expert guidance can make a big difference in your final score. But, how can you choose the perfect USMLE Step 1 prep course? In this blog, we share a list of components that should definitely be included in a good USMLE Step 1 prep course. Additionally, we created a list of study tips for you to prepare for your USMLE like a pro!
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Do I Need a USMLE Step 1 Prep Course?
The USMLE Step 1 is an extremely long and challenging exam, just like USMLE Step 2, and USMLE Step 3. Exams like this require months of special preparation. Even though there are numerous resources available online, preparing for the USMLE is definitely something you should not have to go through on your own. The amount of information tested is so vast that having an extra hand to develop a good study plan to cover all subjects might be crucial. Each student is different. Maybe you need personalized approach to learning, or someone who will work with you one on one. Prep courses can be extremely useful for students who feel intimidated by such a big challenge, or even for students who simply want to make sure they do everything they can to achieve their desired score. However, other students prefer to study on their own, and that’s completely fine as well!
What Your USMLE Step 1 Prep Course Should Offer:
1. A Question Bank
Question banks are one of the most common and helpful resources for medical students who have to sit for long multiple-choice exams such as the USMLE Step 1 or MCCQE Part 1. Any good USMLE Step 1 prep course should include a question bank with thousands of high-yield questions from real-life scenarios.
Even if you are the best multiple-choice test taker, the USMLE Step 1 is much longer than other exams, making it harder to stay calm and confident throughout the entire exam day. Question banks are not only useful to recall information and get acquainted with the type of questions you will be facing, but they are also useful to simulate the test-taking experience.
Question banks are an ideal ally when it comes to assessing what you know and what you don’t know. There is no way to tell if you know enough about a subject if you don’t put your knowledge to the test. Make sure to mark those questions that you were not confident about and check how many of those you actually got right. Practice questions are also a great way to identify your knowledge gaps, so you can adjust your study plan accordingly to fill them.
After each question block, you might want to review each question and answer options. Knowing why the other options are incorrect is just as important as knowing why the correct answer is the correct answer.
Question banks are also meant to be used more than once throughout your preparation. Remember that you should start using question banks after major content review so you are more or less familiar with what’s being tested on USMLE Step 1. However, you can also use question banks precisely as a way of building your knowledge foundation and identifying your strengths and weaknesses. In a more advanced stage of your preparation process, going over the questions you went through at the beginning of your prep again can help you work on your speed and accuracy.
Looking for study tips for USMLE Step 1? Check out this infographic:
2. Exam-Taking Strategies
Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 is not just about acquiring solid knowledge of the subjects that are included in the test; you must also come up with exam-taking strategies that will help you navigate the exam more comfortably and manage your time more effectively. Your USMLE Step 1 prep course should walk you through effective techniques to tackle your exam.
Here are some examples of useful exam-taking strategies:
3. Practice Tests
Taking practice tests will help you get a realistic sense of what to expect the day of the exam. Ideally, practice tests should imitate the exact format of the real exam, and you should take them in a similar environment. Taking full-length tests will help you get used to the testing format and the atmosphere, build stamina, and get to the exam day with an extra dose of confidence. The AAMC offers a series of accurate and challenging USMLE practice tests. Your USMLE Step 1 prep course should include practice tests that are just as good as the ones offered by the AAMC, or at least, as similar as possible.
4. Review of Mistakes
No one likes making mistakes. In fact, most people find mistakes frustrating and discouraging. However, making mistakes has been proven to be the best way to learn. Mistakes reveal the things we don’t fully understand and encourage us to create new ways of thinking and solving problems. Going over our mistakes assures us that we won’t make them again. It is essential for medical students to make this mindset shift and start seeing mistakes as something positive.
Reviewing your mistakes is almost as important as reviewing your study materials. Your USMLE Step 1 prep course should be well aware of this and include a thorough revision of your mistakes. They should help you understand why you made a certain mistake and how to avoid repeating it.
5. Personalized Feedback
Sometimes studying on our own is not enough. Being able to count on experts to guide you through this difficult journey can be a real game-changer. The ideal USMLE Step 1 prep course will be there for you to tell you how you are doing and help you work on those aspects that need improvement. Most prep courses simply give out the correct answers when you make a mistake, but personalized feedback goes way further. Sometimes, self-assessments are not enough, as there might be aspects of our performance that we are not fully aware of. Ideally, you should be given the opportunity to discuss your obstacles with an expert who will help you come up with strategies to overcome them.
6. An Effective Study Plan
Your USMLE Step 1 prep course should help you create a study schedule, and you should try to stick to it as much as possible. Most courses will offer a standard study plan, but you should be able to tailor it to adjust to your own needs and rhythm. Try to establish weekly and monthly objectives and make them as achievable and specific as possible. It is likely that as you go, you will end up adjusting your schedule more than once to better fit your needs. During your USMLE Step 1 preparation you will realize some topics require more attention than others, or that completing certain sections of your study materials takes longer than expected. These things are completely normal and part of the process. However, make sure to be mindful of how you distribute your study sessions, as you might run the risk of running out of time to cover all subjects.
Just like with any other course, your USMLE Step 1 prep course should encourage you to keep working on your own. The purpose of doing homework is either to reinforce the material learned in class, or to get familiar with the material that will be covered next. Homework helps you stay on the right track and takes you closer to fulfilling your study objectives in time.
