How to make a Schedule for Step 1

How To Make A Study Schedule For Step 1 [Step-By-Step]

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We will break down exactly how to make a study schedule to help you pass USMLE Step 1, and do it with confidence.

We’re going to be covering a lot such as how long you need to study for Step 1, and how to create a Step 1 schedule during your pre-dedicated and your dedicated periods.

And at the very end, I will also be talking about a very effective tool that makes the entire process so much quicker, more efficient, and a lot less stressful.

Let’s get into it!

Bonus: Want to learn how I got a 3.9 GPA in med school using a simple-to-follow study strategy? Get access to my exact study method from med school for free here. 

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How Long Should You Be Studying For USMLE Step 1?

The first question that we need to answer before even creating a study schedule is to know how long should you be studying for USMLE Step 1 now that it’s pass-fail.

In case you’re not familiar with it, typically you would take USMLE Step 1 after your first two years of medical school or maybe a year and a half.

Usually, you would take it in the summer between your second and third year. Most schools will give you about 4 to 6 weeks to study for it before you take the test. Some of them will even give anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks.

And so my recommendation is to have 5 to 6 weeks of dedicated prep where you’re not doing anything else aside from studying for Step 1.

But if you’re somebody who’s struggled in pre-clinical courses, or maybe you’re an international student and you have to take USMLE Step 1 and do a residency here, consider giving yourself anywhere from 6, 8, or even 10 weeks to study for the test. That way you’re ready and you’ll be able to pass with confidence.

If those time frames seem too quick or too ambitious, don’t worry because we’ll be talking about both the pre-dedicated as well as the dedicated study period.

In the pre-dedicated period, you’ll learn how to create a study schedule while studying for your other classes. In the dedicated period, we will talk about how to most effectively use your time in those 5 to 10 weeks that you’ll be studying for USMLE Step 1.

For more information on how early you should start studying for Step 1, check out this article: How Early To Start Studying For Step 1?

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How To Create A Step 1 Schedule During Your Pre-Dedicated Period

Let’s go ahead and break down how to create a Step 1 schedule during your pre-dedicated period.

When I’m working with students, particularly the ones that I coach one on one, I notice that a lot of them have a tendency of coming up with very ambitious schedules while still trying to study for their classes. And then they wonder why they’re stressed.

At the very end of this article, I will be talking about a very effective tool that you can use to make that entire process a lot more seamless and a lot simpler.

The most important thing to remember is that there is a big difference between your tenacity and intensity to study during your dedicated period compared to when you’re studying for Step 1 while attending the rest of your classes.

And so the best thing you can do for yourself is to take a deep breath and make the entire process a lot simpler.

how to study for shelf exams for your rotations

Time-intensive Resources

During the pre-dedicated period, I let students commit to resources that are very time-intensive. It would be really beneficial if you go through them in this period.

And often what falls into this bucket of resources that are very helpful yet time intensive are those that are video-heavy.

Some of my favorite resources are Pathoma, Sketchy, PicmonicOnlineMedEd, and Goljan Lectures.

Sometimes, getting through those episodes and those videos as much as you can during your pre-dedicated period often is the best decision you can make for yourself, instead of asking “how many questions should I do?” or “how many flashcards should I get through?”

If you can get through all those videos, then you free up so much more time during your dedicated prep. And then you can just start doing flashcards and questions instead of having to spend hours every single day watching videos.

And so if you’re in that pre-dedicated phase, my biggest recommendation would be to find one or two resources that are very video-heavy or time-intensive and then try to get at least 75% of the material done before the dedicated period.

Bonus: Want better grades with more free time (and less stress)? Get access to our free 3-step study system here to see what other top students do that you may not be doing!

Let’s say you are four months away from the exam and you’re starting your dedicated prep for Step 1, you may choose Sketchy and Pathoma as your two main resources.

Let’s just say there are a hundred videos in both of them, though there are definitely a lot more. Then your goal should be to get through 75 of these videos by the time your dedicated period starts. In that way, you only have 25 to go through during your first few weeks, which should be much simpler.

And by using backward math, you may come up with watching three videos a week. Perfect! Now, you have to ask yourself, where in your week do you have the most available time to watch a video?

Ideally, you should try matching these high-yield resources with the material you’re learning in class. If you’re in cardiology, it would make sense to watch the Pathoma or the Sketchy videos related to cardiology.

And then you can ask, where in my week do I have the most efficient time to do so?

Maybe you’ll find that on Saturdays you usually finish a bit early, and you can give yourself an hour and a half to watch one or two videos.

Or maybe you can watch a video on a Wednesday and then two videos on a Saturday, and do that for the rest of your schedule all the way up to your test prep in early May.

This approach will make you feel that you are making progress without being super stressed.

