Step 1 Tips and Tricks
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Acing The USMLE: Step 1 Tips and Tricks Guide

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Studying for Step 1 and want to know the best Step 1 tips and tricks? I got you in this post!

Medical school was never easy as you are expected to invest your entire life studying endlessly for exams. Though you have successfully passed all your subjects in med school, the battle doesn’t stop there. You need to get ready for the next big challenge of your life — the USMLE Step 1.

So in this post I’m going to break down the best Step 1 tips and tricks to help you succeed on that challenge!

FYI: If you want to check out a full guide on how to do well on Step 1, check out our how to study for Step 1 post here. 

What Is The USMLE Step 1?

It is an 8-hour testing session divided into seven 60-minute segments. Each segment may have a maximum of 40 questions assessing your basic medical foundations. 

The questions focus on the etiologic principles and mechanisms of diseases and their corresponding modes of treatment. It also evaluates your knowledge of various physician tasks and competencies.

So to bring you a step closer to your dream, here are the ultimate USMLE Step 1 tips and tricks you must know.

Bonus: Want to get a 250 or higher on Step 1?  Click here to get access to our free video training to boost your score today!

1. Get Quicker At Reading and Comprehension

Reading comprehension and vocabulary skills are important in any given exam. But for USMLE, don’t be surprised at long exhausting situational analyses of clinical scenarios provided with a detailed physical exam, history, and laboratory findings. 

Keep in mind that you only have 1.5 minutes to answer each question, provided that the total number of items is 40. Speed reading is an advantage — but reading alone won’t lead you anywhere to the right answer. Read each question carefully but quickly and understand what is being asked.

A key strategy is to skip first the lengthy narration and head towards the questions. Identify what they want you to answer. Once you’ve figured out where the question is heading, get back to the narration, read, comprehend, and search for the answer.

Check out this YouTube video to learn how to better study for your tests!

2. Understand There Is One Best Step 1 Answer

Aside from the lengthy questions, what makes USMLE difficult is the tons of choices provided for each item. Usually, multiple-choice exam formats are restricted only to four to five options — A, B, C, D, E. But for USMLE, expect that it may lead up to 11!

Always read ALL the choices before making up your mind. Wise elimination of obviously incorrect answers would be helpful until you arrive at the right one.

Test-Taking Strategies To Avoid: 

Certainly, you’ve taken a lot of exams in the past and you’ve carried with you test-taking strategies to survive. Perhaps, some would be the following:

  • Considering long answers are correct, Just because it sounds informative doesn’t mean it’s already what is being asked.
  • Avoid disregarding absolute terms like “always” or “never.” There are chances that they are correct.
  • Using convergence strategy wherein you think the correct answer is the umbrella of all other options.

In USMLE, forget these personal strategies because the boards will not use them anyway. Before the exam, practice answering as many sample USMLE test questions as you would have an idea of how choices are formulated. This strategy would help you on distinguishing partially correct choices from the best correct one. 

3. Focus On Experimental Questions

There are a lot of experimental questions in the exam. Make sure you are prepared on answering concepts on pharmacologic mechanisms of actions and enzyme receptors. 

These are often asked in the context of experiments. In fact, these are some of the most challenging questions that assess your mastery and ability to synthesize the fundamental concepts you’ve learned. 

Make sure that before testing day, you are comfortable enough to crack questions involving pathways and mechanisms. Keep on practicing on answering examples of this type of question.

4. Study Step 1 Biostatistics!

Unlike the other USMLE Step 1 tips and tricks, this advice needs you to undergo the traditional way of surviving an exam–to study. The inclusion of biostatistics has been a trend for the past board exams. There’s no other way to answer these types of questions but to study biostatistics. Go with the trend. Here are some tips on how to study for Step 1.

 This is actually one of my favorite tips that I provide in the following video:

5. Be Mindful of ‘Distractors’

Distractors are camouflaged incorrect answers that may seem correct. To deal with USMLE, it’s important to understand how the questions are constructed. By eliminating the wrong ones, you’re close to selecting the right choice. 

How To Detect Distractors? 

They can come in many forms and may confusingly appear as the best answer (but they truly are not). So to keep these distractors from tricking you and pull you further a score lower, here are three characteristics of distractors to help you detect them:

They Are Almost Correct

For example, the prevalence of a particular disease is 10%, distractors would be constructed in the same way but with a different percentage. That’s how close they might appear. 

They Are Homogeneous

Distractors can’t be the odd one out. If test options or the correct answer itself are either laboratory findings, physical examination, or mode of therapies, distractors would definitely appear the same.

They May Appear Plausible

If you have not mastered a particular topic, it would be easy for you to choose an option that sounds informative. You would tend to choose such without knowing that it’s incorrect. 

That’s why it’s still important not to depend on test strategies alone. Yes, they’re helpful, but your main weapon in winning an exam is to have adequate knowledge of what is being asked. 

Bonus: Want to get a 250 or higher on Step 1?  Click here to get access to our free video training to boost your score today!

6. Avoid Memorization As Main Weapon For Step 1 Studying

Don’t depend solely on memorization. Medicine is about understanding.

The boards will more likely assess your critical thinking skills. Don’t expect identification questions of what, who, where, or when in which answers would just be easily pulled off from simple recall of a memory. 

As mentioned earlier, you will be provided totally unfamiliar clinical scenarios that would challenge your critical thinking skills and ability to synthesize principles and mechanisms to arrive at an appropriate medical intervention. 

Though there would be facts needed to be memorized by heart such as formulas or normal vital signs and laboratory ranges, it is much more important how you would apply these normal values in assessing the question. 

FYI: One of the best resources you’ll likely use is First Aid for Step 1. Check out our full ultimate guide on how to use First Aid for Step 1 here!

7. Not Everything Will Appear In The USMLE Exam

After the exam, expect that disappointing feeling as if none of your sleepless nights of studying didn’t pay off.

Here’s the fact: more than 90% of what you studied will appear on your exam. The 280 questions will not definitely cover every detail cover-to-cover of your thick medical books and reviewers. 

One of the USMLE Step 1 tips and tricks mentioned is that the questions are concentrated on fundamental concepts. Though you may have not mastered them all, do your best to understand the basics at the very least. 


This is only a new beginning.

Hopefully, these USMLE Step 1 tips and tricks have provided you an overview of the battle you chose to take and the possible ways on how to win over. Read and comprehend what is being asked, don’t memorize, detect distractors, and above all else — study hard. 

You have already come this far towards your ultimate dream of becoming a licensed doctor. Never give up. Cracking step one is a just new start. 

If you enjoyed this post, go ahead and check out these articles as well:

How To Study For Step 1 [Get A 250+]
How To Use First Aid For Step 1 [Ultimate Guide]
How To Study In Medical School [Ultimate Guide]
Step 1 Is Now Pass-Fail – The Good, Bad, & Ugly
Get A High Step Score [Top Step 1 Resources]

Also, if you want to learn how to crush your Step 1 and get a 250+ score, grab your spot by joining our free Step 1 Masterclass here.

Step-1-Masterclass-1

Or maybe you want to learn how to achieve success on your USMLE Step 1? If you are, then join Step 1 Academy today. 

Step 1 Academy

Upon joining you will gain access to video lesson modules that will allow you to discover the exact strategies and methods to raise your Step 1 score without stressing out!

Click here to learn more.

I hope you guys learned a lot and thanks for reading!

Until next time my friends…

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