Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 Exam

March 26, 2022


After years of dedication and hard work, those hours spent studying have finally paid off. Now you’re in medical school and you are likely experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. That is to be expected as you learn how to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 Exam. Getting into medical school is difficult and anyone who expects to make it must also make a lot of sacrifices. Now that you are here, you find yourself sitting through lectures everyday with other geniuses just like you. After all, they too busted their butts to get to where you are.

It’s no secret that life as a medical student is chocked full of exams, so expect there will be times when it seems everyone else must be having an easier time of it. However, at that moment, immediately stop doubting yourself. It was your competitive spirit that got you here, and it is that same spirit you’ll need to pass the Medical Board Exams that are standing in your way to becoming a doctor.

As you work through a preparation schedule for taking your medical licensing exams, you will discover a broad array of recommendations for books you should be reading as well as study guides to help measure your retention. Truth is, there is no single solution for how to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 Exam that works for every student. The prospect of regurgitating all you’ve learned in medical school during an eight-hour exam at the rate of one question per minute should be concerning. So, carefully consider the suggestions presented below.

Focus on the Basic Science of Medicine

Since the United States Medical Licensing Exam Step 1 is starring every medical student in the face from Day One, it is important that you focus on absorbing as much of the material presented in lectures as you can. For certain, USMLE Step 1 will test your knowledge of the basic science of medicine. Moreover, you will have to integrate aspects of anatomy, physiology, embryology, and histology… into pathology. Practicing medicine is likely something you will do for a long time, particularly considering the countless years of training and financial investment you’re making. Just as your medical school wants the most academically competitive students on their campus, the communities you serve will want the smartest doctors serving patients.

USMLE Step 1 has earned a notorious reputation for being one of the hardest tests in the world, so it is easy to see how a medical student might shutter at the thought of how much they still need to learn. As you work through your first couple years of medical school, you’ll hear a lot about this exam, but don’t be fooled by the change of score reporting from a numerical grade to pass/fail. USMLE content is developed and reviewed by medical school faculty and practicing physicians from around the United States, so it is not intended to be easy. “Any medical student is smart enough to pass the USMLE exam if he or she has a good knowledge base,” remarked Hans Wolf, MD, and CEO & Founder of WolfPacc Physicians Achievement Concept Course.

On the Road to Passing the USMLE Step 1 Exam

If you are on the road to earning your Doctor of Medicine degree or a foreign medical graduate (FMG) or international medical graduate (IMG), there are specific exams that will be used to test your knowledge and skills before you obtain licensure to practice medicine in the United States. Founded in 1911, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) created the United States Medical Licensing Exam® in collaboration with the Federation of State Medical Boards. The three-step process measures the examinee’s ability to apply the knowledge, principles, and fundamental patient skills considered essential for safe and effective medical care. Indeed the thought of how to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam can seem somewhat overwhelming, so you should implement an action plan long before you consider Step 1 registration, such as:

  • Set a Schedule & Stay on Track – From day one, medical school is going to require almost all of your time. If you are well organized and are controlling your time, former test-takers recommend allowing 3 months for study. On the other hand, if you find you are having academic issues or problems managing your time, it is important to consider how to maximize the time you have to study for Step 1. A test review course can help you apply the 500-600 hours of dedicated study time.
  • Study Smarter not Harder or Longer – Step 1 is not the test that you want to cram for at the last minute. Moreover, it is not enough to just allocate the hours of study time if you are not absorbing the material in an actionable way. You may have been a star pupil before entering medical school, but now you will need to study even smarter to ensure you pass your licensing exams. Plus, it is a perfect time to focus on innovative learning solutions that can teach you how to apply the information presented during your early years of medical school.
  • Practice Exams are Just for Practice – It is helpful to understand that Step 1 practice exams are just that, so expect the grade you attain when you practice taking the test to be somewhat of an inflated score. Moreover, taking the Step 1 at home does not replicate the pressure that you will feel at the live exam. Even taking an NBME subject exam does not provide the constructive feedback you need to develop a mastery of the basic sciences needed to become a skilled physician.
  • Consider a Good Review Course – Step 1 tests your knowledge of and ability to apply the information you learned in the first couple years of medical school. So, the difficulty of how to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam is due to the enormous volume of information being tested. With a pass/fail status, do not lose sight of the fact that Step 1 is a direct indicator of your grasp of this material. If you have already experienced academic issues, it could be helpful to take action sooner than later.
  • Personalized Tutoring – Always be realistic about your baseline knowledge and your ability to apply the science of medicine to the cause and effects of diseases. Every medical student has his or her own weaknesses. An experienced tutor can help you target weak areas where you need to focus. There is no one-size-fits-all in preparing to sit for Step 1, but a personalized approach can result in a significantly better understanding of the information you should have already learned in medical school.

This is one of the most stressful and difficult exams you will take to become a doctor. The reason why? It is extremely long and requires the study of numerous medical disciplines. As of January 2022, a change to the passing standard for the USMLE Step 1 was enacted, shifting to a pass/fail instead of a numerical grade scoring system. Currently, the eight-hour USMLE Step 1 exam is comprised of multiple-choice questions and is divided into seven categories. Out of 300 possible points, a passing score is 196 or higher. “The information needed to answer the questions on the Step 1 can seem somewhat overwhelming,” added Dr. Wolf. “At WolfPacc, we don’t teach memorization. We’ve broken down what students need to know into five basic concepts and teach them how knowledge is applied in the clinical world.”

Step 1, Step 2CK, and Step 3 Exam Review Course

“USMLE Step 1, Step 2CK and Step 3 require a mastery of the basic science of medicine,” continued Dr. Wolf, “it also tests to ensure you have scientific principles needed for the safe and competent practice of medicine.” USMLE Step 1 and Step 2CK are normally taken before your apply for residency. However, some do wait until their first year of residency to take the Step 3 exam. That said, you can see how your performance on the first two exams will likely set the tone for your residency match process. One of the expected changes due to the conversion of USMLE Step 1 to a pass/fail scoring will be that USMLE Step 2 CK will become the new standard by which residency programs measure and compare applicants. WolfPacc offers an array of learning courses to teach you the concepts as well as retention techniques and the clinical thinking you need to be a doctor.

Remember, there is much more riding on your test performance than a simple pass/fail score. Since the USMLE Step 2 CK exam will continue to provide a numerical score, residency program directors are expected to put more weight on this score during their application review. Step 2 CK focuses more on applying the basic science of medicine in a patient presentation. This highlights one of the shortcomings of a pass/fail score where your feedback is mostly a “Thank You” screen and a downloadable report with a very generic comparison of how well or how poorly you did in each test section. Over the years, Dr. Wolf saw a need for developing courses that focus on understanding how to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam as well as the Step 2 CK and Step 3. The WolfPacc methodology (Power 5) integrates the “how and why” of the five main organ systems through physiology making it much easier to apply the basic sciences.

At WOLFPACC, we believe in your dream and want you to become a confident clinical physician. Our staff will do everything we can to help you understand the material presented and to assist you in passing your USMLE Step 1, Step 2 CK or Step 3 medical licensing exams. Contact us today to get started. Our staff looks forward to working with you and making you our next success story.