USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule: 1, 3 & 6 Months

June 20, 2024
10 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 12/11/23

Are you planning to take the USMLE step 1? If so, read on to learn how to study and the steps to ace the USMLE exam.

The United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 is an assessment that evaluates the essential medical concepts that an aspiring physician should know. It is important because it is a stepping stone into the medical career.

Steps 1, 2, and 3 of the USMLE are three separate exams. Step 1 tests medical students on their knowledge of basic sciences, clinical skills, and human physiology, while Step 2 covers patient diagnosis and how to manage different diseases. 

Steps 1 and 2 are taken during medical school, while Step 3 is taken at the end of the first year of residency. Step 3 assesses whether you can apply medical knowledge and understanding of biomedical and clinical science, which is essential for the unsupervised medicine practice. 

Preparing for the step 1 exam is important for medical students and aspiring physicians. It’s essential for students gearing up to take the exam to create a USMLE step 1 study schedule. 

Each individual’s study schedule comes in different forms depending on their study time, day-to-day obligations, and preferred learning styles. With this said, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all USMLE study schedule. 

Acing the exam requires proper planning and discipline. This article will delve into how to create the USMLE study schedule. We’ll provide templates for one-month, three-month, and six-month study periods. We will also add tips to help you create the best study plan and chart a course to succeed in the USMLE step 1 examination.

Let’s get started!

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Creating Your USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule: Steps to Take

The USMLE step 1 is a defining moment for aspiring physicians in the United States. It is the first exam out of three you’re required to complete the USMLE. It sets the stage for your future career in the medical industry.

Acing this exam requires thorough preparation and understanding of the basic concepts of medicine. You need to prepare meticulously and plan well, which you can do by having a study schedule.

As you’ve probably learned from the MCAT, creating a study schedule is crucial for any exam. Hence, creating an effective one is crucial. Below are some steps you can take before crafting your study schedule.

Understand the Exam Format

Understanding the USMLE Step 1 exam format is essential before you start planning. This way, you can tailor your preparation to the exam format and prepare accordingly. Below are some of the things to look out for in the exam format:

  • The USMLE assesses your knowledge and understanding of major systems and organs of the body. 
  • The allotted time for testing consists of multiple 60-minute blocks administered in an eight-hour testing session. 
  • The question type is multiple-choice and includes single-best-answer multiple-choice questions, sequential item sets, and matching sets.
  • The scoring system calculates the examinee’s raw score based on the correct number of questions answered. It is important to note that not all questions carry the same weight.

Considering these factors before you dive into USMLE prep will help you set clear goals as you create your study schedule. 

Assess Your Current Knowledge

Before crafting a study schedule to prepare for your exam, you should first assess your current knowledge. Taking a self-assessment test will help you know your strengths and weaknesses. 

Knowing your starting point will give you a better idea of what you need to allot more time toward throughout your study period. 

Set Clear Goals

After assessing your knowledge, setting specific goals is next. You should include short- and long-term objectives depending on how long you have before the exam. To make your goals more achievable, you can set them weekly or biweekly and specify what you want to achieve throughout your study period.

Short-term goals for USMLE include covering high-yield topics in different subjects. Long-term goals include having a strong foundation in all the subjects and being able to finish the practice questions under simulated exam conditions. 

Design Your Study Schedule

Designing a well-structured study schedule requires you to be realistic about your daily obligations, classes, and time to study. It should also be flexible to accommodate breaks and resting time. Below are tips on how to craft an effective study schedule:

  • Allocate time to study for each subject based on your strengths and weaknesses
  • Focus on high-yield topics
  • Allocate time for timed and untimed practice tests
  • Have review days
  • Plan breaks and downtime

How you break down your study schedule will depend on the total duration of your study period. Knowing how much time you have to study will allow you to set more reasonable and achievable daily and weekly goals.

Choose Study Resources

Selecting the best resources for your study is important when preparing for the USMLE step 1. Ensure your selected resources are current, comprehensive, and aligned with your study goals and learning style. 

Some resources you can use include, but are not limited to, textbooks, online resources, flashcards, and review courses.

The right resources provide you with the best information to draw on for your studies. It will help you better understand the concepts needed to ace your exam.

Be Consistent With Your Schedule

Once you have carefully crafted a schedule for yourself, it’s essential to keep up with it. Ensure you maintain discipline and accountability in your daily routine.

Creating a realistic schedule is essential to remain consistent. Building your study schedule around your priorities and incorporating designated time slots for academic pursuits, personal responsibilities, and rest will increase the likelihood of maintaining a consistent and balanced routine.

Download your USMLE Step 1 Study Schedules today!

