Five Fatal Mistakes To Avoid During USMLE Step 1 Preparation

Ready to become a USMLE aspirant? Ready to score 260+ and ace the test? Step 1 may be the most challenging part of USMLE for most medical students. Make sure you don’t make any of these five mistakes, I wish I had someone to tell me about during my days, while preparing for your STEP 1 exam.

1. Choosing Additional Resources

In an attempt to cover every bit of information, most students will choose too many learning resources when starting to prepare for STEP 1. In the end, they spend a lot more time than needed and still cannot master any of them.

Even I made the same mistake during my days. But I was lucky enough to realize the fact timely and cut down the list to three resources only.

What’s the sense in ruining your time to cram extra resources while you have not yet mastered what you are already studying?

As a tutor, I always recommend my students to choose only three learning resources. My recommended resources for you to ace the STEP 1 include:


  • First Aid for USMLE Step 1. This book is the Bible of preclinical subjects. What I recommend is you should start reading and annotating First Aid from your entrance days into a medical school.
  • Pathoma, along with its video lectures, is the best complement to the First Aid for pathology review.
  • Video Lecture Series. The video lecture series (e.g., Kaplan, Lecturio) may be an excellent source if you don’t have a grip on basic, preclinical subjects. If you already have mastered those subjects, you can cut it down too.
  • Smashusmle. A great resource tested by a lot of USMLE teachers and examinee and it is cost effective and make good results. Take a moment to look at it. 

2. Cramming Instead Of Learning

USMLE Step 1 exam requires you to apply your concepts and knowledge reserve, and interconnect various subjects to answer the question. Considering this fact, you should learn and understand the core concepts of each topic rather than just reading and cramming the information written in books.

Memorization and cramming without a deep understanding of the concepts may lead to mind-block, leaving you helpless to recall anything and solve the question.

Use video lectures and Qbanks to enhance your conceptual learning and also learn from the questions you missed in the Qbank.

3. Going Later on Qbanks

The correct and timely use of Qbanks is a crucial factor in determining your USMLE scores. The primary purpose of Qbanks is to simulate the exam through high-level reasoning. A Qbank will polish your knowledge and enhance your understanding of various concepts.

Many students assume Qbanks to be an assessment tool, but they are not. Take Qbank as a learning tool. By simultaneously solving the questions along with studying, you will learn how to discern a stem question, connect the dots, and figure out the final answer.

Trails have shown that practice questions from a Qbank enhance your knowledge retention ability.

An efficient way to learn from a Qbank is by making a spreadsheet named ‘why I missed this question.’ This will help you recognize your lacking areas, e.g., whether you were unable to understand what is being asked or you can’t figure out the answer.

(UWorld is a pioneer Qbank, but it is a little expensive to afford. You can also check our Qbank of 500 solved questions in an affordable price here).

4. Fewer Pre-Exam Quizzes

Taking pre-exam quizzes (NBMEs) and tests is an excellent tool to assess your knowledge reserves, your ability to understand the question stems, interconnect the facts, and apply your knowledge for solving the problems. It also provides a simulation of the first Step 1 exam.

These tests also provide you with results in sheets explaining which areas do you lack and which areas you are good at so that you put more effort and cover your weak subjects.

Taking a few pre-exam quizzes can also put you in trouble. I highly recommend you take as many pre-exam quizzes as possible to ensure your success on the exam day.

5. Neglecting Your Health

During your preparation months, you may keep your focus only on studying for Step 1. It can take a toll on your health. Take Step1 just as an exam. There is no sense in succeeding USMLE at the expense of your health.

Moreover, bad health can also affect your final score. The saying ‘only a health body bears a healthy mind’ also pertains to USMLE.

I recommend you to take a healthy diet (as you are what you eat), do some yoga or meditation daily, exercise regularly, take enough sleep, and schedule a break to enjoy your hobbies.

Bonus Tip

Most students, despite a good grip on the knowledge and question-solving skills, get anxious on their exam day, which severely impacts their scores. I highly recommend you to visit and take a practice exam at your Prometric test center before your real exam day to get familiar with the test format.

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