How Early to start studying for Step 1

How Early To Start Studying For Step 1?

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Let’s talk about one of the big questions on every med student’s mind: How early to start studying for Step 1? Preparing for this exam isn’t something you can just cram for at the last minute. It covers a massive amount of material, so it takes time to get it all down.

This is the guide I wish I had when studying for Step 1 as a med student. Hope it helps you out.

Early preparation is key. In this guide, we’ll break down when to kickstart your Step 1 prep, how to craft the perfect study schedule, and some killer tips to ace the exam.

Let’s get into it!

[Free Download] Want to have everything you need to be a top student on your medical journey? Get FREE access to our Med School Success Handbook to get 60+ tips including the best study, time management, mindset tips you need to be a top student. Download it here. 

How Early To Start Studying For Step 1

Traditionally, most students would dive into their Step 1 prep after completing their first two years of medical school or maybe even a year and a half in. That’s when you’ve usually covered the core subjects that this test is all about.

But here’s the twist since I took my exam: Step 1 has gone pass-fail. That’s a game-changer. However, it doesn’t mean you should slack off. Quite the opposite.

Even though the scoring system has changed, using your time wisely during your first and second years is super important.

Now, I usually don’t recommend diving headfirst into Step 1 prep before your second year of med school. Your main focus in first year should be nailing your med school classes.

But every student is different. If you’re the type who needs extra time to absorb info or if test-taking isn’t your strong suit, starting early might be wise.

When To Start

The traditional timing for Step 1 is in the summer between your second and third years of med school. Most schools give you about 4 to 6 weeks to prep for it, and some even stretch that to 6 to 12 weeks.

My advice? Plan for a solid 5-8 weeks of dedicated prep, where Step 1 is your one and only focus.

But, if you’ve had a rough time in your pre-clinical courses or you’re an international student eyeing a U.S. residency, think about extending your prep time to 6, 8, or even 10 weeks. Confidence matters here.

How early to start studying for Step 1 (1)

Learning And Study Style

Also, don’t forget to figure out your study style. Try different methods in your first year. Do you work best in study groups or flying solo? Are you a lecture fan or more of a reader?

Do you learn best by using flashcards, watching video lectures, writing notes, or making diagrams? It’s essential to know how you learn because it’ll make your Step 1 prep way more efficient.

Pre-Dedicated And Dedicated Periods

Lastly, create two distinct study periods: pre-dedicated and dedicated.

During the pre-dedicated time, you’ll learn to juggle Step 1 prep with your regular classes. In the dedicated phase, we’ll dive deep into how to make the most of those 5 to 10 weeks when Step 1 becomes your full-time gig.

[Free Download] Want to have everything you need to be a top student on your medical journey? Get FREE access to our Med School Success Handbook to get 60+ tips including the best study, time management, mindset tips you need to be a top student. Download it here. 

What’s The Best Study Schedule Or Timeline For USMLE Step 1?

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of creating the best study schedule for USMLE Step 1. Remember, success here isn’t just about studying hard; it’s about studying smart. So, let’s break it down.

The first step in your Step 1 journey is to craft a solid study plan. You’ll need sturdy resources for this, ones you can trust. The key is to establish your study schedule as early as possible.

Now, about those study hours – ideally, you’d aim for 8-12 hours a day for Step 1 prep. But everyone’s different. You might find that your optimal study duration varies. It’s all good.

Pre-Dedicated Phase

During this time, you’ll be juggling your regular med school courses and Step 1 prep. Your main goal here is to get through your study resources, like UWorld and First Aid.

With so much material to cover, having a study schedule is a game-changer. It helps you organize your learning strategically.

P.S. Curious whether you can pass Step 1 with UWorld as your only resource? Check out this article: Can You Pass Step 1 With UWorld Only?

Dedicated Period

Typically, med students have about 2-3 months between their second-year final exams and the USMLE Step 1 exam. During this time, you can dedicate 5-6 weeks solely to preparing for Step 1. This period is called “dedicated,” and it’s crucial.

The dedicated study period is where the rubber meets the road for your USMLE Step 1 preparation. This is when you’ll immerse yourself entirely in Step 1 content.

Here’s a video on how to set up your study schedule now that Step 1 now that it is a pass-fail exam:

Study Tips For USMLE Step 1

Let’s dive into some key study tips for USMLE Step 1. These are like secret weapons for your Step 1 prep and they will make your journey smoother and more effective.

Tip #1 Find Your Ideal Learning Resources

Not all study materials are created equal, and what works best for one person may not work for another.

Understand your learning style – whether you learn better through reading, videos, or interactive content. Tailor your resources accordingly. It’s all about finding what clicks for you.