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How To Fit In Questions And How Much

Once you fit the resources into your schedule, the next thing we have to talk about is how to fit in questions and how much.

In terms of priority, I would recommend getting through the video resources as quickly with as much focus as possible, and then focusing on the questions because you’re going to do tons of those when the dedicated period comes around.

Number Of Questions In A Week

Choose your target number of questions to do in a week, something that feels easy to say yes to.

5-10 questions are doable. But maybe a hundred is not. So pick a number that you’re comfortable with, especially when you’re in your pre-dedicated period and you are still months, weeks, or years away from the dedicated period.

I’m going to share this quote that I love:

It is much better to be good consistently than great occasionally.

It’s much better to do five questions on a weekly basis than to do ten questions but only do them one out of every four weeks of a very busy block.

Let’s say you came up with 20 questions a week. The next thing to do is to schedule them. For example, you might want to do five questions on Wednesdays, ten on Saturdays, and five on Sundays.

And then you start to make progress toward the dedicated period without feeling stressed.

keys to studying with Anki

How To Do Questions During The Pre-dedicated Period

Here are three quick points that I want to emphasize on how to effectively do questions during the pre-dedicated period:

Tip #1. Make sure that a majority of the questions that you’re doing are focused on the topic that you’re learning. So if you’re on your cardiology block in class, focus on cardiology questions.

Tip #2. I do like to have some mix, especially with the students I work one on one with. I inject random questions they’ve learned from prior semesters.

So if you do 40 questions a week, maybe 30 of them will be cardiology. Let’s say on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you’ll do cardiology questions. And then on Sunday, you’ll do 10 random questions from topics you learned in the past. You can still get that nice spaced repetition.

Step 1 study sched

Tip #3. And finally, the question is, what resource should you be using?

If you are several months away from the dedicated period, getting into UWorld will probably lead you to remember too many of the answers but you don’t actually get the benefit from it.

Instead, I recommend using some other question banks. And I’ve made an entire episode on my favorite Step 1 resources and question banks. Check out this article: The Best Step 1 Resources [How To Get 250+]

But usually, my easy go-to recommendation is USMLE Rx, which is from the same makers of First Aid. And as you get closer to the dedicated period, start doing UWorld as your main practice question set.

Bonus: Want to learn how I got a 3.9 GPA in med school using a simple-to-follow study strategy? Get access to my exact study method from med school for free here. 

How To Use Pre-Made Flashcards In Your Pre-dedicated Prep

Now so far we have our resources and our questions. If you are somebody who really enjoys pre-made flashcards and using Anki, then this is the last component of how to use pre-made Anki cards in your pre-dedicated prep.

Now there are tons of pre-made Anki card deck collections that are out there absolutely free. Reddit is a great place to find them.

If you want our collection of every Anki card that we have for all phases of medical school, consider checking out the Domination Bundle. It’s a large Google Drive of all of our favorite Anki decks across the internet. It is a free bonus that’s included for any student who checks out the Domination Bundle.

But just like my recommendation on how to incorporate questions in your daily spaces, my recommendation for Anki is to commit to a schedule.

So instead of saying I’m going to do 20 to 50 flashcards a single day, I suggest that you pick a time frame. Let’s say, you can allot 10 or 20 minutes for flashcards. Something that is doable for you. Stick to something that you can do consistently versus occasionally.

My next recommendation is to still use that 50-50 split.

So if you’re using pre-made flashcards, usually I’ll recommend half of them to be about the topic that you’re learning about. So if I’m gonna do Saturday and Sundays for my Anki sessions, then on Saturdays I’ll do my cardiology Anki cards, and on Sundays, I’m just going to do other topics.

Usually, my recommendation is to do topics that you are weak at or topics that most students are weak at. What I found out after working with so many students is that the topic they are weak at are pharmacology, microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, and biostatistics.

I make a combo pre-made deck of all of those topics and then I’ll do 30 minutes of those.

So again, on Saturday I may be doing Anki cards related to the thing I’m learning in class. Then on Sunday, I may be doing those things that are gonna likely cost me the most points. But if I can build confidence, then when the dedicated period starts, I’m just already ahead of the game.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to prepare for your dedicated prep, you might be interested in our entire Step 1 strategy. Check out this article to see our full pass-fail strategy: Step 1 Is Now Pass-Fail – The Good, Bad, & Ugly

sample study schedules for step 1

How To Create A Step 1 Schedule During Your Dedicated Period

Let’s go ahead and get into the details of how to study during your dedicated prep for USMLE Step 1.

Now again, this period can range anywhere from 5 to 8 weeks or even 12 to 14 weeks. But usually, the way I like to simplify the Step 1 prep schedule is to break down however much time you’re studying into thirds.