1-Month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan

Since one month is a short period to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 exam, it is crucial to have a rigid study schedule. The schedule will help assess your knowledge and help you set a clear goal. Below is a one-month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan that we have curated for you:

Week 1

Covering high-yield content such as microbiology, pathology, and physiology is important during your first week. High-yield content is what’s most likely to be covered on the exam. Focus on these topics in broader strokes for the first five days. 

Once you’ve sufficiently reviewed these high-yield subjects, you’ll take the last few days of your first week doing the following:

  • Take a full-length practice test to know your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Refine your study plans based on your weaknesses and strengths.

This will prepare you for the following week and allow you to make any potential changes to your schedule.

Week 2

Use your second week to review subjects in more depth. Based on your strengths and weaknesses, start with the topics that need more work. Ensure you cover the key concepts and understand how they function. 

At the end of the week, take a practice test that covers the topics you’ve studied in the last two weeks. This will help you monitor your progress and identify any areas of weakness. 

Week 3

As you get closer to the exam, it is time to focus on these points below:

  • Review answers to previous practice tests and spend time understanding your mistakes.
  • Take timed and untimed practice tests to better assess your readiness for the exam.

The points above will help you identify and work on any remaining weaknesses as you go into the last week of preparation. 

Week 4

This week is for the final review. Do final reviews of high-yield topics and key points to ensure you have truly mastered them. While doing this, focus on strengthening your weakest areas.

To finish off the week, you can take timed practice tests that simulate exam conditions to ease any pre-exam concerns and truly prepare you for test day!

Depending on your starting point, a one-month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan can be intense due to the time constraints. Customize your plan based on your strengths and weaknesses, and remember to set realistic goals.

3-Month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan

A three-month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan gives the student a more balanced and comprehensive approach to preparing for the exam. At the very least, three months gives you enough time to cover all topics needed to ace the exam without feeling burned out. Below is an example of approaching your study plan for three months.

Month 1

The first month of your study plan should be dedicated to building a strong foundation for each topic.

Week 1 and 2

For the first week, focus on building a strong knowledge base for each topic. Focus on high-yield topics and your weaknesses while still allotting time for everything in between. 

As a guide, your first week can consist of doing the following:

  • Ensure you do a comprehensive review of high-yield subjects
  • Start reading subjects like physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology
  • Read textbooks for an in-depth look at each topic
  • Take detailed notes to have notes to review in the last days towards the exam.

Ensure you start these first two weeks off strong. These few weeks are essential, and doing it right will give you a strong base for the remainder of your study period. 

Weeks 3 and 4

Following the same format as the following weeks, you can spend weeks three and four on other high-yield topics and uncovered subjects. 

If you studied physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology in your first two weeks, you can use this time to cover anatomy, behavioral sciences, and biochemistry. 

Month 2

Once you’ve acquired a foundational understanding of each topic, it’s time to dig deeper and apply what you’ve learned. You’ll want to review each topic and develop a rich understanding of the principles behind them. You can also benefit from taking practice tests and making flashcards. 

Doing this will provide a more tangible measure of how far you have mastered each topic and familiarize you with the exam format. 

Weeks 5 and 6

At the top of the month, you can dive deeper into the topics you covered in the first two weeks. This is where you can begin taking practice questions and building a bank of study tools to facilitate the following weeks.

Weeks 7 and 8

During weeks seven and eight, develop a thorough understanding of anatomy, behavioral sciences, and biochemistry. Solve practice questions to better understand the topics you have studied and the ones you have left. You can continue to use textbooks and online resources to broaden your understanding of each topic.

Month 3

Use your final month to review everything you’ve learned and any pieces you might have missed. This final month should cater to your strengths and weaknesses at this point. 

Weeks 9 and 10

Use these weeks for organ review while touching on previous subjects.

  • Start a systematic review of the organ system, which includes the cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive, and gastrointestinal.
  • Use flashcards for information retention and memorization. 
  • Solve more practice questions and review your answers.

It is quite easy to forget details when reading the organ system. Therefore, you should aim to retain as much information as possible. 

During this time, it’s essential to start taking untimed and timed practice tests on each section. You’ll also want to go over any weak points and areas that might still need some work. This will help prep you for full-length practice tests and, subsequently, the final exam. 

Weeks 11 and 12

At this point, you should have a strong grasp of each topic. Use these final weeks to take timed and full-length practice tests. At this time, it’s recommended to:

  • Take timed and full-length practice exams to simulate real test-taking conditions.
  • Assess your performance on practice tests to identify weak areas further. Spend more time reviewing topics you find challenging based on these tests.
  • Stay updated
  • Rest well

This three-month study schedule is one of many ways your exam prep can look. Customizing this schedule based on your strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences is essential. 