Not sure which resources are good for you? Check out this YouTube video: The Best Step 1 Resources

Tip #2 Gauge Your Academic Performance

Your performance in your first two years of medical school provides valuable insights into your grasp of Step 1 material. Your grades and class rank can act as indicators of areas that need extra attention.

Use your academic progress as a guide to identifying topics you should tackle sooner rather than later.

Tip #3 Take Advantage of Practice Exams

Practice exams are goldmines of experience. The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) offers practice exams that closely mirror the real USMLE tests in content and format. These exams are incredibly effective for simulating the actual test experience and gauging your readiness.

Tip #4 Prioritize Practice Questions

Rather than overloading yourself with reading, focus on practice questions. Doing more practice questions over time can significantly boost your score.

They expose you to different angles and approaches to the same material, helping you stay calm and better prepared for the actual exam. Reading First Aid repeatedly might not yield the same results.

Tip #5 Be Flexible with Your Schedule

While having a consistent study schedule is crucial, don’t hesitate to veer from it occasionally.

Some days, you may feel less motivated or need extra sleep. Listen to your body and mind. An extra hour of sleep can be more valuable than an extra hour of study.

Trust me, there will be days when studying feels like an insurmountable mountain. You’ll crave an extra hour of sleep, and that’s perfectly fine – take it!

My study schedule usually started at 8:00 AM, but some days, I’d hit snooze at 7:30 AM. That extra sleep was worth it. Remember to prioritize self-care, including sleep, balanced eating, and exercise.

Also, set a strict study cutoff time to ensure you prioritize self-care.

For a deeper dive into Step 1 study tips, check out this comprehensive article from a med student’s perspective: How to Study for Step 1. It’s filled with valuable insights to supercharge your preparation journey.

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Here are frequently asked questions related to how early to start studying for Step 1:

How Long Should I Study For Step 1?

To do really well on Step 1, here’s what I’d suggest. First, aim for a dedicated study time of about 5 to 6 weeks. This means these weeks are all about Step 1 – no other major distractions.

But before that, you should have a pre-dedicated period. This helps you get ready and cover important study stuff ahead of your big study time. Remember, everyone’s different, so if you need more time, it’s okay!

Some folks might need extra weeks, especially if they want to work on specific weak spots or if they prefer a slower pace. The key is to be flexible and choose the time that suits you best.

To find out more about the ideal study duration for Step 1, take a look at this article: How Long Should I Study for Step 1?

Is 4 Weeks Enough For Step 1?

It can be but you’ll have to push. While I typically suggest a 5-6 week prep for Step 1, 4 weeks can work if you plan it right. Pick your study materials wisely, like First Aid, UWorld, and question banks.

It’s essential to understand that more study time doesn’t always translate to better results; it can actually lead to burnout. So, 4-5 weeks is still a reasonable timeframe for preparation. But it requires you to have a better foundation.

And here’s a golden rule: don’t keep postponing because you don’t feel 100% ready. Trust me, that feeling never comes, and delaying might hurt more than help.

Only have 4 weeks to study?

We have a sample 4-week study schedule here: Study Schedule for Step 1 (Actual Examples)

And an in-depth discussion on what to do if you have 4 weeks left: Can I Pass Step 1 In 4 Weeks?

[Free Download] Want to have everything you need to be a top student on your medical journey? Get FREE access to our Med School Success Handbook to get 60+ tips including the best study, time management, mindset tips you need to be a top student. Download it here. 

Is 1 Year Enough For Step 1?

Studying for the USMLE Step 1 for an entire year might not be the most effective strategy. Here’s why:

Firstly, a year of continuous study can lead to burnout. This exam is demanding, and overloading yourself with study time can result in diminishing returns.

Secondly, taking a whole year off can disrupt your medical school curriculum. Typically, Step 1 is meant to be taken after your first or second year, aligning with your coursework. Delaying it by a year could complicate your academic progression.

In most cases, a focused study period of 5-6 weeks, following your pre-dedicated preparation during medical school, is adequate.

This approach allows you to intensively prepare for Step 1 without the risk of burnout or interfering with your medical school schedule.

Now if your year of studying is done with your course work, gradually doing questions and review – and then jumping into your dedicated, that would work.


As we wrap up, remember that your journey begins with understanding how early to start studying for USMLE Step 1. It’s a unique path for every med student, so don’t compare yourself to others.

Whether you dive into Step 1 prep early or later, what truly matters is the effort and dedication you put in.

Stay flexible, adapt your study schedule to your needs, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Step 1 may seem like a mountain, but with the right plan and mindset, you’ll conquer it. Trust in your abilities and believe in the progress you’ll make.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way. And when the day of your Step 1 exam finally comes, you’ll be ready to tackle it with confidence. Best of luck!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

Did you enjoy this article on Step 1 tips? If you did, go ahead and check out these articles as well:

Thank you so much for making it to the end of this post!

Until the next one my friend…

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