So let’s say I am studying for 6 weeks. My goal in the first two weeks is to try to get through all of my content once finish all of those heavy video resources.

Ideally, during my pre-dedicated prep, I’m already trying to get through a lot of those videos in Pathoma, Sketchy, Picmonic, or whatever you choose.

Another goal for the first 2 weeks is to get through every topic. I’ll do this by going through First Aid. I’ll create a schedule where I can cover all the topics within the first two weeks.

Bonus: Want better grades with more free time (and less stress)? Get access to our free 3-step study system here to see what other top students do that you may not be doing!

But if you need a longer time, maybe you’re a slower reader or you need to go through more videos, then it is completely okay to make that period longer.

At the end of the second week after I’ve gone through the majority of the topics, then I can take my first practice exam to know where I stand in terms of scores.

The practice exams given by the NBME are usually just reported as pass or fail. You don’t really get a score. But there are other things such as the comp exams that a lot of schools will give you, or things like the self-assessments from UWorld that may still give you some kind of relative score to understand how you’re doing compared to others.

My goal is to try to get that first practice exam down once you’ve gotten to the first two weeks where the majority of the material from First Aid is covered.

more efficient way to study - Broken

How Many Questions To Do During The Dedicated Period?

Next, we’ll talk about how many questions to do. My recommendation is to make at least a minimum of two blocks of 40 questions every single day for a minimum of 80 questions per day.

And we have to build up on this, especially if you haven’t done too many questions during your classwork. So maybe 40 questions a day for the first week and a half, and then jumping to 60, then 80, and then 100.

My recommendation for a lot of the students that I work with is to start with two blocks and then make it a goal by the end of 2 or 2.5 weeks to get to two and a half blocks.

If you had followed my initial schedule where you’re doing cardiology or one topic in the morning and another topic in the evening, that first block would usually cover that topic and then the second block would cover the secondary topic.

And then once you’re able to add in an extra 20 to 40 questions for an ultimate goal of 100 to 120, then those last 20 to 40 questions can just be random things that you’ve learned as well as things you haven’t. And so in that way, you’ll feel like it’s the true testing environment.

It’s very likely that you’re still going to have some videos left to go through, or that you need to watch them for a second time because you’re constantly missing a topic that you thought you have already mastered.

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For watching video resources, I recommend that you schedule them in the middle of the day instead of at the start or the end.

In the morning, you are energized and you tend to be more focused, so it makes more sense to do highly productive tasks like doing the practice questions. And then things that are a little bit more monotonous, like watching videos, can be done in the middle of the day.

On a similar note, things that are very effective, such as doing pre-made Anki cards, are things that are very easy to get into. And so, I would stack my days with them.

Whenever I’m working with students one on one, I recommend starting with the pre-made flashcards focused around those four topics we talked about: pharmacology, microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, and biostatistics. They may do 15 to 30 minutes of those at the start of the day, and 15 to 30 minutes of those at the end of the day.

And then they would go to reviewing questions or reviewing flashcards from things that they missed. Then you would typically go ahead and jump into your first block, review your first block, and go for lunch. Then you can spend anywhere from 2 to 3 hours getting into your video resources.

And how you want to do this is up to you. Sometimes they’ll have students who will jump to the next video that’s in their queue. If they’re going through Pathoma, they may just go to the next video if they want to.

Or on the first half, I’m gonna go to the next video, and in the next half, I’m going to watch the related videos on things that I keep missing. So they’re making themselves a list of things that they’re struggling with and then they’ll find the video that’s relevant to that. So that’s a very effective use of your time.

And then you essentially reverse it. So then you’ll jump into your second block of questions when you’re a little bit more tired. It’s a great way to work on your stamina that way. Then jump into a review of those questions and finally end your day with pre-made flashcards from those four topics. And that is essentially your Step 1 day in a nutshell.

Bonus: Want to learn how I got a 3.9 GPA in med school using a simple-to-follow study strategy? Get access to my exact study method from med school for free here. 

How To Fit Practice Exams And When To Do Them?

Now the last thing that we have to talk about is how to fit practice exams in your dedicated period, particularly, when to do them.

As we talked about, I’m not a big proponent of doing a practice exam in your first week.

Some students and some schools will make you do it before you even jump into your dedicated period. That is completely fine just to get an idea of where you are.

I don’t give that score much weight because my personal score was 159 and I did great. So it’s a good reminder that you need to get your act together to do well, but it’s not a good reflection of the actual score that you will get.

During week one, my main focus is just trying to get through as much material as possible. I also give myself at least a half day to a full day off, usually on Sundays.

On week two, I would take the practice exam on a Saturday and either spend the rest of my Saturday just taking off and then reviewing for a half day on Sunday and then taking that day off so that way I have a full day of rest every week.