6-Month USMLE Step 1 Study Plan

Having six months to study for the USMLE Step 1 is ideal as it gives you enough time to thoroughly prepare for the exam. You’ll have more time to understand and apply each concept through active learning and comprehensive review.

Months 1 and 2

Use the first two months of this schedule to build a strong understanding of the exam content. We’ll break this down below. 

Weeks 1 to 4

These weeks are for building a strong foundation and a comprehensive review of the high-yield topics.

  • Start with topics like physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, and pathology.
  • Ensure you use textbooks and other resources to fully understand each concept.

The first four weeks are critial in building a strong foundation on these topics. Study each topic in smaller chunks and start integrating memorization tactics early on.

You can begin by taking notes of key concepts and flashcards to facilitate your review for the coming weeks.  

Weeks 5 to 8

During these weeks, cover remaining topics, such as anatomy, behavioral sciences, and biochemistry, and review your weaknesses. Follow the same study format you used for weeks one to four.

Months 3 and 4

These months are for serious study and practice questions.

Weeks 9 to 12

For weeks 9 to 12, you’ll want to cover any remaining topics and weaknesses that you haven’t touched on yet. You’ll also benefit from reviewing subjects you’ve studied in the first two weeks and taking practice tests. 

Weeks 13 to 16

During the fourth month, you’ll want to start using flashcards and other mnemonic devices to aid your memorization and retention of key concepts.

This month, you’ll want to iron out any gaps in knowledge and understanding. Do this by reviewing your weaknesses consistently and taking practice tests. 

If you’re feeling confident, you can try your hand at timed practice tests and full-length practice tests as well! 

Months 5 and 6

The last two months of your USMLE Step 1 prep should be focused on reviewing content you’re already familiar with and resolving any weaknesses you might still have. 

You should have a strong grasp of high-yield topics, key concepts, and how they function. You should also have a good understanding of USMLE test questions and how they’re formulated from answering practice questions and tests.

Weeks 17 to 20

During these weeks, you’ll want to continue reviewing. Use flashcards, timed and untimed practice questions, and review notes for any topics you’re still uncertain about. 

You can focus on one topic each day while setting aside time to lightly review any weaknesses. To address any problematic areas you have, you can review previous practice tests to see exactly where you went wrong.

Weeks 21 to 24

In the final weeks of your study period, it’s essential that you take timed, full-length practice tests at the end of each week. This will prepare you for test day and give you ample time to figure out any remaining weak points and resolve any issues you might encounter on the day of the exam.

In addition to taking timed practice tests, focus on the following during these final weeks:

  • Analyze your performance and identify your weak areas
  • Work on your weak areas and strategize on how to answer questions on them
  • Do a final review of high-yield topics and practice test-taking strategies

Finally, maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle throughout your exam prep is essential. Prioritize getting rest, eating well, and taking care of yourself, especially during the last few weeks leading up to your test date. 

Maintaining healthy habits and a balanced lifestyle will help you manage stress, retain information, and enhance your overall performance.

FAQs: USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule

Below, we’ll cover some frequently asked questions about the USMLE Step 1 study schedule. Let’s get started!

1. How Many Hours a Day Should I Study for Step 1?

The answer to this question depends on how much time you must prepare before taking the exam. However, students report around 10-12 hours of study per day is ideal–breaks included, of course.

2. How Many Months Do You Need to Study for Step 1?

How much time is needed to prepare for the USMLE Step 1 depends on your grasp of the content. If you are dedicated and committed, four to six weeks can work wonders, but giving yourself more time may be ideal. 

3. Is Four Months Enough for USMLE Step 1?

Four months is enough for the USMLE Step 1 exam, depending on your foundational understanding of the subjects required to excel. With this said, spending more time preparing will give you more flexibility in your study schedule and help you build the confidence you need to ace it.

4. How Do I Create a Step 1 Study Schedule?

Creating a USMLE Step 1 Study Schedule will look different for each student. It’s essential to assess your baseline knowledge. 

5. What Is the Best Study Schedule Timeline for USMLE Step 1?

The best study schedule timeline will differ depending on the time you must prepare, your strengths and weaknesses, your learning style, and your day-to-day schedule and obligations. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all study schedule, the best one should incorporate breaks and designated rest days, encouraging a well-rounded lifestyle throughout your study period.

6. When Is the Best Time to Take USMLE Step 1?

Most students take the USMLE Step 1 exam shortly after completing their second year in medical school.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for the USMLE Step 1 requires dedication, commitment, and a well-structured study schedule. Developing this schedule will also help you with your USMLE Steps 2 and 3–better understand what to expect on these exams. 

Remember that consistency is key–taking all the right steps to build the best USMLE study schedule and sticking to it will get you a guaranteed road to acing the test.

Good luck!

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