Want to learn more about the USMLE Step 1:
Study Tips for Your USMLE Step 1 Preparation
Prepare and Gather All of your Study Materials
At the very beginning of your USMLE preparation journey and as you develop your study plan, you should make sure to gather all of the resources that you are going to be using. Textbooks and theory are, of course, essential, but you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of your own notes and other online resources that might make the difference. There are countless study guides, videos, and testimonials from other students who can give you some interesting first-hand insight into what to expect from the exam.
Cover All of the Subjects
Neglecting those topics that you think might not be as important as others is one of the most common mistakes test-takers make. Even though you have to establish priorities and focus on mastering the core subjects before moving on to secondary topics, dismissing certain smaller areas of knowledge can greatly affect your results. In some cases, a simple revision will be enough, and those extra minutes that you spend reviewing certain seemingly unimportant subjects can make a significant difference in your test score.
Visit the Prometric Center
The Prometric test center is the place where you will be doing your exam. It is possible to book a practice session at the center and live the genuine USMLE experience for a small fee. It is not a full-length exam, but a 3-hour practice trial, but it still works as an excellent way to get a good sense of what to expect the day of the exam. If you have the opportunity to visit the Prometric Center, we strongly recommend you take it, as it will help you feel more comfortable and perform better in your exam.
Practice Generating an Answer Before Reading Answer Options
One simple but effective strategy to dodge distractors is to think of your answer before reading the options. Once you’ve read the question, you should have a pretty clear idea of what the correct answer should be. Only proceed to read the answers once you have generated yours. By doing this, the correct answer will be much easily identifiable, and you will have saved precious minutes that you would otherwise have spent debating which of the options is the correct one.
Eliminate Obviously Wrong Answers
USMLE questions can have up to 11 answer options. The more options, the more confused and overwhelmed you are going to feel if you are not 100% sure of the answer. The best way to solve this is by going through the options once and eliminating those answers that are clearly wrong. By doing this, you will only have to focus on 2 or 3 options instead of all 11 of them.
Always Choose an Answer, Do Not Leave Any Questions Blank
Not being able to decide which answer is the best one is a possible scenario. If at some point you realize that you are spending too long on a single question and want to move on to the next one, try to select one of the potentially correct options, mark that question, move on, and come back to it later. Keep in mind that every incomplete answer is a wrong answer, but you are not penalized for guessing.
You should start preparing for your USMLE as early as possible. Ideally, 6 months in advance at the very least. This will give you time to design your study schedule and adjust it as you go, as many times as you need. You should always consider that the first study plan you come up with is not always going to be the ultimate one. As you move forward in your USMLE preparation journey, you might discover that you need to dedicate more time to certain subjects, of that your original study goals were not as achievable as you thought.
If you are interested in more USMLE study tips, take a look at this video:
A USMLE Step 1 prep course can be a game-changer if it offers the right resources. You will need the right resources and a good set of high-yield study techniques for medical school to ace this test. If you feel intimidated by the big challenge that the USMLE implies, or if you are seeking for guidance because you don’t want to face it alone, taking a prep course would be an excellent idea. However, purchasing a course that doesn’t offer you what you really need can be a real waste of time and money, so before you choose one, make sure you know what you’re looking for! Hopefully this article helped you understand what to expect from the perfect prep course. With the right help, your dream score is totally possible!
1. Do I need a USMLE Step 1 prep course?
Even though it is not strictly necessary for you to do a course to prepare for your USMLE Step 1, being able to resort to expert guidance during your preparation journey will have a huge impact in your final score.
2. How hard is the USMLE Step 1?
The USMLE Step 1 is an 8-hour long exam that is composed of seven 60-minute sections, with breaks in between. Each section includes up to 40 questions, adding up a total of 280 questions. Considering the characteristics of this exam, we could confidently say it is one of the most challenging tests that you will have to face in your path towards becoming a doctor.
3. How do I apply to the USMLE Step 1?
To apply to any of the USMLE Steps, you must submit an application through your registration entity. Students and graduates of LCME or AOA accredited programs should apply for Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS by following the instructions on the NBME website. Students and graduates of medical schools outside the US and Canada should apply for Step 1, Step 2 CK, and Step 2 CS by following the instructions on the ECFMG website.
4. How much does the USMLE Step 1 cost?
The USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK) cost $949 for each exam registration.
5. How important are practice tests to prepare for the USMLE?
Practice tests are essential to get a realistic sense of what to expect on the day of the exam. They can also help you spot your weaknesses and come up with better strategies to tackle each question. We wouldn’t recommend sitting for the USMLE without previously having done a practice test on your own.
6. Can I book a trial session before the USMLE?
Yes, the Prometric Center offers the possibility to book a 3-hour practice trial that will allow you to experience something very similar to the actual exam. We highly recommend taking this opportunity if you are able to.
7. How is my USMLE score reported?
At the moment, the USMLE Step 1 score is reported on a three-digit scale. The current minimum passing score for Step 1 is 194. However, the USMLE is currently working to change Step 1 scoring to a pass/fail system. You will receive notice of whether you passed or failed the exam. No actual score will be reported to you. The same scoring and quality control measures will continue to be applied. USMLE will continue releasing scores weekly (Wednesdays), with Step 1 scores generally released within 3-4 weeks of the test date. Check the official USMLE website for updates about this change.
8. When should I start preparing for the USMLE Step 1?
You should start preparing for the USMLE Step 1 as soon as you can, ideally 6 months before the test. Starting your preparation early will allow you to develop the most efficient study plan and adapt it to your needs as you go.
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