Or I just jump into my practice questions, do my review, and take the entire Sunday off to relax before jumping right back in on a Monday.

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And using our example of the typical six-week dedicated prep, typically you would be taking one practice exam from week two all the way to week five.

Once you’re about a week away from your final exam, I recommend stacking two practice exams back to back so that way you can work on the stamina you’ll need when you’re actually taking Step 1.

This may be a combination of doing the second self-assessment of UWorld combined with the NBME that you haven’t taken yet and then just taking them as if it’s test day.

See how you’re doing, and also work on your energy, your bathroom schedules, and other things like what snacks you’ll be eating, and how to stay up and fresh. It will be much more like the test days.

That way, when you actually take the test for seven to eight hours, it doesn’t feel like it’s the first time, because you’ve already trained for that part too.

So far, we’ve covered how to create a pre-dedicated and dedicated Step 1 schedule by yourself. But let’s talk about how you can use a tool to make the entire process a lot simpler.

Use A Personalized Scheduler: Cram Fighter

Blueprint logo

The tool that I want to share is Cram Fighter by Blueprint. In case you’re not familiar with it, Cram Fighter is essentially your own personalized scheduler for Step 1 based on your time and the resources you want to use.

Create your own study schedule and choose your objective. Let’s say that is to study for a board exam or course exam.

Cram Fighter - objective 1

And then you can choose what exam you’re going to study for. In this case, it’s USMLE Step 1.

Cram Fighter - Exam

And then you can choose how far the test is from now. Let’s say the test is three months away and you want to start studying tomorrow.

Cram Fighter Schedule

Bonus: Want to learn how I got a 3.9 GPA in med school using a simple-to-follow study strategy? Get access to my exact study method from med school for free here. 

I would recommend giving a buffer time. So let’s say we want to finish studying a week before the exam. In that way, if you’re not sure if the test is something you’re ready for or not, you can go ahead and have a little bit of buffer time.

Now that we know when our test is, we can go ahead and pick the resources we want.

Cram Fighter - study materials

Cram Fighter will recommend some resources. So you can add things like Anki, OnlineMedEd, or First Aid.

You can also add the “Top Four Most Popular”. That’s First Aid, UWorld, Boards and Beyond, and Sketchy. Or maybe you can add the top 6, and so on.

My personal preference is to add as little as possible, keeping the process simple.

If you’re three months away from the test then you likely have some schoolwork while prepping for the test. My recommendation is to add three things only.

In this setting, let’s say we will just add Anki cards and do the AnKing deck.

Cram Fighter - Anking

Every day, we’re just going for 50 cards, because that won’t take too long.

Cram Fighter - Angking cards

I also want to do some UWorld. Let’s say, every day I’m going to do 10 questions.

Cram Fighter - UWorld

And then let’s say that another resource that I really want to use is Pathoma. So I will just select all the lectures that I need, and unselect the ones you’ve already seen.

Cram Fighter - Pathoma

You will be given an estimate of your study time per day. It says it’s going to take me almost two hours to study every single day.

Cram Fighter - average study hours

Bonus: Want better grades with more free time (and less stress)? Get access to our free 3-step study system here to see what other top students do that you may not be doing!

Usually, I find that this number isn’t always predictive and so you can play around with this. But it’s still a nice tool because now I can just go ahead and confirm the resources and I’ll have my full schedule.

Cram Fighter - Confirm resources

So I already know what I will be doing tomorrow, like Anki and UWorld. It’s going to give me the relevant videos and the time that it will take me to watch these videos.

I can drag the tasks depending on what I want to do first. And once I’m done with a task, I can click the check mark.

Cram Fighter - Schedule

The thing about Cram Fighter that I really like is that in case you’re not able to do a task you can just drag and move it to the next day.

I can also edit my schedule based on things like my pace, my workload, or days when I am going on vacation or doing other stuff. You can change things around and rebalance your schedule.

Cram Fighter - Edit schedule

This is the beauty of Cram Fighter. You can have your own personalized schedule. You can see how practical things are. Having technology that gives you a complete schedule is very helpful.

There are a lot more features that come with Cram Fighter to make studying for Step 1 a lot simpler.

For a more detailed step-by-step process on how to set up Cram Fighter for your Step 1 review, check out this blog post: Cram Fighter Review [How To Set It Up For Step 1 Study Plan]

So if you guys are interested, go ahead and try out Cram Fighter and then see if it helps you on your Step 1 prep.

As always, my friends, thanks for being a part of my journey. Hopefully, I was a little help to you in yours.

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). 

If this article is helpful to you, then you might also be interested in these other articles:

Until the next one, my friend…

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