According to most medical students and graduates, the USMLE Step 1 is the hardest, most stressful exam you’ll ever take in med school. How you perform on this US medical licensing exam could essentially affect the clinical rotations and residency you land in the future.

Why You Need to Score High on the USMLE Step 1

You’ll take multiple USMLEs and other exams during your time as a medical student. However, Step 1 is the only one that’s standardized and objectively evaluates your performance scholastically.

Therefore, it’s vital that you get a good score on Step 1. Quality residency programs are very competitive for people who really want to become doctors. So, these programs place major emphasis on your Step 1 score.

Also known as The Boards, this exam analyzes your:

  • Basic science knowledge and skills
  • Self-discipline level
  • Aptitude for studying effectively
  • Ability to absorb and retain a tremendous amount of technical information
  • Willingness and ability to “get the job done” when it counts the most
5 Tips to Help You Score High on the USMLE Step 1

Image by Chuk Yong from Pixabay

5 Things That May Catch You Off Guard on The Boards

Well-prepared med students were asked to name things that were on The Boards that they didn’t expect. We’ve compiled a list of five along with our added tips. Use these five USMLE Step 1 test tips to make sure you’re even more prepared than they were:

1. Step 1 Is NOT a Clinical Exam

This US medical licensing exam tests your basic science knowledge and skills. It includes a few clinical questions… maybe like a handful. But the majority of what you’ll be tested on is related to (but not limited to):

  • Experiment interpreting
  • Basic physiology
  • Basic biochemistry
  • Histopathological slide recognition

There are no questions that ask you to give diagnosis or medications. Those are the types of questions found on USMLE Step 2 CK and USMLE Step 2 CS.

So, don’t waste a lot of time prepping for clinical questions during online practice exams. Instead, place emphasis on studying:

  • Pathways
  • Pathology
  • Mechanisms
  • Genetics
  • Biostatistics
  • Experiments

2. Expect Many Theoretical Experimental Questions on Step 1

A large number of the questions on Step 1 require you to interpret experimental results. These questions won’t be simple. They are both challenging and complicated. The Boards judge your ability to create and grasp multiple concepts at one time.

Example of a theoretical experiment question on the USMLE Step 1.

Example of a theoretical experiment question on the USMLE Step 1.

Expect many of the questions related to physiology and pharmacology require you to take part in theoretical experiments. To score high on the USMLE Step 1, you must understand:

  • Pathways
  • Mechanisms of enzyme and medication actions
  • NAMES of most anti-coagulant and anti-platelet meds

NOTE: Even though this is a multiple choice exam, many of the questions are asked in the context of an experiment. So, be prepared.

3. Step 1’s Questions Are Extremely Long

Most of the questions on the USMLE Step 1 are very, very long in length. All of the reading can get exhausting. That’s why it’s wise to get a good night’s sleep, be well-hydrated, eat brain proteins and plan your Step 1 breaks accordingly.

Within the question stems, The Boards add a bunch of unnecessary, unimportant words and data. Basically, the test makers purposely take a simple question and make it complex by giving you information you don’t need to answer the question.

This is done to throw you off and steer you wrong. Some questions will provide you with clinical or diagnostic information, such as labs and vitals, when the answer has nothing to do with any of that. Don’t let them mess with your confidence.

Instead, go to the end of the question stem. That’s where you’ll find exactly what the test makers want to know. Determine the actual question they’re asking, then go back and read the question stem again. In most cases, you may not even need to do that to choose the correct answer.

4. There Are Loads of Answers to Choose From

One of the reasons The Boards are so difficult for med students is because there are so many choices question answers. There are many more choices than any multiple choice test you took in high school, college or even the MCAT exam.

The key to acing standardized multiple choice tests is to narrow down the choices by eliminating the wrong answers first. By providing you with a boatload of answer choices, The Boards hinder your ability to narrow them down easily.

So, expect the questions to be extremely long and complex. And expect to have a slew of answers to choose from on the USMLE Step 1.

An effective way to learn how to narrow down your choices is by taking Step 1 practice exams. Or try taking a prep course and getting private tutoring.

USMLE Step 1 questions come with numerous answer choices.

USMLE Step 1 questions come with numerous answer choices.

5. Biostatics, Calculations & Terminology Are Key

When taking the USMLE Step 1 exam, principles are very important. You must interpret complex, esoteric studies quickly. These studies deal with uncommon statistical methods. So, if you have a problem in this area, this will be the hardest part of The Boards for you.

Be sure you’re well prepped in the following areas:

  • Hazard ratios
  • Kaplan-Meyer curves
  • Predictive values
  • Biostatistics
  • Calculations
  • Terminology

How to Score High on the USMLE Step 1

MedSmarter's USMLE Step 1 Prep Course helps you pass with a high score.

For most medical students, USMLE Step 1 is a very difficult test. You should actually start prepping for it the moment you step foot into med school.

We recommend taking Step practice exams from day one as a student. Keep taking them until you’re ready to take the test. Create a digital study diary to track all the answers you get wrong or stumble on during practice exams.

Need more assistance? MedSmarter is here to help. We offer a USMLE Step 1 tutoring that helps you get a good score. Get one-on-one tutoring on our Suwanee campus, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia.

MedSmarter also offers 1:1 Step 1 tutoring online via web conferencing. All of our tutors are board-certified licensed physicians. Purchase tutoring hours in blocks to help you prep for your exam.

If you prefer a classroom setting, check out our Step 1 Prep Course. Let our instructors help you score high on the USMLE Step 1. Learn in small class sizes in a clinical-like environment from doctors holding MDs and PhDs.

Click the button below to learn more about Step 1 Test Prep in Suwanee, GA.

USMLE Step 1 Prep Suwanee